Snarky Tea After Shark Tank: We Caught Up With The Founder

Jenni-Lyn Williams started her line of teas infused with perspective after her doctor told her to cut back on caffeine. She was a new mom, working a corporate job while also working towards an MBA. "I was just putting so much pressure on myself, and I thought, 'Okay, well, I'll just caffeinate my way through this' instead of getting to the root of what the real issue was, which is... 'am I balanced and happy in my life?'" Williams said.

Out of the existential crisis came teas that create small moments of respite. Drink some raspberry-orange green tea if you want "Peace & Love Motherf**er." Opt for a cinnamon-black bend if you need to "Wake The F**k Up." Snarky Tea — which "Shark Tank" fans saw in 2017 — has since become the answer both to Williams' caffeine addiction and her intensely relatable life predicament. The teacup tattoo on her wrist is also the company's logo and a testament to the impact "Snarky Tea" has had on her life. She still drinks coffee, in case you were wondering. The founder has a cup every morning with Italian sweet cream creamer. These days, though, Williams describes her relationship with the drink as a "hobby" rather than a "really bad, addictive, abusive relationship." Yes, "Shark Tank" was certainly a part of Williams' happy-ending-in-progress, however — as she told us when we caught up with her — it was far from the saving grace we may have expected it to be.

The celeb encounter that inspired Jenni-Lyn Williams to apply for Shark Tank

Pitching her passion project to five multi-millionaires on T.V. wasn't always the end goal for Jenni-Lyn Williams. Snarky Tea had made its mark in the industry before she applied to "Shark Tank" — and might have done okay without it. The tea entrepreneur told us that her "Shark Tank" journey began with Facebook ads, which Williams started experimenting with shortly after she opened her business in October 2016. "One of my ads got in front of an editor at Vogue. So we went into Vogue magazine's Christmas guide that year," Williams explained. "That led to me being invited to like one of those Oscars gifting lounges in February."

The tea company founder was in an Oscars gifting suite when she met "American Idol" judge Randy Jackson. "He liked the idea a lot and he was just like, 'Let me shake your hand.'" Williams told us. "He's like, 'You got to apply for 'Shark Tank.' And I was like, 'I honestly don't think I'm going to get on because there's so many like curse words on these.' And he said, 'No, you'll get on, just apply.'" Jackson — we all know this — was right. Williams did apply, was accepted, and in July 2017 (while eight months pregnant), she found herself explaining her snarky teas to the sharks.

What happened to Snarky Tea on Shark Tank?

It's a "Shark Tank" story as old as the show has been on-air. What Jenni-Lyn Williams wanted and what Jenni-Lyn Williams got — at least as seen on T.V. — were two different things entirely. The founder went into the studio asking for a $150,000 investment in return for 25% of Snarky Tea. She walked out, presumably having negotiated away 50% of her company — 25% to guest shark Bethenny Frankel and 25% to Kevin O'Leary — in return for $150,000.

Williams told us that she always intended to appeal to Mr. Wonderful. Frankel, however, took her by surprise — no one told her that the reality T.V. star was going to be on the show. Despite the unexpected turn of events, she never once got the on-stage jitters. "I wasn't scared. I didn't have any nerves about it. I was just like, 'Here's another thing to do. I'll just get in there and do it,'" she remembered. Two factors helped the tea company founder with her nerves. First, Jenni-Lyn Williams was so pregnant that she couldn't concentrate on anything else. "I was super concerned about having to pee while I was in there or fainting because I was a big fainter when I was pregnant," she told us. Second, Williams purposefully chose not to wear contacts to avoid examining the sharks' reactions.

Snarky Tea renegotiated with the sharks off-camera

Mark Cuban didn't understand Jenni-Lyn Williams' raison d'etre when he reduced her "Shark Tank" pitch to "selling attitude." While the tea entrepreneur is the first to admit that her product is full of snark (duh), it's also about taking the time to create moments of calm amid the chaos. "I think you can tell he's not a tea drinker because he didn't understand," Williams told Tasting Table. "He really didn't understand that it's like a visceral experience. [Drinking tea is] one of the only things you use all five senses for."

Frankel and O'Leary, of course, understood the magic and potential of her product. On camera, you saw them negotiate away 50% of her company. Off-camera negotiations took a different turn. Williams told us that post-"Shark Tank," after each of the investor's teams had done their due diligence and deep-dived into her financials, the two sharks backed down. "I'd only been running a business for about like, I don't even know at that point — seven or eight months," Williams reflected to us. "I wasn't smart, but once we got off and started actually negotiating further, they only got 12% [each], which is much better."

Snarky Tea after Shark Tank

As other "Shark Tank" success stories have reported to Tasting Table, "Shark Tank" led to an immediate increase in sales and visibility for Snarky Tea, in the aftermath of which Williams both hired her first employee and leased her first warehouse. "We had a huge night that night," Jeni-Lynn Williams told us, after which the company continued to grow. Despite the immediate increase in revenue, "Shark Tank" was no savior for Williams' burgeoning business.

