Shark Tank Entrepreneur Leslie Haywood

This is the sixth in a series of interviews with former reality show contestants, an idea inspired by my new reality show-themed mystery novel Sink or Swim, Where Reality TV Turns to Murder. For more information on Sink or Swim, and the interview schedule which features contestants from Survivor, Top Chef, Beauty and the Geek, Shark Tank, Bachelor Pad, Big Brother and I Love New York, please visit this link.

Today, I’d like to welcome Leslie Haywood, Founder and President of Charmed Life Products LLC. Leslie is a Charleston, SC mom inventor whose spicy light bulb moment catapulted her into the entrepreneurial ring, leading her to manufacture and market a product that is now sold in over 400 stores across the US, Canada and Sweden and was recently featured on ABC’s reality TV show Shark Tank. Leslie is the inventor of Grill Charms™, the grilling accessory that is revolutionizing the American cook-out. Her vision is to see Grill Charms™ as prominent in the American household as the wine charm. Leslie appeared on two episodes of Shark Tank, in Season 1 and in Season 2. She received three offers from the panelists on Shark Tank and went with the one that required her to give up the smallest stake in the company. Internet and technology mogul Robert Herjavec presented $50,000 in exchange for 25 percent of the equity.

While appearing on a reality show is stressful for all contestants, during her moment in the spotlight, Leslie was coping with the unexpected death of her beloved father. With Father’s Day coming this Sunday, please read this poignant interview about a daughter who would have made her father proud.

1. Leslie, if you could boil down your experience on Shark Tank to one paragraph, what was your overall feeling about being on this show?
My experience was a little out of the ordinary (if there is such a thing as being an “ordinary” reality TV show experience.) The one word that sums it all up is “surreal.” In my case, my father passed very suddenly and unexpected while I was in LA taping. I was on the next flight home and did not do the show, nor did I know (or care at the time) if I ever would. It was by far the most traumatic experience of my life. I did get a call saying that when I was ready, they wanted me back out there to give it another shot. I was so thankful for all of the production team’s compassion, understanding and encouragement.

2. How nerve-wracking was it being on this show and marketing your product?
People want to know what was going on in my head and where that perceived air of confidence came from. None of the sharks knew it at the time, but because of my extenuating circumstances, what started out as a business opportunity, turned into me trying to prove that I still had what it took as a person to even get up in the morning, and had much less do with the TV show. Unfortunately, I’m sure most of your readers can relate to some sort of loss or tragedy, because life is full of it. I’m sure you can relate to my just being proud that I could force myself to even function. In the days and weeks after Pa’s death, I felt like I had lost my “sparkle.” People have always said that I have this certain energy about me. I didn’t really know (and still don’t) EXACTLY what people mean, but whatever it was, I knew (or felt) I had lost it.

Those that watched the show say that I was one of the most confident people they’ve seen, but what people don’t know is that in that moment, I was doing it for my father because I knew that’s what he would have wanted and also simply to see if I could ever sparkle again and NOT ABOUT the 5 people sitting in front of me judging my product and I. The fact that the Sharks loved the product (4 out of 5) was such sweet icing on the cake.

3. What was the best part about being on the show?
Proving to myself that I still had what it took to “do my thing.”

4. What was the hardest part about being on the show?
Dealing with all the emotions at the time. When I went back out there to do the show, it was so bitter sweet and I even had to talk myself out of panic attack or two. As if being in LA shooting a TV show isn’t insane enough, to go back to the exact place… my luggage came down the same baggage claim, the car that picked me up looked the same, the hotel was the same… it was like I was reliving a nightmare that I could not wake up from. So while other “contestants” were dealing with “nerves,” I was trying not to run screaming and crying out of there. The team was so awesome, though! They put me in a room on the complete opposite side of the hotel, the beds were opposite, they tried hard to make it as “different” of an experience as possible. It was a never ending feeling of déjà vu I just couldn’t handle reliving. The folks out there made it bearable. (It’s funny…. It’s been a long time since I have talked about this… I used to not be able to, but I’m finding doing this interview quite therapeutic.) I still can’t watch the first part of my episode, though. Maybe someday.

5. How did appearing on the show help your career?
Sales went NUTS! In the weeks that followed, sales increased about 5000%! I’ve gotten into stores I would not have gotten into, I’ve been able to use my very brief “celebrity” to do more good with Komen in the form of being the honorary chairperson for The Race for the Cure, and hold talks and give speeches about breast cancer awareness, entrepreneurism and inventing. The show has given me a platform and the credibility to help others, which is why I do what I do…. Because it’s FUN and I love helping and encouraging others. It has NEVER been about the money. (I’m not sure if your readers know about the Komen connection, but here is the reason it I am so involved:

6. What advice would you give to someone who is considering applying for a reality show?
Going into it with the right attitude is KEY! Make your decision based on “what if nothing goes the way I hoped”… would you still do it just for the experience? If the answer is YES, then do it! It truly is a once in a lifetime EXPERIENCE, but there are no guarantees. You could be the “William Hung” (whom we all laughed at and along with) or the “Omarosa” (whom we all loved to hate). If you go into it “expecting” a certain outcome, you run the risk of tremendous disappointment. Instead, go into with the attitude “No matter what happens, this is an amazing OPPORTUNITY and a once in a lifetime EXPERIENCE.” And no matter what, try and HAVE FUN!

7. What else have you been up to lately? What would you like to share about your company/products?
Just busy busy busy! I have started to dabble in the promotional products and ad specialty industry which is completely different from the traditional retail/wholesale market. I’m doing custom boxes and other packaging for companies who like the product and want to use it for giveaways, promotions, gift bags etc… It’s a great compliment and nice addition to the normal sales.

8. Where can fans and customers find you online?
Linked In Leslie Haywood
Twitter @grillcharmer

My next interview is with Hashim Trends Locario of I Love New York on June 15. Bookmark the full interview schedule, with clickable links to the interviews as they become available, here.

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