Creation Nation After Shark Tank: We Caught Up With The Founder

Creation Nation was founded by Karen Nation in 2016 to make a customizable, eco-friendly alternative to pre-packaged protein and energy bars. Nation spent time in foster care growing up, and it was hard for her to find food that met her dietary restrictions during this period of her life. This inspired her to create a line of mixes for making energy bites, protein bars, and cookies at home.

The mixes can be adapted to suit a variety of nutritional or dietary needs, from gluten-free to paleo to keto diets. All you have to do to turn the dry mixes into finished snacks is add wet ingredients like water, plant milk, peanut butter, or mashed banana — the exact choice of mix-in is up to the consumer and their personal dietary restrictions or preferences.

Karen Nation pitched her company on "Shark Tank" in an episode that first aired in the spring of 2021. Though she didn't walk away with a deal, she did make a personal connection with one of the Sharks, who admired her story and tenacity. In an exclusive interview with Karen Nation, Tasting Table learned what it was like to appear on "Shark Tank" and how the business is doing now.

The pandemic made the filming process more complicated

Karen Nation had been considering going to one of "Shark Tank's" open casting calls for a while, but her plans were shut down by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this didn't harm her chances of being on the show, as a producer ended up reaching out to her after finding Creation Nation on social media.

Pandemic restrictions did alter the prep and filming process dramatically. All the pitch-crafting sessions happened over Zoom. Rather than filming on a studio lot, "Shark Tank" moved its production to a hotel in Las Vegas. Not wanting to fly, Nation drove to Vegas and then quarantined in the "Shark Tank" hotel until it was time to film.

Nation had a challenging time finding a special outfit to wear for her pitch that fit "Shark Tank" guidelines (basic attire with no loud patterns) because she couldn't go to stores in person. "I ordered a jumpsuit online, and it showed up three or four sizes too big and not the color it was supposed to be ... employees on the show had to spend a ton of time pinning it to make it fit me, and during the whole pitch I had all these pins poking me in the back." The ill-fitting orange jumpsuit added a degree of difficulty to an already stressful situation.

Creation Nation left without a deal

Karen Nation was looking for a $300,000 investment from one of the Sharks in exchange for a 12% stake in her company. She did a live demo during her pitch to show how easy it was to make energy balls using Creation Nation mixes. The Sharks all loved her product; guest Shark Alex Rodriguez seemed impressed with both the taste and protein content, while Mark Cuban pronounced the flavor "very good." However, primarily because of concerns about the potential profitability of the business, none of the Sharks wanted to invest.

Looking back, Nation isn't surprised she didn't get a deal. She told us that food products don't tend to be attractive targets for Sharks. "They rarely invest in the food companies — if they do, it's usually really small and new." In her opinion, Creation Nation was already too large of a business to be worthwhile to the Sharks because it required too large of an investment.

Another issue was that Creation Nation barely made a profit, which was by design. "Food businesses, especially if you're a grocery product, are not really built for profitability; they're built for acquisition." Nation was purposefully putting all the money she made back into the business to make it grow rather than trying to extract profits, and that's not the sort of a company that Sharks are looking to invest in.

The pitch was edited to make it look like Karen didn't know her numbers

The most dramatic part of Creation Nation's pitch (at least in the televised version) was a contentious exchange between Karen Nation and Kevin O'Leary in which he asked her how much profit she expected to make from selling $500,000 worth of product. Her responses made it look like she didn't exactly know how her company's finances were doing; at one point, O'Leary remarked, "If you don't know what the definition of profit is, you're in the wrong place."

However, according to Nation, the impression that she was a financial novice was mostly a product of editing. "I have a bachelor's degree in economics, and I've been running this company for many years." Her moments of forgetfulness were largely the product of the chaotic atmosphere on the "Shark Tank" set. The Sharks talk over each other and shoot off rapid-fire questions. Unlike a conventional, non-televised pitch, the entrepreneurs are not allowed to have any numbers or notes in front of them to use as a reference.

Even with these challenges, Nation told us she was able to answer all the Sharks' questions on-set, but from the hour-long shoot, the producers edited together some of her worst moments. For this reason, Nation's advice to entrepreneurs hoping to appear on "Shark Tank" is to bring backup. "If you have that one moment where your head is spinning and you forget a number, your partner can step in."

Karen and Barbara had a talk after the pitch

In a rare moment for "Shark Tank," Barbara Corcoran left the set and consoled Karen Nation after her pitch was over. Corcoran told the other Sharks that she was worried that Nation might take the rejection hard, so she wanted to offer some words of encouragement.

While cynical viewers might think this interaction was engineered by producers to generate a heart-warming storyline, Nation told us, "Barbara coming out, to my knowledge, was not planned." And, just like the pitch, it was much longer in real life — what looks like just a couple of moments on TV was actually a substantial conversation. Corcoran reassured Nation by telling her O'Leary's criticisms were off-base and that she clearly knew her numbers. What you don't see in the TV cut is that Corcoran apparently said that Nation reminded her a lot of herself and expressed confidence in the entrepreneur's ability to succeed. The pep talk worked, and Nation felt much better about her overall experience on the show after her one-on-one with Corcoran.

Creation Nation got a nice post-Shark Tank bump

Most of the "Shark Tank" entrepreneurs that Tasting Table has talked with report a bump in sales immediately following their appearance on the show. Creation Nation is no exception. Karen Nation said that in the aftermath of her episode airing, she received so many new customers that "It took us a good week to get all the orders out and we had teams in four warehouse locations working on it."

One difference between Creation Nation and other "Shark Tank" businesses is that, per its founder, its post-"Shark Tank" bump is still going on two years after its episode initially aired. "Obviously we saw a huge increase in that first month after airing, but we have a really high customer retention rate, and there are also reruns every couple of months." All of that has added up to sustained success and sales growth rather than just a temporary boom followed by a bust.

Is Creation Nation still in business?

Despite not receiving an investment from one of the Sharks, Creation Nation benefited from being on the show and is still in business to this day. Karen Nation credits the free exposure from "Shark Tank" for making direct-to-consumer online sales a successful part of her company. "It was a real help to be on 'Shark Tank' to facilitate the e-commerce side of the business."

Good reviews and awards from trusted sources in the media have played an integral role in increasing Creation Nation's visibility and earning it new customers. It won a Good Housekeeping Best Snack Award in 2023. Karen Nation is particularly excited about this because the Good Housekeeping brand is trusted by moms and families, whom she views as her core consumers. The kudos from Good Housekeeping led to a featured spot on "Good Morning America," which introduced Creation Nation to an even wider audience. "All of this stuff really helps to get the word out, especially when you're building a new category and you're a new brand."

What's next for Creation Nation

While Karen Nation is grateful that e-commerce has worked out for her company, ultimately, her goal is for Creation Nation to be available in more grocery stores. "We want it to be in grocery stores everywhere. I want it to be accessible to everyone in the most convenient way." She hopes that her product will one day be as widespread as the unhealthy, super-processed snack foods she has positioned Creation Nation against.

The e-commerce side of the business was a lifesaver during the pandemic when in-person shopping at grocery stores dropped precipitously. However, Nation believes that it's now more advantageous for her product to appear on physical store shelves because "When it comes to groceries, people want to get in the grocery store and fill up their cart and be hands-on with what they're purchasing." The company has pursued this goal by inking new deals with supermarket chains; in the summer of 2023, Sprouts Farmers Market began selling Creation Nation products.