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In Conversation with Alumni Member Nicole on Big Dreams and Risks

Tell me, have you ever taken big risks in your professional life? I know first hand just how exciting and scary taking those big risks can be, but the journey through entrepreneurship offers so many opportunities that you can’t let fear hold you back from creating the life you have always dreamed of. On that note, I am so excited to welcome to the blog our Jilly Academy Alumni member, Nicole who is an inspiration for how to dream big and take those big risks!

What do you do/what is your industry?

Hello! My name is Nicole Duff. I am the President and Founder of the WALK STAR Dog Waste Caddy! (Soon to be SlyPod™ Dog Poop Caddy) More on that in a bit 😉.

Our caddy addresses a significant pain point for dog owners…what to do with that bag full of poo?! I mean, do you carry it awkwardly in your hand and hope to luck out and find an elusive garbage can? Or maybe you hang it from your leash and try to ignore the smell wafting up from the conspicuous swaying sack? Perhaps you do what so many others tend to do these days… bag the poop and then toss it along the sidewalk or trail when no one is looking. 

A young boy recently told me that his grandma needed one of our nifty inventions as “she just throws the bag in the bushes.”

Jilly Academy Alumni member Nicole Duff standing on a white background wearing blue jeans, a black sweater and white sneakers. She is leaning down to pet her black dog. They are showcasing her product where she took one of her big risks on, SlyPod.

How did your business come to be?

As a dog owner, I became increasingly frustrated with the lack of trash cans on my dog walking routes and was repulsed by carrying their used poop bags. I was also confused by the fact that there did not yet seem to be a good solution to the problem. So, like the stubborn woman I am, I decided I was going to find a way NOT to carry the poop anymore! Now I get to walk the block in stealth mode.

What is one professional risk that you took that paid off?

I am the kind of person that seeks out challenges to see what I’m made of, and what better challenge could there be besides applying to the Dragon’s Den TV show?!

I auditioned first in 2021 and didn’t make the cut which ended up being a blessing in disguise as our production was delayed, and we didn’t have any numbers to give them at that point. 

When I auditioned in 2022, I had a good feeling. I was confident in my presentation abilities and business and hoped the producers would find myself and my product Dragon’s Den worthy. 

While vacationing in Mexico in March of this year, I received a call from the producer that I was accepted to the show! It was a dream come true!

Jilly Academy Alumni member Nicole Duff sitting on a white backdrop wearing a white v-neck t-shirt, blue jeans and white sneakers. She is showcasing her product where she took one of her big risks on, SlyPod.

Can you speak on your experience with Dragon’s Den?

Since the season has not aired yet, I am limited to what I can discuss, but I can give you the personal side of things.

After I found out I was accepted to the show, reality set in… and so did an acute case of insomnia. I thought: “I’m actually going to Toronto to pitch my business and myself to the Dragons…Do I have what it takes?!” I’ve watched the show for at least a decade and have seen successful entrepreneurs who manage to charm the Dragons and leave the den not only unscathed but with new and powerful partners ready to take on the world. And, I have seen those unfortunate others you can’t help but feel sorry for as they squirm while being eaten alive. Which camp would I be in? Maybe somewhere in the middle?  

There was also an issue… we found out that we had a trademark conflict with our name (WALK STAR) in the US, and we were in the middle of a rebrand (SlyPod™). We only had about a month between finding out we were accepted to our actual filming date, so there was a lot to do! Sidenote – I still work full-time as a practical nursing instructor and am a mom to an 11 & 13-year-old!

Thankfully we have a great relationship with our manufacturer, and they were able to expedite samples of the newly branded product and packaging in time for the show, but it was close. The samples arrived 3 days before my flight to Toronto!

In the meantime, I was busy crafting my pitch: practicing it with my eyes closed, lying down, in the mirror, etc., and getting down and dirty with the numbers. I also binge-watched the last 5 seasons of the Dragon’s Den at least 3 times, trying to prepare myself for the types of questions I would be fielding and trying to learn from those who braved the den before me. 

Jilly Academy Alumni member Nicole Duff holding up her certificate from Dragon's Den where she took one of her big risks on, SlyPod.

But, even the best-laid plans don’t always go as expected… I learned that it’s true what they say in show business: “never work with children and animals”. Well, I had two furry companions who accompanied me into the den. And, while I don’t want to give any spoilers, I’ll just say they were distracting enough to knock me off my game and send my confidence packing, at least for the first 90 seconds, the part that matters most…the pitch. 

Nothing can fully prepare you for the Dragon’s Den. I’ve done live TV and radio interviews in the past but standing in front of the Dragons is a whole different thing. Their job as investors is to critically evaluate the entrepreneur and the business. I think the feeling would be something akin to standing naked in front of judges whose job is to find and point out all of your flaws while trying to figure out whether you are acceptable. I am 42 years old and have never felt more vulnerable than I did standing alone in front of those 6 dragons. 

Something most people don’t know is that not every pitch gets aired, regardless of the outcome. The producers have to try and balance the episodes. So, I won’t actually know if my pitch will be aired until 4 weeks before the air date! And then comes the real vulnerability…watching it for the first time along with my family, friends, and community. What will they think? Does it matter? It does, though, to me, at least. I want to make people proud. I want to inspire people to go after their dreams, even if it is scary and even if they risk getting eaten by a dragon because we never know what we are truly capable of until we try.

Jilly Academy Alumni member Nicole Duff standing on a white background wearing blue jeans, a black sweater and white sneakers. She is leaning down to kiss her black dog. They are showcasing her product where she took one of her big risks on, SlyPod.

One of your biggest takeaways from The Jilly Academy?

I was so excited when The Jilly Academy launched and signed up immediately. I’ve always been a huge fan of Jillian’s. I admire her ability to think big, go after what she wants and make it happen! I knew she would have a wealth of knowledge and skills that I could benefit from, and of course, I was right. The courses are laid out in a way that makes them easy to follow, and the exercises are enormously helpful. The Jilly Academy really helped me to dissect my business and build a stronger foundation, and I am so thankful for that! Also, I have to mention the Jilly Academy Facebook group; what an amazing group of entrepreneurs! I don’t have many people in my life with business experience, so I get stuck in a rut from time to time, not knowing what to do in a given situation. The Jilly Academy community has been so supportive and helpful to me over the last year. So many of them have offered their valuable insight and support, and I am also so grateful to them.

Any advice you’d like to offer fellow entrepreneurs, and creators?

Dream big. Learn from your failures. Budget carefully. Bootstrap as much as possible. Surround yourself with people who inspire you!

Jilly Academy Alumni member Nicole Duff sitting on a white background wearing blue jeans, a white v-neck shirt and white sneakers. She is holding the product where she took one of her big risks on, SlyPod.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I’m just so thrilled to have had the opportunity to take up some space here on Jillian’s blog; the imposter syndrome is hitting hard right now!

Thank you so much to our Alumni member, Nicole for inviting us into your journey as take big risks to make your dreams come true You can find Nicole on Instagram, YouTube, or visit her website HERE! Ready to join Nicole and become a part of the incredible community of Alumni members? Enroll TODAY to gain a clear roadmap on how to get started building out your dreams with The Jilly Academy!



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