By Lois Crouse
How to Get on Shark Tank
The Shark Tank: Before You Dive in…
Before you start on this voyage (and, make no mistake, it’s a long one), you need to realize that the odds are not in your favor. True, many get on the show, and you could be one of them. More do not get on.
It’s a long and arduous process on purpose.
They want to weed out those who apply simply as a lark and those not fully committed to their businesses. They have tens of thousands of applicants each year who are determined to succeed, tenacious, patient, persistent—all the qualities it takes to establish and operate a successful business. They can’t waste their time and effort on those who are not.
Make sure that you are not prohibited from applying.
Full eligibility requirements appear on the Shark Tank website, Page 1 of the Initial Application Package. In brief,
- You need to be a U.S. citizen or legal resident.
- You cannot be a convicted felon or have criminal charges pending.
- You, your immediate family members or anyone living in your home may not be an employee of any company with a connection to the show, including but not limited to, Finnmax LLC; UAMG Content, LLC; Sony Pictures Television Inc.; American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.; and any company owned by a shark.
- You cannot be running for public office or run within a year after the season your segment appears.
Even if you are selected to appear on the show, there are no guarantees.
Suppose you have gone through all the auditions and have been selected to give your pitch to the sharks. First thing you need to know is that just because you were filmed giving your pitch, it doesn’t mean your segment will be televised. They film more pitches than they need.
You know from watching the show that not everyone who appears leaves with a deal. What you may not know is that, even if you make a deal, the shark who made you the offer is not obligated to follow through with it. After the filming, the sharks and their staffs do their due diligence and check out your company thoroughly. If there are discrepancies in the information you provided, the offer will be rescinded. You lose out on a golden opportunity simply because you (even if inadvertently) misled the sharks.
However, even if you do not get a deal or the deal does not close, all is not lost. You have introduced your product to more than 8 million viewers. Not only are those viewers potential customers, they are also investors who watch the show with the express purpose of grabbing up the businesses that the sharks passed on—often with great success.
The sharks do more than hand over money and check in once in a while.
If you get a deal, you need to be prepared for the shark(s) who invested in your business to be absolutely hands-on. They are not going to hand over, say, $250,000 and let you sink or swim. So you will have their expertise, which is invaluable, but you will give up some control of your business. If you have the attitude it’s your business, you are the one who spent years of sweat and tears building it, and you know what is best for it, you should float right on by the shark tank.
Method 1: Apply Online
The one-page preliminary application is the easiest way to apply for the show. Fill in all the blanks following the instructions and click on “Submit.” Later, if the producers want to pursue your application, you will fill out the Initial Application Packet.
If you are contacted by producers after they have reviewed your preliminary application, you will download the 17-page Initial Application Packet. The packet includes the Short Application, Audition Release and Submitted Materials Release. Read all of it carefully. Fill out the application fully, honestly and legibly.
- Remember that the person reading your application knows nothing about you or your business. Be detailed in the information you provide. Have another person, or two, go over the application to make sure it’s clear. The casting producers are not going to struggle through an application that’s difficult to understand.
- The producers look for compelling stories on these applications. You may have or have had an interesting or incongruent occupation; or the way you thought up your business was unusual, altruistic and/or amusing; or the hurdles you have overcome are impressive and/or inspiring. Look for opportunities to stand out by including appropriate information about yourself that will make the producers want to meet you and learn more about you.
Method 2: Attend an Open Call
The open call may be your best chance to get onto the show. The show accepts applications all year, but there is the danger that your application will get lost in the shuffle when the staff’s focus is on finalizing contestants and filming the episodes.
Shark Tank schedules open calls in at least five cities around the country. The locations change year to year. Go to the Open Call Schedule on the Shark Tank website for the locations, dates, times and instructions.
Be prepared for the open call.
Practice, practice, practice—your one-minute pitch. Then practice some more. Practice in front of your family, who love you. Then in front of, say, coworkers, who like you. Then in front of strangers.
Complete the Initial Application Packet prior to the day of the open call and take it with you. Hand it to the member of the casting team accepting applications when you arrive or to the producer interviewing you.
Arrive on time.
