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Whatever Happened To Nopalera After Shark Tank?

As the name of the company suggests, Nopalera is an ode to the humble nopal, or cactus. It's a plant that grew in abundance in founder Sandra Velasquez's native San Diego, and can be used in cooking, textiles, and skincare. That latter category set off a lightbulb for Velasquez, who saw the plant as a replacement for aloe vera in beauty products. Nopales, she thought, were an untapped resource in the world of beauty and skincare, so she highlighted the hydrating ingredient, along with other Mexican botanicals, in her company that was showcased in a Season 14 episode of "Shark Tank."

Velasquez has a background in food sales, having worked for Mast Brothers Chocolate and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, and she enlisted a designer from a previous job to help create Nopalera's distinct branding. Velasquez launched Nopalera from her Brooklyn apartment in 2020, while she juggled her new business, three jobs, and life as a single mother during the pandemic. Moreover, she had to create her own network as an outsider in the beauty industry. "It was just a lot of just falling down rabbit holes on the internet, asking everyone I knew, reading industry articles, following the right publications, finding people's names there, and then going and finding those people directly," Velasquez told Martha Stewart. "You're not going to find anything unless you go and literally put yourself in the rooms."

Velasquez's scrapping led her to apply to "Shark Tank" on a whim, and she was selected to tape an episode in the summer of 2022.

Velasquez refused to negotiate with the sharks

In Sandra Velasquez's appearance in a Season 14 episode of "Shark Tank," she plainly stated her mission. "I created Nopalera to celebrate and elevate Latino culture and change the perception of Latino goods while inspiring our community to stand in their worth," Velazquez said, adding, "Who is ready to help me build the next Latina legacy brand?"

She had the numbers to back up her pitch. In her first year, she made $19,000 in sales, and that number jumped to $607,000 in 2021, thanks in large part to a network of wholesale accounts as well as independent boutiques.

Velasquez entered the shark tank seeking $300,000 for 5% equity in her company. For the sharks, that valuation was absurdly high, so they attempted to negotiate with the entrepreneur. Kevin O'Leary offered $300,000 for 30% in Nopalera, and guest shark Daniel Lubetsky countered with $300,000 for 25%.

Velasquez's only counteroffer was $600,000 for 10% (for all you math whizzes out there, yes, that's the exact same deal she initially requested). Velasquez's refusal to budge left Mark Cuban and Daymond John flabbergasted. "No wiggle room is crazy," said Cuban. "That's a first." John even spelled out the typical rhythms of a "Shark Tank" episode to Velasquez. "This show is based on negotiation," he said, flummoxed by her refusal to play the game. Velasquez ultimately left the show without a deal.

Velasquez turned her Shark Tank lemons into marketing lemonade

Sandra Velasquez left the shark tank without a deal, but with her fist raised proudly in the air. Since her "Shark Tank" appearance, Velasquez has turned "stand in your worth" into her company's unofficial slogan.

In the wake of Sandra Velasquez's unsuccessful "Shark Tank" outing, she turned the appearance into a marketing opportunity — even if the judges thought she was crazy to not embrace the show's spirit of negotiation. A few months after the episode aired in January 2023, Nopalera released sweatshirts that read, "My ancestors said 'stand in your worth.'" The company also launched a "Stand In Your Worth Shark Tank Bundle" made up of their signature cactus-shaped soaps, moisturizing bars, and exfoliants.

The sharks, for their part, don't seem bitter about Velasquez's message. At the end of the "Shark Tank" episode, Lori Greiner commended Velasquez for her tenacity. "For her, it was all about self-worth, and she stuck to it." Daniel Lubetsky even encouraged his Twitter followers to support the company by buying the "Shark Tank" bundle.

Velasquez received the seed funding she wanted

After filming her "Shark Tank" episode in the summer of 2022 and walking away without a deal, Sandra Velasquez received financial backing in October — months before the episode even aired in January — vindicating her "stand in your worth" credo. Nopalera raised $2.7 million in seed funding from L'Attitude Ventures, a firm that invests in Latino entrepreneurs, including six angel investors.

For Velasquez, the "Shark Tank" hiccup was part of her fundraising journey. "It felt great to stand in our company value of standing in our worth," she told The Beautiful Societies. "I was offered two deals and turned them down and then went on to raise a lot more money for less equity. My appearance on 'Shark Tank' galvanized the Latino community to stand in their worth and that meant everything."

With the help of the cash injection, Nopalera is projected to earn as much as $5 million by October 2023. As of last fall, their products were available at Nordstrom, Credo, Free People, and in 400 boutiques across the country.

Velasquez wants to be a voice for Latina-owned businesses

It's crucial to Sandra Velasquez that Nopalera's products remain natural, ec-friendly, and affordable. Today, the line of cactus paddle-shaped soaps, exfoliants, and moisturizing bars start at $14, with the priciest purchase being the $166 "Shark Tank" bundle, which is sold out at the time of this writing. Nopalera also makes the aforementioned sweatshirts, t-shirts, tote bags, and soap dishes.

Expansion is also on Velasquez's mind. "We are working on new products to come out later this year," she said in the same Beautiful Societies interview in 2023. "We are in talks with some national retailers and also have some exciting opportunities that we can't discuss yet. We have interest from overseas, but we need to focus on our home market first."

Nopalera began as a one-person passion project built out of an apartment, but for Velasquez, the company is a stepping stone to other pursuits. She mostly wants to empower other Latino business owners — a topic she explores regularly on The Nopalera Podcast. "For me, it's about the impact and what I can do with the results," she told Beauty Independent. She continued, "Why we would be so valuable to a strategic like [Estée Lauder] is because we've built an authentic community, and you can't fake that."