Shelly Ehler may be best known for her appearance on Shark Tank, but her lesser-known story of inner transformation that followed its airing is deeply enriching. On the surface, Shelly is an inspiring entrepreneur who took a simple idea, believed it with all her heart, and brought it to life. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll quickly realize that Shelly is a passionate truth-seeker who’s turning our common notions about failure on their head.
on Shark Tank in 2012, ABC's Emmy Award-winning reality TV show in which an entrepreneur can seek an investment from five venture capitalists who happily call themselves "sharks." Shelly is the only entrepreneur in the show's 11 seasons to have left with a check in her hand for her creation, the "ShowNo Towel" -- a bath towel, beach towel, changing towel, and cover-up, all in one.
Having lost their home from the recession and struggling financially, Shelly and her husband viewed Shelly’s timely success as nothing short of a miracle. But following her brief appearance in the limelight, nothing worked out the way she expected.
After the filming of Shark Tank had finished, the business deal Shelly had been offered kept changing until it no longer resembled the original arrangement she’d agreed to. Shelly was unable to cash the check she’d been given and never received an investment. Despite this major setback, Shelly kept her hopes high as the episode still hadn’t aired. She was certain that once it did, business would boom.
After the episode finally aired to over 6 million viewers, Shelly’s product still didn’t sell very well, leaving her feeling hurt, broken, and like a complete failure. Money came in and out but her family could never hold on to it.
One year after her episode aired, Shelly continued to feel devastated and angry, but was determined to make her product work. She kept the business going for three more years before realizing in 2015 that she had to let it go.
Meanwhile, Shelly had begun attending the Ventura Center for Spiritual Living
where she was encouraged to look at her story through a different lens
, one of love and truth. She began challenging the facts before her, telling herself, “You created something from nothing. You got this idea and you believed it with everything in your heart and you saw it through, and within a couple of years your product was on the Today Show, is sold in Legoland, in Six Flags Magic Mountain, in SeaWorld, in Disneyland; it was on Good Morning America, it was on The View. You want to call yourself a failure? Be proud of yourself.”
As Shelly began reexamining her story of failure, financial struggle, and repeated disappointment, she considered that perhaps she hadn’t been on Shark Tank to sell towels but to spread hope.
Following the show’s airing, Shelly received thousands of emails from people around the country expressing that she’d given them reason to believe in themselves. She began to realize that despite not earning the profits she’d eagerly anticipated, she had continued to make ends meet. She saw that her investment partner was not cold-hearted and cruel, but a savvy businesswoman who recognized that the product was going to cost far more to produce than would make it viable to sell.
“My new lenses were working,” she says. Shelly had reached a place of peace and acceptance, recognizing that her perceived failure was actually her greatest source of resilience and inspiration. She came to learn that her purpose wasn’t to sell but to serve.
Shelly now markets her towels to children and adults with disabilities as a way to “assist those who need assistance and wrap them in love” and has recently partnered with the Special Olympics. “God’s the CEO and we’re just gonna let it happen and flow and whatever unfolds unfolds,” she says.
Shelly is also a certified life coach and loves teaching gratitude, kindness and forgiveness to anyone who will listen. She is married to her high school sweetheart of 24 years and has two teenage sons. She lives in Ventura County, California.
Five Questions with Shelly Ehler
What Makes You Come Alive?
Creativity and problem solving. I was blessed with the gift of creativity and I love using my creativity to spread joy and solve problems. A fun example... I wasn't able to attend a close friend's wedding so I made a 1/2 size cardboard cutout of myself (head to waist so it would sit in a chair) to send in my absence. It was the hit of the party and had so many people (especially the bride) laughing. My "standin" spent the whole evening dancing, taking pictures and all around spreading joy. I loved the idea so much that I made a business out of it and our mission is... "Spread joy! The world could use so much more"
Pivotal turning point in your life?
My appearance on Shark Tank is probably the most pivotal. I learned more through that experience than ever in my life. The courage that it took to share my story and product idea on national TV in front of 6 million people is something I am very proud of. The day I filmed that episode, I literally felt like I walked "through fear" and I had never walked through fear in my life. I hid from it. This day I walked through it and it was the most amazing experience I have ever had. Being on the other side of fear is the most freeing place to be. There, I truly believed that there was nothing I couldn't do. It definitely transformed me.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
In 2009, a stranger contacted me on Facebook saying that he had been looking for me for 9 years. He said he found a journal of mine one day when he was walking his dogs. He read it, thought it was very special, and decided he wanted to find me so he could return it to me. I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about??? I didn't know of any missing journal and didn't feel comfortable sending my address to a stranger that reached out to my through the internet. I had a PO box so I gave him that thinking it couldn't hurt? Two days later, I opened his package to find my high school journal dated 1989-1990. I couldn't believe it!! I had no idea how it went missing, but here it was. I opened the first page that read how excited I was to start writing in a journal and how great it would be to read this in 20 years. The crazy thing was.... I received it back in 2009 - 20 years from when I had written that!!! Then I realized from the dates, that in 1989 is when I met my husband and this journal would contain our love story! It sure did. Our first date, kiss, anniversary, fight, reconciliation and so many special moments in between. The amazing thing was, my husband and I were going through a very difficult time. It was testing our marriage and I forgot our love story. This journal appeared in perfect timing to remind me. We just celebrated our 24 year wedding anniversary. I will never forget this incredible act of kindness!
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
I want to take a trip to Africa to spread kindness, hope and love to children. My friend Tererai Trent build a school in Zimbabwe and I would love to take a trip there and serve.
One-line Message for the World?
Spread joy - Inspire - Give Back!!