Arrive during the “Numbered Wristbands Distributed” time—usually 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. (There’s no need to camp out at the location the night before.) You will receive a wristband with what number you are and the time of your audition. You will have time to kill, possibly loads of time. You can go back to the car to get any demonstration materials you brought with you. (Don’t count on electricity, WiFi or audio/visual aids being available.) You can practice. You can nap or meditate. Whatever works for you.
Be on time (i.e., early) for your audition. The auditions will almost certainly be running behind time, so more waiting. Sure, you can practice some more, but do you really need to? It’s a good time to get to know the other entrepreneurs. They, like yourself, are very interesting people, and you should grab any chance that comes along to network.
The first audition: Sell yourself and your business.
Finally, your number is called and you go to the pitch booth. Enter with your head up, shoulders back, a big smile, enthusiastic and immediately establish eye contact with the casting producer. Now here’s the thing: The producers do not have money to invest in your business. They are not interested in revenue and profits. Besides, all that financial information is on your initial application. They are casting for a reality TV show; they want great products, yes, but more they want interesting, exciting personalities. Focus half of the minute on your product, half on what a swell person you are. The producer wants to know if you are passionate about your business; and if you will be able to withstand possibly withering comments from the sharks with equanimity and without becoming ugly about it? This is the time to get in your story again, what makes you special. Above all else, be authentic!
When you finish your one-minute pitch, the producer will ask you a few questions. And then you are done. If possible, leave something behind for the producer to remember you. A sample of your product is perfect when that’s possible.
Method 3: Accept an Invitation to Audition
The casting producers monitor crowdfunding websites (e.g., Kickstarter, Indiegogo) and trade shows to find entrepreneurs/young companies to recruit. You will receive a phone call inviting you to audition in person or send in a video pitch. As special as it may feel to be invited, you have no better chance of being selected for the show than any other applicant.
Regardless of how you applied, after the audition (and after what might be a long wait), you will receive a phone call if you have been picked to continue the selection process. If you have not been selected, you may receive a letter in the mail. Or you may never hear from them.
After the phone call, you will receive material (mainly additional forms) in the mail. Fill out the forms and send them back as instructed.
What’s going on while you wait to hear from the producers?
It may help you to be patient once you realize the producers are super busy. It takes months for them to prepare for a new season. Back at the office, they run background checks. They search your product to see that it is, indeed, new. They run patent checks. They confirm that what you have told them is accurate. They do everything possible to avoid misleading the sharks and the television audience.
As part of their “due diligence,” they are going to check out your website. You need for it to be a high-quality, professional-looking reflection of you and your business.
Show them that you are on the ball and that nothing is more important to you.
You can stand out by going above and beyond. Any time you have to mail something back, do it immediately and FedEx it. If they need a digital file, send it in several formats or mediums so the producer has no trouble opening it.
The next interview is over the telephone.
The phone interview may be several weeks after you received your confirmation letter. A casting producer will ask you for more details about your business, what motivated you to start it, what you have done to make it a success, your general background, noteworthy experiences. You are a semi-finalist at this point. You’re chances of being on the show are getting better all the time.
Connect with the producers.
You will speak with several producers throughout the process. Their basic job is to weed out companies or entrepreneurs who just don’t fit the reality show aspect of Shark Tank. Keep in mind that the producers are just regular people like the rest of us. Relate to them on that level. You may have interests in common. Or you may simply be especially easy to talk with. It matters. It’s more difficult for the producers to eliminate someone they feel they know and like than it is to eliminate a random applicant.
Submit a professional-caliber audition video.
If you are still in the running, you will next be asked to submit an audition video. The video producer will tell you what is expected and how to submit the video through email. If you need to submit it on a CD through the mail, you may be allowed to do that. But email is preferred, and it’s always best to be as accommodating as possible. Remember our mantra of “above and beyond.”
Film a 5- to 10-minute pitch for your product as professionally as possible. It’s come down to that video at this point. The better the video, the better your chances of getting booked. Include in your pitch how great your product is, why your business deserves to be funded, how you will give back, and any financial info that reflects well on your company. Show them how entertaining you are. Don’t forget the personal story that sets you apart.
