The Shark Tank season finale airs (tonight) Friday, May 15th 2015 on ABC. Check your local listings.
It seems like everyone knows that I was on ABC’s Shark Tank for my companies TEC-Technology Enabled Clothing® and SCOTTeVEST… even people I meet in my travels. There is this look of vague recognition, a squinting of the eyes, a slight turning of their head, and then one of several variations on the questions: “Where have I seen you?” or “Were you on Shark Tank?”
If the person I’m speaking with doesn’t mention the show immediately, I usually ask, “Do you watch Shark Tank?”
9.5 times out of 10, it clicks for them instantly. And then, they have an opinion about my appearance that they are not shy about sharing. Sometimes loudly.
Perhaps it had something to do with me telling the Sharks they were “out” – a Shark Tank first that led to my episode being considered the most controversial of all time.
I’m sure this experience is largely the same for the hundreds of other people who have appeared on Shark Tank over the years, though their appearances on whole have been a lot less polarizing than mine was. Chalk some of that up to me, and some of it up to creative editing, as I described in a previous article on LinkedIn.
All things considered, my experience with Shark Tank has been life-changing in a positive way. This is a common sentiment amongst Shark Tank entrepreneurs, whether they got a deal or not. Shark Tank is a good experience, but not in any way that the audience at home might expect.
Because I was on the show, I have special access to other entrepreneurs that have also appeared. I wanted to dig deeper and see if my experience was consistent with others, and through exploring a couple dozen contacts, some common threads emerged.
One thing I found particularly interesting is that just about everyone who said they were glad they appeared on the show mentioned that the publicity was a major plus for their business. I realized that publicity was going to be the primary benefit of my appearance before I went on Shark Tank, and have taken considerable flack from people accusing me of “just doing it for the publicity” after my episode aired.
As if standing up in front of 8 million people could be anything BUT publicity!
Where Are We Now?
While the producers of Shark Tank like to visit past entrepreneurs who DID make an on-air deal and share their success stories, I think it’s more interesting to see what is happening with the people who (like me) did NOT make an on-air deal.
There are a lot of people who were made offers by the Sharks but rejected them on-air, or made an on-air deal that fell through after filming. There are even more people who DID make a deal, but are still never covered in any official follow-ups.
ABC is calling their new “where are they now” show Beyond the Tank, but let’s look at The Other Side of the Tank, instead. Offer, offer rejected, deal, no deal… where are the rest of the Shark Tank entrepreneurs, and what did they learn from their experience?
I reached out to a number of people who appeared on Shark Tank through various direct channels for some quotes and updates. Some made on-air deals and some did not. Almost all of them were willing to be quoted, and most had a positive experience on the show. If you have read any of my previous articles about my experiences on Shark Tank, you know that I don’t sugar-coat anything, so you know that these are genuine opinions.
Here are some comments from other Shark Tank participants, and I’m sure you’ll notice some recurring themes. Let’s go to The Other Side of the Tank.
It’s All About the Exposure
I am very grateful that the Kitchen Safe was selected to appear on Shark Tank. Shark Tank introduced the Kitchen Safe to the world. We were on national TV for over 12 minutes (plus reruns)! We were able to tell our story, explain the value of the Kitchen Safe, and share stories about how the Kitchen Safe has impacted thousands of lives. I’d recommend any small company take advantage of the opportunity to pitch to both the Sharks and the world.” – Kitchen Safe co-Founder David Krippendorf
It’s that shark bait of “national exposure” that lures most entrepreneurs to the tank in the first place. Even after 15 years in business and tens of millions in revenue each year, my company SCOTTeVEST doesn’t have spare cash to put into a national advertising campaign on network TV… and in many ways, that’s what Shark Tank feels like to people looking at it from the outside.
Is it “free” exposure? Not even close. But it costs a lot less up front than a primetime media buy, and the person pitching their company can control the broad strokes of what is said about their product to the viewing public.
