Why We Decided to Enter the Shark Tank (and Lessons Learned)
I know we've been shamelessly plugging our appearance on ABC's Shark Tank this Friday, April 27th, and I should've realized that doing this has been an open invitation to questions galore. So, this week, I decided to focus my blog posts on Shark Tank-related topics, so here goes . . .
Lollacup standing in line at the Shark Tank
Season 3 Open Casting Call
Why did you decide to enter the Shark Tank? My husband and I have been big fans of the show since Season 1, when Lollacup was just an idea. The friends who introduced us to the show would joke that we should try out for the show. Fast-forward 2 years, and we had actually launched Lollacup and were running the business full-speed. As many small businesses do, we needed more money to help pay for growth. Why not try and get funding, national TV exposure, and strategic business partners in one shot? We've had many discussions with people about the pros and cons of going the Shark-Tank-route. Some have argued that it is pure stupidity to sell a part of a growing business for such little money. I agree, to some extent, but every business is different. If there were some magic formula, we would all be millionaires. We thought about our current business and where we wanted to be in a few years, and if given the opportunity, we chose to try and work with moguls in the business world.
How did you actually get on the show? We went on the Shark Tank website, and found a link that said, "want to be on the show," followed the instructions, sent the email, and never heard back. One night, we were perusing the site again, and saw that there was an open casting call the very next morning. Luckily we live in the Los Angeles-area, so we arranged for childcare, filled out the 30+ page application that night, and got in line at 7 am the next morning. We didn't get seen till 2 pm that day, but that was the 30-second pitch that got the ball rolling for us.
Is the show real or is everything scripted? Others may have had a different experience with reality TV, but for us, everything was very real. We were assigned 2 producers who helped guide us through the intricate process that is reality TV, but aside from some changes to the wording of our pitch, nothing was scripted. I do have to say that what we may see on TV this Friday may be different from what we remember happening, only because an hour and a half of taping/negotiations is edited down to a few minutes.
Lessons learned and some unsolicited business advice from Lollacup:
- Business strategy and the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis are a crucial component of entrepreneurship, and to be frank, my husband has a solid background in business, so that's where we have a leg up. The contribution I bring to the table is this - I like to think like I did when I was a high school chemistry teacher and used "backwards planning" to lesson plan. The premise is you determine your end goal, and plan all the steps to achieve that specific goal. Many teachers like to plan around themes. For example, just because it is the month of October, everything lesson revolves around pumpkins. This kind of thinking, to me, sends the message that the end goal is to teach and learn about pumpkins. Wouldn't it be better to determine what you want students to learn, and plan lessons that move toward that goal? I like to use this method and thinking in business too. For example, when we first launched the product, the biggest question was, how were we going to compete with the dozen+ sippy cups on the market owned by companies like Gerber, Playtex, and the like? Our initial goal was to build buzz and brand awareness, so our first steps were to build a unique product, package it so it stands out, and build a beautiful booth so we get noticed at tradeshows.
- If you have a specific goal you want to achieve, make it your obsession. Although we didn't start a business with the end goal of being on Shark Tank, getting in front of the "sharks" was just one short-term goal we did have, and we literally became obsessed. We checked the same website over and over, watched the show incessantly to glean business tips from the sharks and other entreprenuers, and did whatever we could to increase our odds of getting casted on the show - honed our elevator pitch, made sure we were on top of every last detail of our business, and just tried to be candid about it all.
- The third lesson learned is to be overly prepared and move quickly. We stayed up all night before the open casting call, filling out the 30-page application. We saw so many others filling it out on the sidewalk that morning and not being able to complete it, because it actually required a lot of information that they didn't have on hand with them. Also, to increase our odds of getting selected for the show, we answered all Shark-Tank-related emails within minutes.
Wow! That was a mouthful. I can't believe that after all this, I still have more to say on the matter. Stay tuned for more . . .In the meantime, stay focused on your goals!
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