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How One Woman Started a Business Without Debt

Gerri Detweiler

It is the dream of many entrepreneurs: the opportunity to showcase their product in front of millions of Americans on TV. And recently, Julie Busha saw that dream come true when she stood in front of the millionaire and billionaire investors on ABC’s “Shark Tank”. She was there seeking an investment in her product Slawsa, a condiment that is a cross between salsa and coleslaw.

The Sharks loved Slawsa, but they were also wowed by Busha herself, who explained that she financed the company from her personal savings and was both willing and able to forgo a salary for a couple more years in order to funnel all proceeds back into the business.

“You’re an example like we rarely have in here, and I’ll be a customer for life,” said billionaire Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban. After she left the room, he added, “The fact that she scrimped, has no debt, pays off her credit cards, saved up enough money to invest into this company and buy (her partner) out is such an amazing example for everybody.” Supportive comments about her work ethic also came from fellow Shark Robert Herjavec.

I reached out to Busha shortly after the show aired, and she responded immediately, happy to share her story about how she did it.

How did you become such a super saver?

I’ve always been a saver. I never had any type of allowance growing up but knew that if I kept my grades up, I would have the privilege of being involved in 4-H/FFA where food for my dairy cattle would be taken care of by my parents. Likewise, I was a runner in high school (my college athletic scholarship came partly from cross country/track and academics) and I knew that the $10 entry fee to run a road race on a weekend would be taken care of, assuming I kept up with my academic responsibilities. Whether it was my responsibility to milk cows, keep up my grades or the extra effort it took to become a better runner (I’d run before school in addition to after-school practice), I knew that was sort of my job.

I knew my parents didn’t have a set savings for me to go to college so I had to do everything possible to earn that privilege. They are so very supportive, and one of them was there at every single meet or event. If I ran a track meet on a Friday night, my dad would be there getting me up early in the morning to drive me to a road race Saturday morning. Since I didn’t have many jobs when I was younger to earn my own money, what little I had, I just didn’t waste.

Did you know that you were saving in order to start a business?  

Not at all. I think in this day where we all know the government is in such debt, you wonder what the future will be like in terms of Social Security and retirement. My husband and I operate in the same train of thought to not put ourselves in a position to be reliant on the government to support us in the future. If we put more savings away early on, it will be more valuable down the road.

Plus, you never know that the future holds. Jobs can be eliminated or a medical emergency happens… what happens if you have no savings to help get you through those rough times?

How did saving help you get started in your business? 

First of all, I worked for over a decade in sports marketing (primarily NASCAR). I worked my way up the industry and by 2007, a Sprint Cup driver had recruited me and another person to help him build his agency. I served as director of marketing there until the end of the 2010 season, when I left the industry to become an entrepreneur. When I worked, I was valued by both my company and the clients I worked with so I did make a salary that was probably higher than most men my age at the time.

It’s not an easy decision to just leave an industry where you are valued and become an entrepreneur, but I knew it was what I needed to do to grow professionally and get off the road so maybe one day I could be in a position where I could start a family. My husband was the one who really gave me that nudge, and knowing we had a nice cushion in case taking that risk didn’t work out, was the only way I would have been comfortable taking that leap of faith.

In terms of Slawsa, I had to dig into my savings to finance much of the start-up costs: production, travel to retailers, marketing supplies/assets, legal, etc. It’s not cheap to start a company, especially in an industry as highly competitive as the grocery one.

How has saving helped you realize your dreams? 

I can tell you there is nothing more fulfilling than waking up each day knowing your efforts are making a difference in growing a brand in the hearts of your consumers. I’m not there, but I’m on my way. I’m typically not the type of person who “settles,” as my standard for success is not normal. Every step is a step in the right direction, and there is no end to the road. I’m excited for the journey.

Did you use only your own savings or did you have friends or family chip in?

It was 100% our own savings. Recently, we’ve had to take some equity out of our home to fund increased production that was going to be needed for the show.

While none of the Sharks ending up investing in Slawsa, Busha is quick to point out that it wasn’t because they didn’t like her product. Lori Greiner grabbed Slawsa off the plate of another Shark after finishing her own, and most had compliments for the product. “In the end, I guess they didn’t believe that they could add value to the company,” Busha concluded.

In the meantime, Busha received an outpouring of support from viewers, including comments from financial talk show host Dave Ramsey and Food Network host Lisa Lillien, aka Hungry Girl. And Slawsa is continuing its growth trajectory, with no sign of slowing down. Busha has this advice for other entrepreneurs: “There’s no better feeling in the world than waking up each day knowing your tireless efforts are growing a company, so stop making excuses and do it.  It won’t be easy, but greatness does not come without sacrifice. Oh, and you should never let someone’s inability to see your value determine your worth.”

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