When Naomi Kashi and Dorit Simone heard that a business reality show was casting, they decided to pitch their all-natural granita bar business, Zia Valentina. After spending the night camped out in a massive line for an audition, they ended up on the Food Network show Food Fortunes, the Shark Tank for the culinary industry. This was a huge shot in the arm for their business, even though they didn’t end up with an investor. Four months after the January taping, their business was booming, and they were looking to expand the product line.
The popularity of Shark Tank has spawned a new genre of TV--“entrepre-tainment”--that matches entrepreneurs with potential investors, cash awards, or consulting services. In addition to Food Fortunes, there was Supermarket Superstar on Lifetime, and there’s The Profit on CNBC, Bar Rescue on Spike TV, and Restaurant Impossible on Food Network.
“The audience gets to watch an American dream play out on TV,’’ says Hayley Billman, a freelance casting producer. Only a small number of those who try out ultimately make it on, but if you do, there are some things you should keep in mind to reap the most good from the experience, whether you land an investor or not.
Protect your idea
Get your legal ducks in a row in advance, says small-business coach Beth Buelow. Your product or idea is going to get exposure you probably haven’t experienced before, so you’ll need to protect it. Guard any intellectual property by filing for a patent before the show, and if you do get an investor, emphasize the confidentiality of your product verbally or with a written statement, she adds.
Don’t automatically say yes
If you’re on a show that has investors vying to buy a piece of your business, remember this: They’re not just choosing you--you’re choosing them.
“Who are you going into business with? If you sense any conflicts of interest or any bad vibes, then it’s probably not worth it,” says Buelow.
Know your company’s value beforehand. Patrick Ambron, co-founder and CEO of BrandYourself, an online reputation management company, was offered $2 million for a 25 percent stake when he went on Shark Tank in March. He turned it down because a recent round of funding had valued the company at almost double what Shark Robert Herjavec offered.
“I couldn’t give him twice as good a deal as I gave other investors,” Ambron notes.
Be prepared for the “after”
Expect a huge surge of interest in your product and staff up accordingly. Since their episode of Food Fortunes aired, Zia Valentina’s Simone and Kashi say they’ve been deluged with emails about franchising and other business opportunities. More important, Simone says, “you’re bombarded by great PR.” They hired more part-time help as a result.
Keep in mind that investors often get cold feet after offering deals on these shows. Meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda, who has appeared as an investor on Food Fortunes, says one of the companies he invested in on the show didn’t pass muster once the taping was over.
“I’m not writing a check to people and chasing them around the country to make good on it,” he says.