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

Mavens Creamery is an ice cream company founded by Gwen and Christine Nguyen in 2014. Though they didn't have any food service experience, the two sisters taught themselves how to make ice cream-filled macarons in a garage and started selling them in their hometown of San Jose. The sisters pitched in the Sharks in 2019, and though they faced some skepticism, Barbara Corcoran was impressed enough to offer a handshake deal.

We caught up with Gwen Nguyen in an exclusive interview to see how Mavens has been doing in the four years since the brand's episode of "Shark Tank" aired. She gave us some insight into the behind-the-scenes aspects of the show and talked about how the brand has flourished even though it didn't see as many benefits from its appearance on "Shark Tank" as you might expect. She also shared what to look forward to from the brand, which has expanded beyond macarons and started making ice cream pints inspired by the founders' Vietnamese heritage.

Mavens' founders only had around a week to prepare their pitch

In one way, Mavens' journey to "Shark Tank" took a long time. The founders saw a flyer for an open casting call in Las Vegas and pitched their company to producers there. Nguyen told us that she thought things went well in Vegas, but she didn't hear back from the show for a long time. It took a year for "Shark Tank" to reach out with an offer to appear on the show, and once the call came, the Nguyen sisters had to hurry — they needed to film their episode about a week after they learned they were selected for the show.

Crafting the pitch was a challenge. "You're in front of the real Sharks, and you don't want to sound dumb ... we had to do a lot of homework and memorization and practicing with each other, asking each other questions we thought they would throw at us in the pitch."

As if that weren't enough, being on "Shark Tank" also meant filing a ton of paperwork that all had to get done before filming day. Nguyen told us that this part of the process took more of her time than practicing the pitch. "It was literally a Bible of NDAs and paperwork for you to go on air." But despite having to sign a veritable mountain of documents, Gwen and Christine were ready to wow the Sharks on filming day.

Mavens emerged from 'Shark Tank' with a handshake deal with Barbara Corcoran

The sisters behind Mavens Creamery arrived on the "Shark Tank" set looking to secure a $400,00 investment in exchange for 10% of the company. Specifically, the Mavens team was hoping to use the investment capital to start automating the production of the macaron ice cream sandwiches, which were the brand's only product at the time. At that point, the sandwiches were entirely hand-made, which was a labor-intensive and expensive process.

Christine and Gwen talked about how their father, a Vietnamese boat refugee to America, instilled a tough work ethic in his children and worked seven days a week. The Sharks loved the flavor of the macaron ice cream sandwiches and were impressed by the brand's sales up to that point, but Mark Cuban voiced concerns about the company's thin margins. That didn't dissuade Barbara Corcoran from offering a deal for $400,000 for 33% of Mavens, which the founders accepted after they bargained her down to 25%.

While Gwen Nguyen is happy with her appearance on the show, she wishes she'd let her true self shine through more. "One thing I would change is I wouldn't listen to everyone's feedback on what you should say and how you should say it ... I had a lot of pressure from people telling me, 'You should cry, you should make it sentimental,' but I wasn't being wholeheartedly me."

The deal with Barbara fell through, but it's probably for the best

Although Mavens walked out of the "Shark Tank" set with a handshake agreement with Barbara, the company ultimately decided not to work with the Shark. Nguyen told us that, at the time she filmed her episode in 2019, around half of the deals agreed to on-set didn't end up going through for one reason or another. In Mavens' case, the company passed due diligence, but the founders couldn't come to an agreement with Barbara about how to price the product or what channels would be best for selling it. The two parties agreed to part ways amicably.

Nguyen is happy she didn't end up pursuing the deal with Barbara. "At the time, we needed the help and the publicity, but we felt like we were being asked to give up too much of our company." Turning down Barbara's investment and keeping 100% ownership of the company has worked out in a big way. The business has grown dramatically in the years since Mavens appeared on the show, and the original founders don't have to share the benefits of this growth with any outside investors.

Mavens didn't get a big post-'Shark Tank' bump

Many companies get a temporary boost in sales immediately after going on "Shark Tank" because of the free publicity the show offers. That wasn't the case for Mavens Creamery, however, in part because the company focuses more on selling its products to retailers rather than directly to consumers. Per Nguyen, "We did add on a direct-to-consumer channel, but that didn't work out in the end because the high cost of shipping ice cream made it not worth it."

Given the lack of a sales bump and the fact that Mavens passed on finalizing its deal with Barbara, it's not a surprise that Nguyen isn't sure if she'd agree to do "Shark Tank" if she could do things over. "I don't regret doing the show — it was a lot of work, though. I don't think I'd do it again." She'd only recommend the show to entrepreneurs who have their hearts set on working with one of the Sharks specifically and are okay with giving up some of their equity.

Mavens Creamery's business has been thriving

Despite not receiving much in the way of tangible benefits from the "Shark Tank" experience, Mavens has been doing quite well since its episode aired in 2019. For one, the company has made progress in its goal of automating macaron production to reduce labor costs. "We said, 'Okay, now that we're back to the drawing board and don't have an investor, let's automate one part of the process at a time.'" The company figured out how to automate ice cream, macarons, and packaging in successive steps so it didn't have to mechanize the whole production line all at once, which would have required a much larger initial investment.

Even more importantly, Mavens came out with a blockbuster product this year that has been driving much of the company's recent success: pints of durian ice cream. "That has gone viral, the sales are really explosive. We're one of the top items in Costco itself."

The durian ice cream, made with the famously intense Southeast Asian fruit that has flavor notes of cream and vanilla and a pungent fermented undertone, has helped the company reach a level of sales volume it never experienced when macaron ice cream was its only product. In 2019, the Nguyen sisters told the Sharks they hoped to hit $2 million in sales that year. Although Gwen didn't have precise figures at hand during our interview, she said Mavens had reached at least five times that figure this year.

What's next for Mavens Creamery?

The first priority for Mavens is to expand its partnership with Costco to bring durian ice cream to a larger part of the country. Per Nguyen, "We're in four Costco regions right now, and we hope to be in four more in the next three to four months." The company is also hoping to start offering durian ice cream through other non-Costco retailers.

Beyond that, the durian pints have been such a boon to the business that the founders are looking to release more new flavors of ice cream sold by the pint rather than sandwiched inside macarons. "The durian pint really paved the way for other ethnic flavors that we'll come out with maybe early next year." Although Nguyen couldn't share what flavors the company has been experimenting with, she did say that Mavens plans to stick with Southeast Asian-inspired ice cream for now. The Southeast Asian focus is helping Mavens carve out its own niche in the ice cream market — it's not directly competing with more traditional companies like Ben & Jerry's or Häagen-Dazs. Nguyen wants to make sure that any new varieties have the same impact as the durian. "It's going to be hard to hit a home run like that again ... Durian is in its own league."