Instead, the tea company founder's post-show 'success' led to one of the more chaotic periods of her life. "I had a newborn baby. I had a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler, and this young business that was just on a national T.V. show and I had just moved out of state from P.A. [Pennsylvania] to Florida," Williams narrated. "From the perspective of a working mom, you're taking on a lot and, you know, when your business is young, you're not making a ton of money off of that. People think it's this big glamorous thing and it's not." Per the Snarky Tea mastermind, things began to truly change three years after the show aired in 2019 when she got pregnant with her third. "It was really difficult for, I would say like two years afterward, [I was] just really struggling," she admitted. " After I had my third one. I was like, 'Okay, let's get focused.'" Then, COVID-19 hit.

How the company survived the pandemic

By the time the pandemic hit in 2020, Jeni-Lynn Williams had hired "seven or eight" employees for Snarky Tea. When going got rough, she held on for dear life. "I was like, 'All right, this is my main focus is keeping these people employed. What do I have to do to make sure that happens?'" Williams said.

Snarky Tea remained open throughout the international health crisis, partly because it's an e-commerce company, and partly because tea is a food product. Williams didn't let go of a single employee. Instead, Snarky Tea's biggest pandemic-related speed bumps were supply chain issues. "The actual teas that we get come from overseas. And so China was completely shut down and that created this big crunch," Williams told us. That 'crunch' turned out to be a pivotal moment for Williams, both personally and professionally. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the founder moved her company and her family back to Pennsylvania and hit the reset button on Snarky Tea. "We began again. And since then it's been a much happier story, a much less stressful story, I would say," she reflected. "But yeah, from 2016 to 2021 was just a f***ing bumpy ride. A really bumpy ride."

Jenni-Lyn Williams' takeaway from working with Bethenny Frankel

Diehard "Shark Tank" fans may have already watched CNBC's 2019 recap of Jeni-Lynn Williams' journey on the show, which follows Williams' and Bethenny Frankel's post-show collaboration. "The Real Housewives of New York City" star began working with Williams on a new line of teas while the tea company founder was pregnant with her third child. Per what Williams told us, the partnership didn't bear the fruits she might have hoped for.

"The focus wasn't as good as it could have been on that," the entrepreneur said. "Some of the teas that we came out with we still have today, but they're definitely not our main sellers." Williams' biggest takeaway from working with both Mr. Wonderful and the reality T.V. phenomenon is decidedly bittersweet. "Shark Tank," Williams told us, is no knight in shining armor, nor did it provide a business roadmap that would guide her into the future. "That was like a wake-up call for me. I was like, 'Oh damn, I still have to do this.' I thought this was going to be like, 'I'm done now,'" Williams reflected. "You cannot expect a show or an investor or a famous person to come in and save you. You are ultimately responsible for the success of your business."

Is Snarky Tea still in business?

After half a decade of rough sailing, Snarky Tea has found its footing. As Jeni-Lynn Williams tells it, 2021 was a turning point for the company. Post-pandemic, the company found its groove, starting with a collaboration with "Shark Tank" alum Max Feber, whose cold brew filter turned Williams on to cold brewing tea. "I ended up acquiring his invention... and then stopped using that and moved on to something else that I thought worked a little bit better for a tea application," Williams told us.

Today, Snarky Tea focuses on cold brews, iced teas, and seasonal blends. The company, says Williams, now comes out with "four to six new blends every single month" to feed product demand. Social media interactions have also catapulted the company to new levels, per Williams. Snarky Tea's company-sponsored Facebook group serves not only as a source for product feedback and development but also has become a de facto support group. "The 'Snark Squad' is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me," the tea entrepreneur told us. "We started out with this idea of tea and sisterhood and we've really got there... it's a really special place on the internet... I say no energy vampires are allowed and the vibes are to be protected at all costs."

What's next for Snarky Tea?

In 2023, Jeni-Lynn Williams reports that Snarky Tea is on track to do "about $6 million" in sales, and she is expecting the pattern to continue. For now, the entrepreneur is most excited about her seasonal product roll-outs. Snarky Tea fans who are looking forward to Halloween can expect a special treat. The upcoming Halloween-themed teas, per Williams, are her "favorite of the year." Spoiler alert! October 31st devotees can look forward to buttered rum, pumpkin cream, elderflower and orange, superstitious licorice, caramel apple, and chamomile orchard spice tea blends this autumn. "It's so fun. I love doing a holiday drop because the vibes are immaculate," Williams told us.

While seasonal blends drive both the business and Williams' creative energies, her absolute favorite initiative is, as fits the company's mission, deeply personal. Subscribers to Snarky Tea's quickly expanding "Tea Of The Month Club" get a special themed tea delivered monthly, along with an extra dose of realness from Williams, herself. "The reason I love it so much is it started so small, but now it goes to like over 1,000 people," Williams explained. "I really pour my heart out on this note that we include and I write about my personal [life] like a journal entry, almost... and people will always say in our group, like, 'this is exactly what I needed to hear this month.'"