Don't take no for an answer. And steer clear of people who do.
That was some of the advice that Lori Greiner, one of the entrepreneurs who star on ABC's reality TV show "Shark Tank," had Friday for a crowd that packed into a $50-a-seat luncheon at the Chattanooga Convention Center for the kick-off of the Mad, Bad and Dangerous women's entrepreneurial summit this weekend at Girls Preparatory School.
Mad, Bad and Dangerous continues all day today at a free public conference at GPS' campus in North Chattanooga. Events include a women's and girls' marketplace with more than 50 vendors, various speakers and Co.Lab's 24Hour Generator, in which some 30 high school girls will compete to solve a business problem.
And Mad, Bad and Dangerous will expand next year, since, in addition to the Chattanooga event, the Knoxville Entrepreneurship Center will hold a Mad, Bad and Dangerous conference.
"This city has embraced this event, and the event has expanded," GPS Head of School Autumn Graves announced Friday to loud applause.
Greiner, who said she holds more than 120 patents and helped launch more than 500 products, talked about her first one: An earring holder with capacity for 100 earrings. The idea came to Greiner while she was getting a massage from a female massage therapist friend who bemoaned the lack of a good way to store earrings.
"Like a thunderbolt, I saw my first product," Greiner said. "I knew — like all entrepreneurs — that everybody in the world would buy it."
That was in 1996, before the Internet had taken off.
So Greiner, who has no formal business training, had to figure out how to get her idea from concept to market using reference books at the library to cold-call buyers around the country, including at JCPenney, which decided to carry the earring holder.
She pored over the yellow pages phone directory to find everything from a manufacturer in Chicago, where Greiner is from, to the female attorney who's since handled all of Greiner's patents.
The female attorney is from the same big firm that first had a male patent attorney talk with Greiner. But Greiner got rid of him a few minutes into their first meeting since every time she asked a question, the male attorney would turn away from Greiner and answer her husband.
"If something is not right, don't stick with it," Greiner told the audience. "You're never stuck with what's in front of you. If it's not right, it's never really going to probably work."
Greiner's been called the "Queen of QVC," for her regular appearances on the TV home shopping network of that name.
"QVC may look fun and easy — it's not," she said. "Every day is kind of a crisis. There's always things that go wrong, and you just roll with it."
She shared a story of how a QVC producer couldn't get the video to work for the Drop Stop car seat gap filler that Greiner adopted on "Shark Tank."
That could have sunk the product on its QVC debut, said Greiner who found another producer who helped her figure out a fix in five minutes.
Now, Drop Stop has $15 million in annual sales, she said, and is the most most successful product to come out of "Shark Tank."
"I'm not going to take no for an answer. I think that is the entrepreneurial spirit," Greiner said. "If you have a dream and you have a passion to do something, you can make anything happen."