BEST IN THE CITI: FRAN HARRIS

Electra CEO Fran Harris and Shark Tank Investor Barbara Corcoran.
She made a name for herself in sports. Now, Fran Harris is looking to make her mark in the sports beverage industry.

As an 18-year-old trying to decide where to go to college and continue her basketball career, the Dallas native decided the University of Texas gave her the best chance of both getting a world-class education and winning an NCAA championship.

As team captain, Harris led the Longhorn women to their first and only NCAA title in 1986. The team went 34-0 and recorded the first perfect season in NCAA women’s history. Harris was named to the Southwest Conference’s all-decade team and finished her career as the fourth all-time leading scorer in University of Texas women’s history. She won a gold medal as part of USA basketball’s 1985 USA National Jones Cup Team, another gold on the 1986 World Championship team in 1986, and a third in 1987 as part of the USA Women’s Pan American Team. She played professional ball in Italy, and two years in the WNBA, but said she lost her passion for basketball when she was the last person cut for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team.

“I was pretty pissed about that,” Harris said. 

I want my legacy to be that I built an iconic brand, and that I helped other people build their companies.

She decided to go into broadcasting, calling games for ESPN, and later Longhorn Network. At the same time, she was working for ESPN, she took a job in sales with Proctor and Gamble. After four years, she launched her own consulting company to help clients such as Lockheed Martin and Coca-Cola develop organizational culture, develop leaders, and of course, increase sales. 

“People thought I was crazy for leaving P&G, but that’s not what I want my legacy to be. I want my legacy to be that I built an iconic brand and that I helped other people build their companies. That’s my legacy, and I know that,” said Harris. 

Harris said she is driven by the idea of legacy and the imminence of mortality. After her mom died suddenly when Harris was only 16 — “she was literally here one day and gone the next,” Harris said — she came to realize tomorrow is not promised, and she needed to make the most of every day she had on Earth.

“When I am no longer here, I want people to know that I was here. It’s really interesting when you’re young and you’re doing stuff, people don’t talk a whole lot about legacy. You’re just trying to get that money, you’re just trying to do whatever your goals are,” she said. 

“I’m going to do everything I want to do, and I don’t care how you feel about it, whether you think it’s a good idea, I’m going to do it. … I’m determined to make the most of my dash — the dash between the time that I was born and the time that I check out,” she continued. “Fortunately, I’m good at business, so it works, but even if it doesn’t, I’d still do it.”

And so in her journey to do it all, Harris moved to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting. “I’ve always loved movies, so from college, literally if I wasn’t in practice, I was in a movie, so I was always fascinated by the idea of the big screen,” Harris said. She had several screenplays optioned, and was tapped to teach by both the Austin Film Festival and SXSW. 

That’s when I decided I was going to create a better-for-you sports drink

Today, the woman who made her name in sports is looking to make a mark in the sports beverage industry.

After running a 5K in 2019, volunteers at the finish line handed her a sports drink that she described as “little more than water, sugar, and salt. That’s when I decided I was going to create a better-for-you sports drink,” Harris said. 

 

It wasn’t the first time she had the idea to develop a sports drink. Ten years ago, she had an idea for a sports drink called Resurrection. It would be marketed to the Christian community. But she knew the timing was wrong. 

“I’m starting now because consumers are ready for it now. The better-for-you sports drink category is ready now. We haven’t even tapped the surface of what can happen in this specific category. You’ve got different age demographics, you’ve got people wanting collagen.”

Originally, the plan was to officially launch the Electra Beverages in April 2020 at the NCAA Women’s Final Four — a Homecoming of sorts for Harris. But COVID-19 had other plans. The Final Four events were canceled, and Electra was shelved. Instead of launching as planned, Harris “used 2020 to sharpen my knives, to build relationships, to refine the story of Electra, and to get better as a CEO.”

I learned that one of the best gifts you can give yourself as a founder and CEO is the gift of knowing your stuff.

She spent the year learning the ins and outs of the sports beverage industry. She had made a career of knowing the business of running a business and felt confident in her ability to launch a successful brand pre-COVID, but the step back, she said, gave her an opportunity to refine her story. 

“Knowing your stuff helps you tell the story of your business to investors, it helps you tell the story in media interviews, it helps you tell the story to customers,” said Harris. “I learned that one of the best gifts you can give yourself as a founder and CEO is the gift of knowing your stuff. And that doesn’t mean that you know every single detail about your company — most founders can’t do every aspect of their companies, even though they try — but knowing the business, I really grew in thought leadership in 2020.”

The product officially launched on January 8 on Shark Tank. Like others before them, many of the potential investors were hesitant about her entering such a crowded market. But real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran decided to invest in the product because of Harris’s poise and confidence, offering her $100,000 and a $250,000 line of credit, in exchange for a 30% stake in the company. It seems the time Harris spent learning the industry and refining her story paid off — literally.

Fran Harris pitching her sports drink Electra on Shark Tank in Jan 2021.

Harris said if there’s any advice she would give to those hoping to launch a product, it would be that, “It’s ok to enter a very competitive space if you know where the niche is and (where) the niche opportunities are in that space.”

And, she said, if a successful person gives you advice on how to be successful, take it; a lesson she learned from her failure to implement the advice given to her by media mogul and billionaire Byron Allen early in her media career.  

“He gave me the game, but I didn’t do it,” she said. “You could get the best advice, but it’s what you do with the advice” that determines where you will go, she added. 

Finally, know your brand, your story, and your lane, and own it. 

“You’re never going to see Electra for $1 at Walmart. You’re not going to go to a Lamborghini lot and try to buy a Camry,” Harris said.

 


For more information about Harris and to follow her on social media – visit her website, Facebook Page or Instagram Profile. To see the full list of Black Innovators to watch, visit Best in the Citi.

Best in the Citi is sponsored by the African American Leadership Institute. AALI is currently seeking passionate and committed leaders to apply for their inaugural cohort.
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