Speaker: Shelly Ehler

Swimming With the Sharks and A New Look at Failure

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.

Shelly appeared 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.

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