So, let’s suppose you get that precious call: You are going to be on Shark Tank! Can’t sit back and bask in the glory. You will probably have a few months to prepare. But you haven’t a minute to spare—so get started right away!
So, you didn’t make it this time. Don’t be discouraged. You can try again. There are entrepreneurs who had to try out four times before they made it into the tank.
You will soon be under the bright lights of show biz with multiple cameras aimed at you, giving the pitch of your life to famous millionaires and billionaires who are there solely to learn about you and your business. It’s the chance of a lifetime. You survived the daunting selection process and convinced the casting producers that your business, your story of perseverance, your enthusiasm, charisma and confidence are ready for prime time.
Typically, entrepreneurs are notified a few months in advance that they have been selected to appear on Shark Tank. That time will fly by. Don’t waste a minute preparing for the tank. You actually have more to do than for the audition. Here we have some heads-up, advice, suggestions and more than a couple “must dos.” (You’ll know them when you see them.)
A producer guides you through the whole preparation process.
When you receive the call, you will be assigned a producer to help you prepare for the show. He or she is very experienced with the show and is totally on your side, so pay attention and gratefully accept the feedback.
The first thing the producer will do is give you a “crib sheet” of sorts—a list of questions that you will likely be asked by the sharks. Make sure the answers to all of them roll off your tongue.
The producer is your go-to gal or guy for all things Shark Tank. Don’t hesitate to call with questions or concerns.
Prepare and rehearse your start-off pitch.
You can elaborate on your one-minute pitch from the original audition. There isn’t a set amount of time for your opening spiel, but two minutes is a good average. You don’t want to drone on too long and let them drift off. You want to get the sharks’ attention and get them interested in you and your business. Then they will ask questions.
- In your opening, include condensed information about your business, your background, what compelled you to start the business and how the business is doing. If you can add humor naturally, don’t miss the chance.
- Know it inside out and upside down, so that you can provide the information without sounding robotic.
- Film yourself.
Don’t try to bamboozle the sharks.
The sharks are as savvy as they come. You are not going to impress them with big words, insider jargon or complicated technological explanations. Remember that your pitch is going out to millions of average Americans, people who want straightforward information: who you are, what your product is, status of the business, how much of an investment you want from the sharks, how much equity you are willing to give them. The exact same things that the sharks want to know.
Know your numbers.
Now is the time to talk about the numbers. Hire a CPA if you must, so that you can answer the financial questions as though you are a CPA. Know the cost of goods, profit margin, customer acquisition cost, current inventory, projected sales for current year, gross sales to date by year (last 3 years) and your net profit for each of those years.
Stand in front of the sharks befuddled by the numbers, and you will suck the air right out of the room. The sharks’ loss of interest will be palpable, and you will be going home empty-handed.
Be realistic with the ask.
Another guaranteed way to leave without a deal is too ask for too high an investment from the sharks. For instance, if your business is barely off the ground or if you are losing money, asking for $1,000,000 is not going to win you a deal. The sharks have regretfully passed on offering a deal for that reason alone. Had the ask been lower, they would have been all over it.
And with your offer.
In that same vein, if you are unwilling to give up a reasonable amount of equity in your company, the sharks will pass. More than once, a shark has said, “I don’t get out of bed for [say] 10%.” There may be exceptions, but not enough for you to expect that your deal will be one.
The sharks are not only giving you money (a lot of money), their expertise and the expertise of their staffs, they are lending you their name and reputation. It’s impossible to quantify how much value that brings to a business. But do the best you can so that it factors in to the equity you offer.
Watch past episodes of Shark Tank.
Do more than watch—study! Take notes on the successful entrepreneurs. Why were they successful? Study the entrepreneurs who failed to get a deal. What went wrong?
Note any questions that need to be added to the list the producer gave you.
Research the sharks.
Learn as much as you can about the sharks. You want to know their companies and who they have invested in. Whose interests and expertise best match your business?
Learn their personal background also. If you find similarities between you and a shark, mention them: “I sold products door to door like you did, Mark.” “I was raised by a very supportive single mother who told me I could do anything” (like Daymond).
