I Binged 5 Seasons of Shark Tank and Learned All This.

The only good reason for watching that much reality TV is the uncontrolled and messy implosion of your business. Or Maybe a bad breakup, but only a minor psychopath would deal with that by adding five seasons of Shark Tank to their week long ice cream binge.
I had neither of those reasons. So I guess I’m a completely different kind of psycho. But before I check into the padded room, let me share what I learned from watching all that startup porn so that you don’t have to.
If you’ve never seen ABC’s Shark Tank, how very strange that you’re reading this article, but the show’s format is that business owners approach a panel of wealthy investors seeking partnership and investment for their products and/or service. As I see it, every Shark Tank mini-episode can be boiled down to three sections;
  1. Pitch (Investee’s chance to WOW the investors)
  2. Negotiation (Q&A about the unknowns of the investee’s business)
  3. Feedback (Investors telling the investee if they are on board or not)

Let’s stick with these three sections, and see the wrath that these scared little cockroaches bring down on themselves when they mess up in the Shark Tank.

Pitch:

  • Summarize – These investors like ideas with a short and sweet story about the road to profitability
  • It’s fine to be nervous – this could be one of the most important meetings of your life
  • DO NOT pivot about the mission or goal of your company
  • Avoid jargon or buzzwords in a pitch
  • Don’t worry so much about your staged pitch. Be really, really confident in your numbers
  • If you screw up your pitch, don’t try to go back and get on track – push forward.
  • Think of protection in terms of now AND later – barriers, IP, first in advantage – how can you make these sustain (these are communicated through words such as “only”,  “first”, “exclusive”)

Negotiation: (This is the BIG one)

  • Negotiations aren’t just about money for debt – think about other things to negotiate for; connections, board seats, future financing, legal help, visibility, etc,
  • The pressure you put on investors is fake. The pressure investors put on other investors is real (eg; competition = pressure. Investors are competing with each other, not you.)
  • Barely anyone understands the value of building FOMO – both in investors and customers
  • No one wants to strike the first deal they hear. But think about what you gain if you pounce – you look decisive, you knew where your target was and closed when you got it, AND you just created FOMO in all the other investors
  • Be aware of how you sound – Answering straight to you, might sound like avoiding the question to someone else
  • Investors want to hear about growth plan – if you don’t have a growth plan that sounds smart to 3/5 of your employees or friends, it won’t land you 1/10 investors
  • Paying yourself or paying off bad debt is NOT what investors want to hear their money is being used for
  • Equity is just another form of debt, that is going to cost you later. But while debt can only give you capital, if you assign it right, equity can give you a valuable company ally or board member
  • What your business is worth to you, is not what it’s worth to investors

Feedback:

  • If you’re selling online, and your margins are good – trying to branch into retail is probably a MISTAKE
  • If you spent money to drive downloads, you don’t know how attractive your product really is
  • Resiliene counts – don’t talk about the mistakes you’ve had, talk about how you came back from them
  • If your product is used by kids, you must have comprehensive insurance
  • If your sales are good, there is a 70% chance that your problem is inventory
  • If a Shark says “The key to blah blah...” they are talking shit. The real gold comes up when they are too excited about a product to guard their answers
  • If you get rejected – incorporate the feedback. Don’t just spout something like “I know this business can be successful” and then walk off and get slaughtered. Why did you just get 5 “No’s”? Fix it or kill the dream

Finally:

I believe that you will never see a huge, holy shit next-big-thing idea on Shark Tank. Why? Because everything on the show is set up to discourage that idea making it through:
  • The format fits ideas with a short and sweet story
  • They don’t invest in technology they don’t understand
  • Anything that is the next big thing will grow faster and have more hungry eyes on it than would make it worth it to appear on Shark Tank

The Sharks are hungry, but there are always more fish in the sea.

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