Shark Tank Made Us Better Businesspeople
Since we turned down Kevin’s ‘offer’ we’ve been raising capital, and our appearance on the show has been better than any investment memorandum we could write – it shows investors what we look like under pressure. The most important thing for us wasn’t being on the show. It was all the work that we put into preparing for the show. At that point our business was barely more than a hobby… preparing for the show made us think very hard about our plans for the future and our strategy for getting there.” – XeroShoes Founder Steven Sashen
For my own appearance on Shark Tank, I rehearsed for hundreds of hours. My team helped me massage my presentation and we would film it over and over again, then go “back to the tapes” as if we were a football team examining the competition. We kept what worked and went back to the drawing board again and again. And again. And again.
Steven is right: it forces you to think critically about your business and have numbers, rationales and plans ready to go off the top of your head. Preparing for Shark Tank is unlike any other experience a businessperson can have – way more stress than even an important meeting with your bankers – but the way it forces you to examine your business is a major help to finding your way forward.
It’s Not a Democracy
[There is a] great divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in terms of exposure by ABC. Many deserving entrepreneurs who didn’t get deals don’t get update segments because those are contractually obligated (season 5 and beyond) to the Sharks businesses (whether or not they are truly the most successful).” – Anonymous
There haven’t been any follow-up segments to my appearance, either. At first, I was surprised, since my episode was the highest rated up to that point, but I “get it” now. Shark Tank is about the show. It’s about the audience. It’s NOT about the entrepreneurs, no matter how entertaining or controversial they are. Period.
At the end of the day, the producers of Shark Tank imagine a story arc that goes across the season and from season to season. They are responsible for telling a story that is cohesive, that draws in the audience and keeps them coming back for more.
It’s true that there are some entrepreneurs out there with great products and businesses who did not make a deal. But when it comes to who gets what amount of exposure (and in what light that exposure is painted), it’s not a democracy and it’s not a meritocracy.
It’s whatever works for the production, and that’s entirely out of our hands.
You Need More Than Just Exposure
Shark Tank definitely had a hand in our rapid growth and we are super grateful to the show for putting us on the map, but if we hadn’t put in the work to build our company both before and after the show, and if we didn’t have a product that people really liked then we would not have been successful after Shark Tank.” – Eco Nuts co-Founder and CCO Mona Weiss
I’ve heard time and again about people’s sites crashing when they appear on Shark Tank… in fact, it happened to me. But beyond server and traffic issues, as Mona said, you need to have your business locked down and have a great product, or you will get nothing out of it.
Building this infrastructure is needed to not only survive the tank, but to survive your own success if “it works.”
I had made a mistake and invested tons of money in inventory in preparation for my appearance. We got great exposure, but the show did not air the extensive hands-on demo of my product that showed off all the features. No song-and-dance, no deep understanding of how compelling my product is. Ultimately, I wound up with great exposure but it did not translate into direct sales, despite having the infrastructure in place.
When going into the Shark Tank, there is always some level of uncertainty, for better or for worse.
What’s Next from the Other Side of the Tank?
If this article is well received, I’ll likely turn it into a book of stories from The Other Side of the Tank. For all the TV and legal hoops they make you jump through, Shark Tank is a great show. The audience can certainly learn from what makes the air, but the real stories happen behind the scenes or get left on the editing room floor.
That’s where I want to pick up the story.
The former Shark Tank entrepreneurs have a lot of insights and wisdom to share for entrepreneurs everywhere, and it’s my goal to give them a platform. With just a little outreach, I have dozens of quotes from former Shark Tank entrepreneurs, and some amazing insights.
For even more stories about my approach to business, check out my top-rated book, Pocket Man.
If you want to learn more or just enjoy my “reality show” life, follow me on Facebook.
ABOUT SCOTT JORDAN and SCOTTeVEST
Scott Jordan is the CEO and Founder of SCOTTeVEST, which creates multi-pocket clothing designed to carry electronics. He is the author of Pocket Man: The Unauthorized Autobiography of a Passionate, Personal Promoter.
Read a sample of Scott’s book for more about his experience on Shark Tank and the pocket empire he has built.