As you learn more about the sharks, think of various scenarios for offers you might get. As in, “if Kevin offers me . . ., then I will . . .” Know which shark you would prefer; know which one(s) you do not want to work with. Know what your absolute limits are. It’s too easy to get caught up in the excitement when you are in the tank. You have to keep your wits about you—as difficult as that is for most.
Be prepared to explain products similar to yours.
There is nothing new under the sun. If there are products very similar to yours, be prepared to explain why yours is different and better.
Have a patent or have applied for one.
It will impress the sharks if you have applied for a patent, even better if you already have one. A patent prevents other people from stealing your idea and relieves the sharks of concerns about knock offs and lawsuits over theft of intellectual property. They also want to be assured that you have not knocked off someone else’s ideas.
- On average, it costs $200 to $500 to submit an online patent application on the U.S. Patent Office website, if you, or someone you know, can correctly complete the application. If it’s done incorrectly, the Patent Office will return it to you, and your money and time were wasted.
- A patent attorney can take care of the application for a fee of $5,000 to $10,000.
Complete market research on your intended clientele.
The sharks award uber points to people who are business savvy enough to have taken care of this.
You will be in the tank for three-quarters of an hour to an hour and a half.
That may feel like 10 minutes or 8 hours depending on how things are going for you. The record in 2 ½ hours, which was a good thing. The shark were very interested. If you are done in, say, half an hour, you flubbed it.
You need to clear your schedule for when the producers want to film.
- The producers need you to set aside 35 potential days to film the show in Los Angeles.
- You will have five days’ notice for when you need to be in Los Angeles.
- You will be there for five days.
Okay, this is it! The doors slide open and you walk down a corridor (that you will be relieved is not nearly as long as it looks on TV). Stop at the “X” on the carpet. Then stand silently while the camera crew gets set up. It will likely be the longest, most awkward 30-ish seconds of your life.
You may be surprised how crowded the tank is. In addition to you and the sharks, there are 10 or more camera people. In addition to filming your segment from every angle, each shark has his or her own camera person.
Starting off, the sharks know only your name and what your product is. It adds that element of reality TV drama to see their reactions as they learn about you and your business. Then they need to decide quickly if they want to invest.
The first thing you do in the tank is to nod and smile. I wouldn’t be surprised if this has been code for “I’m a friend, not a foe” for tens of thousands of years. It is a warm greeting and very courteous, and people like to work with friendly, pleasant people.
Standing upright but relaxed is a posture of confidence. Do not slouch. Do not, your whole time in there, cross your arms!
The sharks shy away from the wishy-washy. They have even withdrawn offers when an entrepreneur waffled. Project an image of decisiveness, respectfulness, but not submissiveness. You need to be able to stand up for yourself—in a nice way.
Involve the sharks in your presentation.
The best way to engage the sharks is to give them samples of your product. Even better if you can personalize your product for each shark. For example, Mark usually gets a version of a product in blue for the Dallas Mavericks, Kevin green for money. If there is not product, let them try out the exercise equipment or do yoga with goats or learn how to play a guitar.
You got a deal!
Even if you leave the tank with a deal, nothing is definite. That hug or handshake doesn’t seal the deal. After shooting wraps, the sharks and their staffs do their due diligence to make sure that all of the entrepreneur’s claims are substantiated. If they are not, the offers will be rescinded. Or you may reconsider the deal and pass on it.
Go directly to the psychiatrist’s office. Do not pass Go.
Do not underestimate the stress level of being in the tank. Your first stop after you leave the tank is to talk with an on-set psychiatrist—whether you got a deal or not. The producers want to make sure you are feeling well. Getting in front of a panel of millionaires and billionaires to give a presentation that millions of people will see is no small feat.
Wait some more, but for the last time.
A producer will notify you about two weeks before your segment airs. It would be wise to use the time to prepare your website and/or your staff for the greatly increased traffic, email, phone calls. Some companies have received hundreds of thousands of website hits and thousands of emails.
Usually, it’s all over between you and Shark Tank, but there have been a few entrepreneurs who were allowed a second chance in the tank. Besides, it’s very possible that an investor has seen you and your product and will contact you. And your business can soar!