Lessons Learned from a Shark Tank Survivor

I’ve given a lot of pitches – to investors, customers, friends, and to really anyone willing to listen. Some go well and others are complete disasters, but all give me the opportunity to make the next one better. Recently, I was given the opportunity to pitch our product, Napwell, on ABC’s Shark Tank.

To see the full segment including Q&A click here. We are in segment 3.

Shark Tank was never on our list of priorities. My co-founder and I were in the middle of our Kickstarter campaign, which achieved 130% of its goal, when we saw a tweet from the casting director. Being huge fans of the show, we had to give it a try.

While I have successfully raised money from investors and have even been on TV before, being in “The Tank” was so different. Sure, it’s like a normal investor pitch, only with millions of strangers watching you share your dreams (no big deal). Here are three lessons I learned that can hopefully help you start your company or survive a tough pitch.

  1. Set the stage

The show is structured to make the Tank intimidating. The Sharks are not only professionally impressive, but also very experienced at sparring with entrepreneurs and making compelling television.

When strategizing for the pitch, I recalled advice from my high school tennis coach: playing to your opponent’s strengths puts you at an immediate disadvantage. In other words, instead of being reactive, be bold and set the stage. The first iteration of our pitch was completely different from the one that aired – it was dry and filled with statistics to highlight our scientific backgrounds.

At the last minute, we scrapped our initial plan in favor of pajamas and sleep zombies. We thought our pajama look would force the Sharks to question our legitimacy and lead them to ask the questions we wanted to answer. We knew that our strength as a company is our academic backgrounds and entrepreneurial experiences. It was probably a shock to them that Justin is a PhD candidate and that I have already launched a few start-ups.

This lesson extends beyond the Tank. While pitching a product, the more you control the flow, the more confident and prepared you will be. Setting the stage is especially important when presenting to a group with as much experience as the Sharks.

  1. Always be selling (and closing)

Preach, Alec Baldwin, Preach.

While Shark Tank is an amazing and rare opportunity to pitch to a powerful group of investors, it is also a way to share your brand with millions of potential customers. Even if all the Sharks passed, we knew that there were future investors, partners, and customers watching at home.

While answering the Sharks’ questions, we tried to make sure that the audience understood the problem that our product solves. To make our message as clear as possible, we created a list of three talking points:

  1. We are experts in sleep science
  2. We have achieved lofty sales targets without spending a single dollar on marketing
  3. We are solving a problem that affects hundreds of millions of people

Entrepreneurship requires you to sell not only your product, but also yourself. Though the target may change, you will always be trying to convince investors, customers, and even employees to buy your vision of the future. I’ve yet to meet a successful entrepreneur who cannot do this to some degree. In order to close the deal, either work on developing this skill or partner with someone who can.

  1. When trying to win, you have to be willing to lose

If you haven’t seen the episode, <spoiler alert!> we did not receive funding from the Sharks. It’s okay: their objections were very reasonable. In fact, it was a risk for us to be on Shark Tank at all. Napwell is still in the very early stages. While some of the companies on the show already have millions in revenue, we are still improving the product and incorporating early customer feedback.

While we knew that a negative reaction from the Sharks could bruise our egos, we couldn’t turn down this learning opportunity. After all, a rejection from the Sharks is just the judgment of five people. If your goal is to make a significant impact, it’s naïve to think that there won’t be stumbling blocks along the way. The key is to not let it affect your confidence. Of course we wanted the Sharks’ support, but the show also needs high ratings, and they achieve that through interesting companies and founders like us. We took comfort in the fact that we deserved to be there.

Having worked with and befriended many incredible founders, I have noticed one constant: unwavering confidence. The best entrepreneurs are those that are willing to face impossible risks in order to win. If those risks turn into failures, they are resilient and adaptable. They turn them into lessons, instead of disasters.

That’s it. I’m happy to say that we survived the show and even enjoyed our experience. I hope you can use these lessons to improve your pitch, and I look forward to watching you in the Tank.

What I Learned My First Time on Live TV

This week I shot my first live TV segment for FOX on the Napwell (http://www.napwell.com), the world’s first napping mask and a Kickstarter project I launched with one of my longtime friends, Justin Lee.

Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston

Having never been on live TV, here are 11 things that I learned:

  1. News anchors are fantastic speakers. The teleprompter moves quickly, and they are consistently poised and speak slowly and clearly. There is a lot to learn.
  2. Plug, baby plug. Don’t assume that people will know what your website is or how to buy your product. In our case, they did not show the website address on screen so make sure to say it out loud.
  3. Know your themes and frame the conversation. The anchor will naturally guide the segment but have 2-3 things that you want to say and work them in.  In our case it was our Kickstarter success, the fact that we iterate to solve real problems, and our target customer scenarios.
  4. News teams are a prime example of operational efficiency. The team is lean and without redundancy.
  5. Know which camera you are supposed to look into. There were a few of them and I wasn’t sure where to be looking.
  6. Take pictures!
  7. Be yourself. I tried to sprinkle in a few jokes because that’s what I do normally. It put me at ease, and hopefully you chuckle at one of them.
  8. Wear something with pockets. They give you a little microphone box that needs to go somewhere so make it easy for them.
  9. Time goes by very quickly.
  10. Wear solid colors. A pro tip picked up from my new friend and airplane rowmate and Director of Public Relations at Reputation.com. Thanks Leslie!
  11. Smile, you don’t get to be on TV every day. It will remind you to be less nervous and have fun.

Still much to learn, but how do you think we did?

I Can Haz Title?

It took me a year and a few months but I feel like I’m finally breaking through with my writing and my blog. In fact it was the only resolution that I struggled with from last year. I wrote 2 posts last week and plan to have 2-3 this week.

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The best posts take about an hour to write and maybe another hour to edit (not counting the help of some awesome friends). What I did not count on is how difficult it is to come up with a title.

Good pictures are just as hard.

The title is SO IMPORTANT. For example, when I write a post, I share it on Facebook and Twitter. Someone then decides in a quick scan of their feed whether to read the post or not. All I get is 5-8 words to communicate with them WHY they should read it. Pressure, right?

The Upworthy approach (seen below) is fascinating but I don’t have the time or skill to produce 25 somewhat viable options. If I did this post would be unnecessary.

Screen shot 2014-02-12 at 2.03.06 PM
The slideshow where I took this from is pretty fantastic in terms of their viral process. Full link here.

I’m not trying to reach Upworthy levels of virality, but I would like to figure out a way to produce interesting titles that my friends would click on.

Any tips? How do you think of creative, shareable titles?