By Ryan Bethencourt
We all know the iconic Shark Tank theme tune -- it had been playing over and over again in my head after I got the call. I’d been selected to pitch my business, Wild Earth, a clean, sustainable and cruelty free Pet Food company on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank.
I was overjoyed, and the most nervous I think I’d ever been!
These were THE Sharks, some of America’s most successful and iconic investors, and I was about to get a chance to make or break my company in front of people I’d literally grown up watching on tv for years. I was incredibly excited, but super nervous!
So why Pet Food?
I am on a mission to transform the food our pets eat (I know it sounds crazy but bear with me for a second). As a lifelong animal lover I was appalled to find out what was in our pets’ food. Sickened, in fact!
Pouring out some kibble or opening up a can of wet food, I didn’t realize what I was actually feeding my furry best friends over the years. I was shocked to find out that euthanasia drugs, plastic, and some really horrible rendered animal parts were finding their way to them through some of the conventional pet foods I fed them!
If food should “be thy medicine,” their medicine was tainted with toxic chemicals, and I owed them better! Why couldn’t they have clean and sustainable protein like us? The animals deserved better, and I thought I could make a difference.
Back to the Tank
So now, I had a moment to share my message with America and MAYBE convince one of the Sharks to join our mission to make better, affordable foods available to all of our pets.
Just one catch: my team of friends and I had been working really hard for several months and we hadn’t yet launched a product. Our treats and our kibble were taking a lot longer than I’d hoped and it looked like I was about to pitch the Sharks with only prototypes.
And when they asked that dreaded question...how much have you sold?
I’d have to say zero! Not good!
So what did I do and what did I learn?
Lesson 1: Learn your pitch cold!
I thought learning my pitch (“Hi Sharks, my name is Ryan Bethencourt…”) was going to be easy… wrong!
Turns out I’m actually not a great actor and I had to rehearse my lines over and over again. I kept forgetting lines in my opening pitch. I literally practiced every day for weeks, tweaking and refining. I remember showering, running, waking up in the morning and practicing my lines, over and over.
When those big doors opened on the Tank and I got my first ever glimpse of the Sharks, it was go time. I went straight into autopilot, my adrenaline kicked in, and my pitch came out. It was probably the closest thing I’ve had to an out-of-body experience!
So know your lines. You’ll need to have them down super tight, because the nervous you, the one who’s walking out to pitch of five of America’s most iconic investors, might just get a little starstruck (like me)!
Lesson 2: Know your Numbers
There are no do-overs in the Tank and those of us who have religiously followed the show over the years have seen the importance of knowing your business’s numbers, your burn rate, your margin, your sales, per week, month, and year, and your forecasts.
The Sharks have literally been pitched hundreds of times from entrepreneurs, and if they get one whiff of not knowing your numbers, they’ll take you apart in a few minutes!
So how do you get to know your numbers inside and out?
You should live, eat, and breathe your business, but you should also get your team and anyone else you can rope in to grill you on every aspect of your business. Surprisingly, you’ll find gaps that you need to go back and fill, even if you know your numbers pretty well.
It gets even harder on the tank as you have Sharks talking over each other and asking you to do mental math as the bright lights and camera catch your attention.
Lesson 3: Swimming with Sharks
Each pitch we see on the show is about 10 minutes but in reality most entrepreneurs spend about 30-45 minutes being grilled by the Sharks.
They’re used to the Tank and you are most definitely not, so remember, they have the home court advantage. Be ready for them to play with you, tease you, attack you, or even flatter you. Those lights are hot but sometimes some Sharks just want to get a reaction out of you (and of course make great TV).
Remember, it’s not just five people hearing you, there are literally millions of Americans watching. Sometimes they can insult you or attack you, and you have to remember, if you insult them back? You’ve just insulted a beloved hero of millions of people. Bad move! So just remember my favorite weather man’s advice: “Be cool San Diego, Be Cool!”
Lesson 4: Be Yourself
The Sharks invest first and foremost in people. We’ve all seen people on the show whose business idea wasn’t exactly going to save the world, but the passion and integrity that entrepreneur showed made us root for them.
If the Sharks bite, what they’re really trying to do is understand you. They want to see your excitement and dedication. They want to see if you’ve got what it takes to take the full pressure and survive. If you do, you might just have what it takes to be a Shark Tank entrepreneur and of course, make them a lot of money!
Lesson 5: Coffee’s for Closers
Never forget why you came to the Tank: you’re there to do a deal with one or more of America’s most iconic entrepreneurs and investors.
One yes from any of the Sharks can transform you and your company into one of America’s leading brands, but all too often entrepreneurs hesitate, get distracted or get greedy. Don’t!
Be in that moment and that moment alone. If a Shark offers you a deal, even if it bites, remember this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you only get one shot and you’ve got to be ready to close!