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August 6, 2020 | 8-minute read (1408 words)
Have you ever wondered how you can get your new innovation onto Shark Tank? For the uninitiated, ABC’s Shark Tank is a reality TV show where entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of five “sharks” (self-made millionaires and billionaires) and try to get them to invest in their products, services or companies. It’s an extraordinary opportunity for getting your business in front of millions of potential customers, even if you don’t strike a deal with the sharks.
The show's producers receive thousands of applications every year, and only 200 of those get filmed and about 100 actually make it on the air. The Shark Tank application process is arduous and notoriously long, with several rounds of paperwork, interviews and videos presentations involved.
Here are the steps to land a coveted spot on the wildly popular show.
Before getting onto the show, you need to be certain that you are eligible to apply by meeting the eligibility criteria:
- You must be 18 years of age; if you are younger than 18, your parents and/or legal guardians must submit on your behalf.
- You must be a U.S. citizen or a legal resident in the U.S.
- You must not be a convicted felon, or have any felony or misdemeanor criminal charges pending against you.
- Neither you, your immediate family members or anyone living in your household may currently be nor have been within the past year associated with any of the following: Finnmax LLC, UAMG Content, LLC, Sony Pictures Television Inc., ABC Inc., any TV station owned or operated by ABC Inc. or any of the sharks.
- You must not be running for public office and must also agree not to run until one year after the last episode of the show in which you appear.
Take a Business to the Sharks, Not Just an Idea
Every entrepreneur has a great business idea, but what the sharks want to see is a prospect that’s lucrative and has the potential to become a multi-million- or billion-dollar business. Here are tips on how you can demonstrate traction for your business:
- Prepare a solid business and marketing plan that will take your idea to the next level, one which includes costs, sales forecasts, customers, a route to the market and other long-term goals.
- Carry out extensive product and market research to prove demand, market opportunity, competition, price points and future sales projections.
- Sales figures are a basic requirement for demonstrating business traction. And if you have a solid sales history, on Amazon or even your own website, you can show the sharks that there’s a growing market for your product or service.
- There are many benefits to having a patent for your product. An active or pending patent can give your application a definite boost. But you don’t have to worry if you don’t have one; patents are often difficult and expensive to obtain.
- Having a web presence always helps. This may include a professional-looking and well-optimized website and an engaging social media presence.
- Don’t over-complicate things. Be honest and open about any weaknesses that you may have.
Apply to Shark Tank
After gathering the appropriate data about your product/service, you can apply to the show in one of two standard ways: online or by attending an open call.
Online: This is the fastest and easiest way to apply to the show. Simply follow the instructions to complete the online form and click “Submit.” If the producers find your product/service interesting enough and want to pursue your application, they will ask you to fill out the Initial Application Packet. This packet includes the Short Application, Audition Release and Submitted Materials Release. Make sure your answers are detailed, honest and legible if you want to appear on Shark Tank.
Your application can also include stories about how you think your business is altruistic or amusing, the hurdles you had to overcome and so on. Essentially, find ways to stand out by including information about yourself that will make the producers want to meet you.
Open Call: The show schedules open calls in a number of cities around the U.S., and the locations change every year. You can check the Open Call Schedule on the Shark Tank website for the dates, locations, times and other instructions. However, at press time, due to the coronavirus pandemic, only online applications are being accepted.
Invitation to Audition: There’s another way to appear on the Shark Tank. The show producers are always looking for entrepreneurs for the show, and are constantly monitoring trade shows and crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. As a result of this, you may find yourself being invited to audition in person or via a video pitch. However, this doesn’t guarantee your selection on the show.
Regardless of how you apply, if you’re selected for the next round, you’ll receive additional forms and other materials in the mail. You have to fill out those forms and send them back as instructed.
Remember that in places where you’re asked only for a brief description, stick to the rules by succinctly describing your company and product/service, your business’ potential, how much money you're seeking, and how you’ll use the investment.
Work Hard on Your Audition Video
After your application has been accepted, you’ll be asked to submit a 10-minute video showcasing you and your business. This is your chance to demonstrate the fact that your product/service is worthy of both investment from the sharks and TV coverage — remember that not all pitches make it to air. In the video, you can include your vision, reasons why you need help (monetary or otherwise) and what you’ll do with the money.
You may also want to think about investing in some basic video technology, including a DSLR video camera, lapel microphone, a professional video editor and more, to make your video stand out against those shot on a smartphone.
Come Up with a Killer Pitch
Here are some tips for building an effective pitch:
- Study your audience, which in this case consists of the sharks. Do your research on each shark’s expertise, what gets each of them excited about a business opportunity and the kind of companies they all usually invest in.
- Always know your figures well enough to show current traction and future potential for your business. This may include profit margins, costs of goods, gross year-to-date and monthly sales, projected sales for the current and the next year, net profit to date and per month, and current inventory and its value.
- An unrealistic valuation will usually work against you, so never overvalue your business in order to get a higher share value. One way to arrive at a realistic business valuation is to use a multiple of your yearly revenue, taking into account other factors like asset value, current inventory, total debt and projected growth. The multiple will depend on your industry.
- It’s obvious that you’ll want to retain as much ownership of your company as possible, but the producers (and the sharks) typically want to see 25 to 40 percent offerings. So make sure that the share percentage you’re willing to offer is rational and valid.
- Present a unique selling proposition that shows how you and your product offer value beyond your what your competitors provide. The sharks are not always looking for products that are different or unique; however, being better than what’s already in the market could be what attracts them.
- Remember that this is show business, so inject a lot of fun and energy into your pitch to stand out from the crowd while remaining credible at the same time.
Practice makes perfect. Once you’ve finalized your pitch, practice it in front of your family, friends or even a mirror. This will help you recover from any forgetful or stumbling moments.
Research and rehearse everything, including your vision, your strengths and weaknesses, your finances and your ask. Watch older episodes of the show and try to answer all the questions that were posed to entrepreneurs before you.
The important thing to remember is to stay committed, remain true to your business’ vision and don’t give up. And even if you’re not successful the first time, you can always apply again.
Photo credit: Walt Disney Television Press Downloads.