A few years back I was invited to speak at Babson College, a small private school in Wellesley, Massachusetts. They invited me to come and speak about my experiences on Shark Tank. And although I've done a number of speaking engagements, this was really a big deal for me.
You see, Babson's curriculum is focused on entrepreneurship education. The school's list of distinguished alum is like a Who's Who of entrepreneurship and business: Jamie Siminoff, a fellow Shark Tank alum and Founder of Ring, Arthur Blank, Co-Founder of the Home Depot and the owner of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and Akio Toyoda, President & CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation.
The day I arrived on campus, I had a few minutes to grab a coffee and say a prayer as I always do. Shortly thereafter the students began to crowd the auditorium and I could feel the rush coming on. I enjoy sharing my life/entrepreneurial experiences with others because so many people have shared their's with me. It's the proverbial "paying it forward" that really drives me and gives me satisfaction.
As expected, the students began to ask me about Barbara, Daymond, and Kevin O'Leary....then all of sudden one young lady asked me, "Mr. Tod, how did you know that selling pies was your calling." Surprised by her question I responded, "that's a great question." Then I had to pause for a moment because I knew this was personal - a story I had never shared in public.
I told her my story was well documented after being on Shark Tank. How I had lost everything and became homeless after my first venture into the pie business didn't pan out. I went on to explain how I had 4 vehicles repossessed during that time and that it was while returning the 4th vehicle (I was told a voluntary repossession wouldn't be as negative on my credit report) that something happened that changed my life forever.
I began to describe how I was returning one of my last company vehicles to a local Ford dealership after having visited my mother in Philadelphia. I told the students I took a detour that day through downtown Princeton. I demonstrated by walking across the auditorium's stage that there's a law in New Jersey that if someone is in the crosswalk you have to yield to the pedestrian. As I drove down Nassau Street on that October day I approached a crosswalk right in front of Princeton University. I saw a person entering the crosswalk but really didn't have much time to yield. A fraction of the tire was in the crosswalk before I came to a stop. As I waited for the people to cross, a police car pulled up behind and put its lights on....I'm thinking ah damn, I tried to stop!
The officer approached my window and asked for my license and registration. I nervously fumbled through the van's glovebox and gave him my paperwork and he said, "hold on, I'll be right back." When he returned he asked me to step outside the vehicle, and that I was under arrest. I said, "for what'? The officer told me my license was suspended and that my registration and insurance had expired. I said, "officer I had no idea. I'm going through a difficult period and I never received notice of this." He asked me to turn around and proceeded to handcuff me.
Remember, the student's question was how did I know this was what i was supposed to be doing.
Fast forward, I get an attorney because I'm looking at losing my license. Also during this difficult time I met a beautiful young lady while waiting tables at my friend's popular soul food spot. It was also during this period that I found a small bagel shop on Easton Avenue in Somerset, New Jersey that was looking to sublease some space. Eventually I began to wait tables in the evening and bake pies overnight. By March of 2002 things were looking up as I had taken over the bagel shop and renamed it, Mr. Tod's Pie Factory. So about 6 months after losing everything I was back in business with a beautiful lady on my side, but unfortunately still had my driver's license being suspended staring me in the face. This was critical because at this point I was doing everything. Making the pies, delivering the pies, and picking up the ingredients.
My attorney was able to able to push the court date back a few times to put off the inevitable of losing my license. Which in theory could have changed my whole story since I needed it to keep the business going. At one of my initial court dates I ran into the officer who arrested me. He had since been promoted to Sgt. and was off the streets. During that meeting he said to me, "look man, I know you're are good guy who was just going through a hard time. I'll say what I can to the judge, but it's pretty cut and dry." That morning I asked my girlfriend to pick me up at the courthouse because I was going to lose my license. Angrily, she asked me why I hadn't said anything before. I said I was too embarrassed, and that things had been going so well.
So on that particular day (a Friday) my case was once again pushed back until Monday as the court was filled with other cases. When I returned to the bakery later that day my girlfriend asked me why I didn't call her for a ride? I told her the case was rescheduled until Monday. She looked at me in disgust and said, "you better sell some pies this weekend 'cause you're about to lose your license!' By now the students we're looking at me like I'm crazy. Like tell us, how did you know you were supposed to be selling pies?
I said I arrived at the courthouse early Monday morning obviously in a bad mood knowing what was about to happen. I'm gonna lose my license for at least 6 months and I'd be right back where I started! But as I sat on the courtroom bench, my attorney came over and tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "did you hear what happened?" I looked at him with a frown and said, "no, but I know what's about to happen, I'm gonna lose my damn license!" He replied, "no seriously?" I said, "NO, TELL ME!!" He looked at me and said, they're dropping the charges because the cop (who was the only witness as the arresting officer) committed suicide last night." You see, the same officer who said he understood that I was going through something, was also going through something himself.
Teary eyed and choked up, I looked at the students and said, "that's when I knew this is what I'm supposed to be doing."