It all started with a smell. Taylor Wiegele and Sierra Smith (both MBA 2017) met with a group of classmates for their FIELD III course, trying to come up with a problem to fix. The course, now an elective, tasks first-year students with creating a product to start their own venture. When a group member – don’t worry, they won’t reveal who – took off her shoes, they knew they had found their problem to solve.

"She knew [the smell] was bad, but then she started listing out all the reasons current products on the market don't work. They either A) don’t eliminate the odor, B) bunch up in her shoes, or C) make her shoes tighter due to the inserts," Smith explains. "She came up with the problem for us."

Wiegele, who has a background in air and water filtration thanks to his engineering work at SpaceX, used his knowledge to mock up a product that relied on materials traditionally used for absorption in the aerospace and healthcare fields. The insert is a small adhesive square that can fit into any shoe but has more odor-absorbing surface area than a tennis court. Originally called "N'Odor," the team pivoted to Zorpads because it was a play on aerospace terminology and the product itself – plus, knowing a good deal when they saw one, the web domain was $12 a year.

Partnerships take Zorpads to the stars

Since graduating from HBS in 2017, Wiegele and Smith continued growing Zorpads, despite their post-graduation paths taking them bicoastal. Smith, based in New York City working as a healthcare consultant, and Wiegele, who spends his days working in product marketing for Hot Wheels in Los Angeles, credit their partnerships for allowing them the freedom to explore the creative side of this growing business.

They brought on an agency that had a sales contact to manage their Amazon account and partnered with a manufacturer to handle making the product. These moves allow them the time to not only focus on their day jobs, but also on the fun aspects of building a business, such as setting a growth strategy, thinking about website design and building a social media presence.

Those weren't the only connections they used in building the business. The pair tapped into their networks to try and land a spot on the hit television show, Shark Tank. They got the idea from pitching their business to different connections, the majority of whom recommended a spot on the show to take their one-time class project to the national stage. The same way HBS served as a setting for their venture's launch, they filmed their video application for Shark Tank while on campus for their one-year reunion.

However, being accepted to Shark Tank wasn't an easy process. The pair noted that it was months of written and video applications, and even when they made it to the studio, they still did not have guarantee their segment would air. It ultimately did air on January 27th, with Wiegele and Smith pitching Zorpads to the Sharks, landing a deal with Lori Greiner for a 22.5 percent stake in the company for $150,000 plus the added bonus of an endorsement from guest Shark and famed basketball player, Charles Barkley.

Since the episode aired, Smith and Wiegele have done more in sales in the two weeks following than they did for the entire lifespan of the company. However, they and their partners were ready, and they have plans to further expand to other retailers in addition to selling from their own site. They're also still working out the logistics of Barkley's endorsement. After seeing such high demand, they're only looking to the future, trying to build off their current momentum.

Breaking barriers to entrepreneurship

It's hard to imagine that with all this success, they're still devoting only part of their time to Zorpads. Noting that one of the biggest misconceptions of entrepreneurship is that you have to devote all your time and energy, Smith clarifies it can actually be a breath of fresh air.

"A side hustle is super motivating and fun, and it forces you to focus your time on something else rather than absorbing all of your time at work," she muses. "Maybe it will grow and become your full-time role, but I think the biggest barrier is people believing they don't have the time or can’t quit their day job, but it’s not an either/or."

Wiegele agrees, noting that their partnerships have allowed them to focus on the aspects of the business that really drive them.

"[Our story] is just a good reminder that there are many ways to build a business," Wiegele explains. "You typically think of people [starting their own venture] as doing it full-time, but we've just done it our own way that allows us to make money and pay off our student loans while still working on a company we believe in."

Above all else, they credit Zorpads' success to each other, both noting that their respective interests are what makes the company well-rounded.

"Having a partner is incredibly powerful, it's complementary and helps you get a lot more done," Smith says. "Plus, it’s more fun!"