Pricklee After Shark Tank: We Caught Up With One Of The Founders

Pricklee is a brand that sells a new category of natural canned beverage that it calls cactus water. The drink is made with a puree of prickly pear cactus fruit that is thinned out with water, sweetened with agave, and seasoned with lemon and natural flavorings. The brand touts that its product has less sugar than coconut water while providing antioxidants and electrolytes. It also markets its product based on the sustainability of the prickly pear cactus and the unique flavor of the fruit, which tastes something like a cross between mixed berries and watermelon.

Two of the co-founders of Pricklee pitched "Shark Tank" in 2022 and emerged victorious with a deal from Barbara Corcoran. At the time, the company's distribution network was still quite small and the business hadn't been around for very long. Tasting Table talked to Pricklee co-founder Kun Yang about his experience on "Shark Tank" and how the company has been doing since its big TV moment.

Shark Tank scouted Pricklee right when the company started

"Shark Tank" producers are always on the hunt for new companies to feature on the show — they have to fill out over 20 episodes a season after all. They reached out to Pricklee's co-founders quickly and asked them to be on the show.

The team behind Pricklee worked in the healthcare space, and they were inspired to create a healthy alternative to sugary packaged beverages. The recipe for the cactus water was inspired by co-founder Mohammed Hassoun's grandmother, who would make prickly pear drinks for him when he was growing up in Lebanon. Once Pricklee's team figured out how to manufacture the drink, things started moving fast. Per Yang, "We launched in February 2021 and we had put up a Facebook ad just to promote the brand ... Literally that Friday, we get this email from 'Shark Tank.' It was the casting director saying we should apply." The show reached out so quickly that Yang said, "We weren't sure if it was real or not."

Although the initial application process was speedy, the overall path to get to the show was not. It took almost a year after the application for Pricklee's episode to finally air in March 2022.

What happened to Pricklee on Shark Tank?

At the time Pricklee's episode was filmed, the brand's founders were focused on marketing the drink as a lower-sugar, higher-antioxidant alternative to coconut water. Yang and Hassoun arrived on the "Shark Tank" set chanting "No coco" accompanied by people wearing cactus costumes. Although the Sharks enjoyed the beverage, several of them, including Kevin O'Leary and Barbara Corcoran, stated their reservations about the difficulty of the drink business. Ironically, it was O'Leary and Corcoran who ended up fighting with each other to offer Pricklee a deal.

O'Leary initially offered $200,000 for 20% of the company. Yang and Hassoun argued that those terms would make it very difficult to pay O'Leary back, and they countered by saying they would take the $200,000 as a loan in return for 5% of Pricklee's equity. During the negotiation, Corcoran began arguing with O'Leary, calling him a bully. Ultimately, even though she had previously said she was out, she swooped in and agreed to a deal on Pricklee's terms.

Yang said of the argument between the two Sharks, "That was pretty funny. It felt like there was some pre-standing tension floating around the room. But seriously, they have a great relationship, and they're consummate professionals."

The Sharks aren't as scary as you would expect

While the "Shark Tank" entrepreneurs we've interviewed had positive experiences on the show for the most part, it's not always perfect. For example, Mama O's Premium Kimchi founder Kheedim Oh told us that one of the Sharks made an off-color joke while his pitch was being filmed. Sienna Sauce's Tyla-Symone Crayton told us that an important moment she had with one of the Sharks was edited out of the broadcast. Pricklee didn't experience any of these problems.

Yang told us, "The producers did such a great job of representing the whole episode." He also said that the Sharks don't have as much bite as their TV personas would lead you to believe. "We were surprised by how approachable, how friendly the Sharks really were. You go into this show and you think that things are gonna be really intense ... but they do such a great job of making everything as approachable as possible."

Pricklee changed its branding after Shark Tank

One criticism that Pricklee's founders received during their "Shark Tank" appearance was that their branding focused too much on the coconut water comparison and too little on the unique benefits of cactus water. Yang told us, "Coconut water launched way before us and really set the stage in terms of natural hydration." Pricklee's team felt that referencing coconut water was the quickest way to get consumers to understand their product.

However, the Sharks, especially Mark Cuban and Emma Gede, felt that Pricklee should be highlighting the unique attributes of cactus like the high antioxidant content of prickly pear and the fact that it's an eco-friendly crop that takes very little water to produce. And after Pricklee appeared on "Shark Tank," it switched up its marketing to emphasize those strengths. "Since then, we evolved the brand to stand on its own and championed the benefits of cactus ... its natural benefits, its sustainable benefits, and its taste." Yang credited this shift to the Sharks and to feedback the company had received from consumers.

Shark Tank continues to help Pricklee

Like many businesses that have gone on "Shark Tank," Pricklee received a temporary online sales bump after its episode aired. But that's just one aspect of how the brand's appearance on the show helped the business. In addition to offering the $200,000 line of credit, Corcoran has been involved in advising Pricklee. "We still talk to the team very regularly. She has a great team that really supports her and her brands ... they support us however they can.," Yang explained.

A "Shark Tank" pitch may end up being just 10 minutes of TV time, but Yang knows that the show will always be a part of Pricklee's legacy. "We always joke that it's gonna go on our tombstone: How was 'Shark Tank?'" He thinks the show is a great resource for small businesses. "It's a show that truly represents the American Dream ... It inspires people to just go out there and go after it." He said that post-"Shark Tank," he could tell that buyers, distributors, and consumers were all more excited about Pricklee than they had been before.

What's next for Pricklee?

Pricklee has spent the time following its "Shark Tank" episode growing incredibly rapidly. Yang said, "We've doubled our business year-over-year. This was really the biggest growth year, launching nationwide at Sprouts was the highlight."

Yang sees the Sprouts grocery store chain as a natural partner for Pricklee since it's headquartered in the Arizona desert, a region where prickly pear products are already appreciated. He's hopeful that Pricklee can use this partnership to continue to increase the size of its business because he thinks that consumer appetite is high. "The thing that really blew us away was how much interest there is for cactus water to begin with."

Pricklee seeks to set itself apart from other health-oriented products by emphasizing fun in its marketing. "We leaned into creating a brand that touched the core of fun and positivity, even if it is a healthy product, and we think people really resonated with that." Yang hopes that in the future, more people will drink natural beverages like Pricklee instead of artificial, high-sugar ones.