Braxton Fleming, a self-proclaimed gym rat, had walked up and down the aisles of his local gym at least 1,000 times visualizing this moment … manifesting this moment.
So, when Braxton walked down the halls and onto the set of "Shark Tank" last year, this game-changing moment was something he truly believes was "predestined."
Last October, Braxton became the first transgender, Black man to receive funding from not one, but two Sharks -- Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban for his inspiring brand, Stealth Bros & Co., a company that creates luxury kits and bags for hormone therapy.
Stealth Bros & Co. ultimately received $200,000 from the two Sharks for a 20% stake in the company.
"I pictured walking through those doors a million times thinking about how it looked, what I would say, how I would react, envisioning them saying, 'You got a deal!'" he explained.
"Once I got the deal, I was so happy, but at the same time, it was like I was in a quiet space," he added. "Of course, I was crying and calling my dad, but it's surreal because I envisioned it. I wrote it down, rewrote it a million times. I saw it a million times happening in my mind. And you know, to have that come to fruition is just like, now this is real."
Braxton has been an inspiration to the LGBTQ2+ and Black communities. But much like his "Shark Tank" journey, Braxton said his professional journey was something of "destiny."
Finding His True Self
"I always tell people, I feel like I was destined to be in this position for my community, but it really started when I was 27 years old. I was going through this feeling that something was missing in my life," he said.
At that time, Braxton had been a nurse for seven years and was thriving in his profession.
"I'm making good money, but something wasn't right," he said. "And I literally couldn't figure out what was wrong. I thought I needed to change careers, but I ended up stumbling across a video of a transgender man on YouTube. And I was so flabbergasted that this person was able to transition into a man. I literally was very ignorant to the whole transgender community before I realized I was transgender."
Braxton grew up in a diverse, loving and supportive household, so labels were never something he had to think about.
"I had lesbian aunts that I didn't even realize were gay because everyone was so accepting," he said. "So now I'm 27, I'm living this life, an open lesbian life. I had a girlfriend at the time and she's like, 'Do you think you want to transition?'"
While Braxton shut down the idea immediately, he couldn't stop watching that YouTube video.
"It got to a point where I was crying every day. I ended up going to therapy and my therapist said, 'I really think that you need to transition,'" he said. "And that's pretty much where my journey started to begin hormone therapy."
During this hormone journey, the nurse in him noticed that you end up with all these needles and syringes and nowhere to put them.
"I told my girlfriend at the time, there's nothing for me to put my stuff in. I'm going to make my own bag. Eight months later, I was feeling more confident and I really wanted to have top surgery. So, I thought, what can I do to create more money to pay for surgery?" he said.
Top surgery for transgender men and nonbinary people is a procedure to remove breast or chest tissue, and can cost as much as $7,000, so Braxton got to work designing a stylish bag. And what his father told him is something he'll never forget.
"I was in front of my house outside and my dad was in his room on the second floor, leaning out the window and I'm like, 'Dad, I got this idea.' Both of my parents are entrepreneurs. I told him I was about to get 300 bags because I think if I sold 300 within that year, then I'd have enough to pay for part of my top surgery … He's like, "Are you sure 300 is going to be enough?"
It was support and trust in his abilities like that which propelled Braxton to think bigger. He built relationships with others in the transgender community, so when it was time to launch, they took to social media to make sure this product launch would be successful.
"Within the first month of launch I knew I had to give back to my community because they were accepting it and supporting it so much. And then that's when I created the Stealth Growth Support Fund. In fact, the first year I ended up giving away literally all my money to everybody else," he said.
As he started to grow, that's when he realized this product really wasn't just for the transgender community, it was for everybody.
"With my nursing background, I realized that even my dad, who's a diabetic, would love this bag," he said. "It's your private bag, but your private bag that you can feel proud about."
Braxton and TD Bank, a Perfect Collaboration
Braxton met Steve Garibell, Head of TD Bank's LGBTQ2+ Business Development, through the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
"They offer programs and had this transgender entrepreneur program where TD was a sponsor," he said.
Braxton ended up speaking to and inspiring other up-and-coming small business owners like himself. Speaking with young, diverse business owners is something Braxton really believes in. He said that in the first two years of joining the NGLCC, he attended every event and made so many fruitful connections.
"Even if I was scared and I didn't want to be there, I still attended," he said. "And that's what got me so many different opportunities. I'm beyond grateful. I think the networking really just took me to the next level."
And that's why he got involved with TD. To give back and help others reach the level he's currently at today.
How That Historic 'Shark Tank' Moment Came Together
Stealth Bros and Co. has been around since 2017. After a breakup a few years back, Braxton really dove into his work and made this company the best it could be.
And the "Shark Tank" opportunity came after Braxton thought another door had just closed.
"The day that I got the email from 'Shark Tank,' I was supposed to be on CNBC for a segment and that morning they emailed me and said, 'Unfortunately, we're not going choose you to be on the segment,'" he said. "Later in the day, I see this email from Shark Tank, and I'm like, 'What is this?' I open it because it looked suspect, it didn't look real."
Though he "didn't believe it," Braxton decided to call the number on the email just in case.
"They were like, we want you to be on 'Shark Tank,' but there's a few things that you have to do to be involved. I didn't even apply. It was really crazy," he said. "And let me tell you something, I mean, to get on 'Shark Tank,' is no joke. I mean, it is hundreds of pages of due diligence. It is months of work."
He said that even after you get the deal, it's a few more months of due diligence working with Mark and Barbara's teams to make sure everyone moves forward in the right way. But obviously, that's all worth it.
"I know that when they're ready to move, we'll move. For right now, I'm just doing all the homework that they asked me to do, and that's pretty much it. But as far as how I felt, I envisioned all the details of that day. Those small details are how I live my life. You have to really manifest every single point of where you want to be," he said.
What's Next for Stealth Bros. & Co.
The short-term goals right now involve creating a duffle bag, with a fully insulated side compartment so that you can carry your medications.
"I'm going to design that whole pocket just for medications," he said. "This way you can carry your clothes, all your stuff, you won't need your Stealth Bros & Co. Dopp kit because it's all within the duffle."
As for long-term goals, Braxton has always envisioned a warehouse.
"The warehouse is definitely something I want because I'd be able to distribute all my products from there instead of having third-party logistics," he explained. "I would also love to see Stealth Bros & Co. on the side of the building knowing that's my building."
There are also the 3,000 CVS stores that currently carry Stealth products. That huge partnership is something Braxton has spent the past three years working on.
Braxton attended CVS's Executive Learning program, calling it "one of the best programs I've ever attended."
"They teach you so much about CVS and just supplier diversity in general," he said, adding that his mentor in the program prepared him with crucial questions like, "Do you have packaging?"
"I'm doing all these different things now and I have my product shelf ready," he said "I'm super grateful, super thankful, excited to see what the future holds and just trying to make the right decisions!"