Becca Millstein and Caroline Goldfarb, co-founders of Fishwife.
Christopher Willard / Disney/Getty Images; Frazer Harrison/Variety/Getty Images; iStock; Rebecca Zisser/BI
Fishwife, a trendy tinned seafood company, was valued at around $5 million on Shark Tank.But the company’s founders, Becca Millstein and Caroline Goldfarb, apparently had a falling-out.A little-noticed lawsuit over control of the company’s accounts was quickly settled last year.
Fishwife, a company that sells whimsically illustrated tins of smoked salmon, sardines, and albacore tuna, was a hit with media elite and online hypebeasts from almost the moment it launched in December 2020.
Co-founders Rebecca Millstein and Caroline Goldfarb landed a profile in Vogue on December 2, and a slew of media appearances followed, from writeups in The New York Times to a tastefully muted photo shoot in Condé Nast Traveller under the headline “Meet the Women Making Tinned Fish Cool.” In an interview with NYLON in 2021, Goldfarb declared: “Tinned fish is the ultimate hot girl food,” leading to a wave of trend stories about what was and wasn’t “hot girl food.”
The buzz culminated with Fishwife appearing on Shark Tank’s latest episode, where the brand hooked two investors in a deal valuing the company at $5 million — but the absence of one of the two beloved co-founders made some sense blood was in the water.
Millstein said on the ABC program that her premium preserved fish company has grown to about $5.8 million in annual sales. “We are unapologetically flipping the entire seafood industry on its tail in a bold, beautiful, and brazen way,” she said. Plus, she added, “the TikTok trend is ‘hot girls eat tinned fish.'”
Her pitch landed her a deal with investors Lori Greiner and Candice Nelson on an episode that aired January 12. But Millstein appeared on the show without Goldfarb, casting a spotlight on a previously hush-hush beef between Millstein and Goldfarb, who also works as a TV writer and social media personality.
In July, Fishwife sued Goldfarb, claiming that she and her father were refusing to turn over access to the company’s website, email, and cloud-storage accounts in an attempt to get a bigger stake in the company.
Millstein “has devoted an average of more than 90 hours per week to growing the company, overseeing operations, hiring additional personnel, and building a respected brand,” the lawsuit said. “In contrast, Caroline Goldfarb worked for Fishwife for less than a year, and for no more than a few hours per week.”
The lawsuit, which was apparently settled less than a month after it was filed, made no waves when it hit last summer, perhaps because it was filed in Fishwife’s lesser-known legal name, Shrimp Girls Inc.
“It’s upsetting to see the animosity when I saw the lawsuit,” an investor in the company who requested anonymity due to potential legal issues told Business Insider.
But on Tuesday, Casey Lewis, who writes a popular newsletter on youth consumer trends, noticed that Goldfarb was missing when Millsein pitched Fishwife on Shark Tank and began asking questions. She spotted that Goldfarb didn’t follow Millstein on Instagram, and then trawled Google to find the lawsuit between Fishwife and Goldfarb, posting her findings to TikTok.
“I don’t know these people, I don’t eat tinned fish, and I am here for this drama,” one viewer commented. Niche drama about a company selling luxe canned creatures of the deep was irresistible, and two of Lewis’ followers then sent her the full legal filing.
The lawsuit claimed Goldfarb agreed in writing to accept an 8.75% stake in the company, but reneged before the paperwork was finalized and demanded 35%. Fishwife asked the court to rule that Goldfarb was only entitled to 8.75% – and that she and her father be ordered to turn over access to the company’s Google email and storage account and its website, eatfishwife.com.
Goldfarb runs the viral Instagram account @officialseanpenn and had a popular podcast called “Glowing Up” about skincare.
Although the lawsuit alleges that Goldfarb had not contributed any work to Fishwife since May 2021, she had continued to post to her Instagram about the company, including about the Shark Tank episode last week.
The Shark Tank episode aired this month, but it was filmed in the summer of 2023, per an ABC spokesperson. Fishwife hinted in its lawsuit filed around that time that it had been looking for fresh cash, and that Goldfarb was preventing them from netting deals.
“Caroline Goldfarb has kept Fishwife in limbo, preventing the company from raising new equity and substantially hampering its ability to find new investors and secure outside funds,” the complaint said.
The case was dropped “with prejudice,” meaning that it can’t be refiled, on August 11, before Goldfarb formally responded and before the court weighed in. Dismissals with prejudice often indicate that a settlement was reached, but no settlement documents were made public.
In her Shark Tank appearance, Millstein said the company had gone from $750,000 in sales in 2021 to an estimated $5.8 million in 2023. She suggested its margins were high: The company’s costs averaged $2.09 a can, and its average retail price was $7.99 a can.
On Shark Tank, Millstein reeled in Nelson and Greiner, receiving $350,000 in exchange for 6% to 8% of the company. Assuming the terms of the deal didn’t change after filming, that values the company at between $4.3 million and $5.9 million.
In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission made around the time the company was launched in 2020, Fishwife indicated that it had 15 investors.
Millstein did not respond to requests for comment. Caroline Goldfarb declined to comment.
Fishwife replied to a request for comment sent Thursday morning with an automated email noting the company is a “small team of 5” working to “keep up with the overwhelming amount of orders we’re currently receiving.”