These days it seems like everywhere you look some startup is pulling back the curtain on their launch or growth strategy. Many center on a successful capital raise or a growth hacking secret. Keen Home had similar successes, but we also had the good fortune of appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank. My cofounder and I faced the Sharks this past February, shaking on a deal with Robert Herjavec worth $750,000 and earning one of the highest valuations in the show’s history. Here’s how we did it.
My co-founder Ryan and I founded Keen Home while earning our MBAs at New York University’s Stern School of Business, after competing in the 2012-2013 NYU Entrepreneurs’ Challenge. This got us noticed by TechCrunch and resulted in an invitation to compete in Disrupt Startup Battlefield.
In just 60 days before the competition, we built a working prototype of our product the Smart Vent, created a website, designed a logo, hypothesized a business plan, and launched an Indiegogo campaign. Participation in Startup Battlefield earned us an article on TechCrunch detailing Keen Home and our product concept, which combined with organic traction from the Indiegogo community, were the biggest drivers of traffic and crowdfunding contributions. In just one month, we exceed our goal and amassed orders of over 500 Smart Vents.
Startup Battlefield helped us get into the NYU Poly Incubator system and eventually the R/GA Techstars Connected Devices Accelerator. We launched our brochure site in spring 2014, just in time to be selected as one of Inc.’s Coolest College Startups. This annual competition pitted 16 startups against each other to win votes from Inc. readers.
Courted By The Sharks
The Inc. story caught the attention of an executive producer of Shark Tank, who sent Ryan an e-mail encouraging us to apply. A couple statistics about Shark Tank convinced us to:
Encouraged by the show’s popularity, Ryan and I completed an application and recorded a pitch video. We submitted both in May 2014.
We didn’t hear back about our application for several months. Not that we were worried; by July 2014 our focus was on manufacturing the Smart Vent. Then we heard Keen Home was on a short list for taping. ABC’s production team had been tracking our progress over the last three months and was impressed with our work. Ryan and I immediately set out preparing our pitch and creative collateral for a possible Shark Tank appearance.
Filming And Interim Growth
Our pitch was taped in California that fall. On television it appeared to take only 15 minutes, but filming lasted multiple hours as the Sharks grilled us on every aspect of our business.
After filming concluded and we returned to New York City, it was back to business as usual. We doubled down on preparing the Smart Vent for mass production, building our cloud infrastructure, and raising seed funding. Another boost in site traffic came after we closed our first round of financing in October and 12 separate news outlets including TechCrunch picked up our press release.
By January we were gearing up for the most important electronics event of the year: the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. We were able to use the assets we developed for Shark Tank for our booth, which was a hit with the crowd. During CES our site traffic spiked 217 percent over October.
Shortly after CES, we heard that our pitch had been selected to air on ABC.
We quickly set up a Shopify store for pre-orders, filmed a product video, and hired a Head of Community to manage customer support. Our efforts paid off: when the episode aired we saw more visitors than all our previous milestones combined. Within hours of airing, 672 percent more people visited our website than during all of CES. Best of all, they spent on average two minutes and 24 seconds on the site, with a low 36 percent bounce rate.
The boost from Shark Tank hasn’t ended. Sixteen separate news outlets wrote about our pitch, including Inc. and Digital Trends. Keen Home gained national attention and months after appearing on the show our daily web traffic has increased 5X and pre-orders remain strong.
Appearing on Shark Tank was a great experience for us that had a lasting positive impact. Even if we hadn’t received a deal from Robert Herjavec, the exposure from being in front of nearly 10 million people was immense.
If you’re considering bringing your startup to Shark Tank, here are some tips that will help you succeed:
- It’s what you do before that matters. We spent over a year hustling before even considering Shark Tank. Our hard work caught the attention of tech journalists, investors, and eventually the ABC production team.
- Multitask well. The show’s application process is demanding. Make sure your pitch and creative collateral can be repurposed to drive your business forward. Focus on growth so you are in a position of strength in front of the Sharks.
- Be prepared for the attention. If we hadn’t quickly spun up a community team or rebuilt our website, we would have squandered the new attention. Getting noticed is great, but you need a plan keep up with the volume.
- Act quickly, have a plan, and stay organized. If opportunity presents itself, act on it. Complete your application and start building assets. Plan how to maximize the exposure and prepare to answer questions on every facet of your business.
Want to learn more? Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you missed us on Shark Tank, you can watch the clip on ABC Go.