Nearly 8 million viewers watch Shark Tank weekly to connect with entrepreneurs living the American Dream. Over 30,000 companies apply annually for their 10 minutes in the limelight, but only 200 get filmed-and just over 100 actually get aired. Having just taken my company Budsies through the arduous 18 month process and getting my airtime, I'm able to share some strategies we used to ensure our company made it to the coveted prime time slot.
1. Select the right "schtick."
While there's no way to guarantee your episode will air, there are certainly some personality archetypes that make for good TV. After binge watching more seasons of Shark Tank than I'll admit, I broke founders down to these 4 archetypes:
- The Dealmakers: These founders will take any deal. They view the sharks as startup gods and will happily hand over 51% of their company for $50K. Since most companies don't achieve deal but Shark Tank wants to show a relatively even number of deals and no deals, reaching a deal helps your odds.
- The Cryers: These founders break down in tears in the middle of the taping. If you're able to recover and save face, this may be a great tactic for getting shown on TV (and getting a deal from Lori to boot!)
- The Instigators: These founders aren't afraid to duke it out with the sharks. Instigating a sparring match makes for great TV zingers, but you better be quick on your feet when sharks gang up and protect their own.
- The Eccentrics: These founders have wacky personalities and could probably host their own reality TV show. They could be pitching a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and you'd still watch.
I chose to go with the Instigator approach for my taping and it served me quite well. I had a great time at the taping and all of us came out with some good laughs. #deadsies #sorrynotsorry
2. Pick your company wisely.
Remember your prime time audience: Shark Tank is the ultimate platform for products that the average household can understand and appreciate. Before applying to the show and starting the journey of auditions and submissions, decide if it's even worth your time.
Make sure any grandma can understand your product in a one-sentence pitch. I picked my Budsies stuffed animal business for Shark Tank because it explains itself with one photo (hold a drawing + hold a Budsie: no words necessary). While my other company, Sparkology, has been profitable for many more years, its elitist bend and millennial demographic makes it a terrible fit for Shark Tank. Similarly, if you have a B2B enterprise product, you're probably wasting your time.
3. Invest in your audition video.
Shark Tank is a TV SHOW ... so the producers need to make sure you are presentable in front of a camera. While I'm sure some companies have been selected from an ad-lib video shot with an iPhone, we invested in using some basic video tech: (a) DSLR video camera (b) lapel microphone (c) a written script (d) dynamic scenery and props (e) a professional video editor.
It took us two days to shoot the footage and one day of editing. The audition video certainly isn't Hollywood-worthy... but it let me show both poise and emotion-qualities essential for good TV!
4. Show extreme personality.
Shark Tank is reality television and, like USA Networks' slogan: Characters are most certainly welcome. Few people want to watch a TV show where a founder and an investor cordially converse over market opportunities and projection figures (spoiler: that's what happens in a normal VC meeting). The people have spoken ... and the people want drama!
In both your video pitch and application paperwork, make it a point to show personality. Make sure it's clear how passionate you are about your business. Show that you would fall apart in tears if the sharks don't invest and that you would jump for joy if there were a glimmer of landing a deal.
Whatever your personality, make sure it comes out consistently and in a big way. You're looking for the fast emotional response.
5. Put on the producer's hat.
Help the producer envision how your pitch will make for great television. Try to brainstorm how you would present your product to the Sharks:
- How can you add surprises?
- How can you poke fun at the Sharks?
- How can you create tension on the set?
For our pitch, we made it a point to hide our Budsie Selfies and Budsie Petsies from the Sharks in the initial pitch. If the Sharks didn't ask for them, we had brainstormed specific times in the conversation that I could steer the Sharks to those surprise products. The Selfies became a big hit and ABC focused on the Sharks with their Selfies for its social media marketing campaign surrounding this episode.
Make sure to communicate your ideas to your producer so the entire production team can start to get excited. Plus, it shows the team that you are aligned with them on producing great television and you're ready for primetime!
6. Get on the ball.
Deadlines for most reality TV show applications are brutal. It's one method for weeding out the mildly interested from the truly hell-bent. Use (and meet) the deadlines to make yourself stand out.
We answered every request and followed every step in the process EARLY. If we had to mail something, we only used FedEx and would send photos of the box/contents/packing slip to our producer. If we were asked to provide a digital file, we'd provide in several formats/mediums to ensure the producer had no trouble opening it. By the time our producer sent us a list of basic prep questions for our big day, we already had a 13-page document of study notes ready to show her.
Every deadline is an opportunity for you to prove you're hungrier than any other applicant.
7. Remember that every gatekeeper is also the key holder.
You may be tossed around between several producers throughout the application and audition process. At each stage, their job is to weed out far more companies than they let in.
However, these gatekeepers are people. Take the time to build relationships with your producers.
I remember being on half hour calls with my producers barely saying a thing about Budsies or the application itself. Instead, we were chatting about nightlife, going sailing, even their love life!
It's much harder to turn down someone you've become friends with than a random applicant.
Go For It!
Being on Shark Tank was an incredible experience and I maintain there is no better platform for a consumer-facing company. While I could not accept Daymond's and Kevin's offers given our disagreement over valuation, I genuinely enjoyed my time on the set and found the experience to be surprisingly founder-friendly.
If you believe your company can make the cut, definitely invest the resources to get on the show. The 8 million viewers and the potential for an investment are worth it!