II. Preparing to Dive In
THE OPENING PITCH
After our video audition was accepted and we were invited to pitch to the Sharks, we were assigned a team of two producers that would essentially be our “Shark Tank Sherpas.” They were there to help develop our pitch, coach us on our presentation, create a set display, run us through practice Q&A, and probably a million other things that I’m forgetting. Our two producers were invaluable when it came to keeping us on-task and making sure we were fully prepared for when the day to pitch finally came.
The first thing the producers tasked us with was to write a script for the initial 2-3 minute opening pitch. If you’ve seen the show, you’ll know this is the part where I was supposed to talk about Beard Head, why it’s amazing, and present the Sharks with the “can’t miss” investment opportunity. It’s a rehearsed, uninterrupted segment that needed to be memorized. For me, this was the most nerve-racking, stress-inducing, anxiety-causing part of the entire Shark Tank experience!
I personally don’t have a problem with talking about my business, or the market we’re in, trends, opportunities, financials, etc… I’m pretty comfortable in situations where I’m presenting something more naturally and ad-libbing. For instance, I wasn’t worried at all about the follow-up Q&A where the Sharks “grill” you (which is actually the bulk of the “pitch,” and can often last for 30-45 minutes). But having to recite a three minute, completely memorized presentation script…this was a problem for me! One of my issues in situations like these is that I sometimes have trouble recovering if I don’t recite a planned speech absolutely perfectly. If I stutter or stumble over a word for even a moment, my brain might just go completely blank! Out of the total amount of time I spent preparing for Shark Tank, I probably spent 75% of it working on that little three-minute pitch, and 25% preparing for the 30+ minutes of follow-up questions.
Everyone saw the final pitch when it aired on TV. But what you didn’t see was how different the pitch was from some of my earlier versions. The very first version I wrote had all the important information that a potential investor may want to know, but it was dry, long, and BORING! Perhaps most importantly, it definitely wasn’t “TV ready,” according to our “Sherpa” producers. I went digging through old emails and found the original, which you can see below:
My name is David Stankunas. I’m from Los Angeles, CA. My company is Beard Head, and I am seeking $250,000 in exchange for 25% of the company.
A Beard Head is a beanie or hat with a detachable hand-knit beard facemask. It’s a great way to keep your head and face warm, while having a little fun with your appearance. We like to call our Beard Heads “fun” and “FUNctional.” All told, we have more than 200 different Beard Head styles. For those, we own several registered trademarks, tradedress and copyrights on our brand, product designs, and packaging.
We’ve been around for a little more than six years, selling Beard Heads both directly to customers through our online stores, and wholesale to more than 700 stores worldwide. In total, since January 2009, we’ve sold more than 200,000 Beard Heads, amounting to more than $4 million in revenue. We’ve been profitable from the first year on. That said, there’s still a lot of room to grow, and we’re looking for some help from the Sharks to do it.
In particular, we’re seeking an investment for $250,000 for 25% of the company to expand our product line and brand to specifically target sports fans. When you think about packed stadiums, all those fans wearing crazy outfits, doing anything they can to stand out in the crowd and show their team spirit… There’s tremendous opportunity for Beard Head in the sports market. The U.S. tailgating market alone is estimated to be worth $35 billion a year. 35 BILLION. An investment would make it possible for us to fully commit to the development, production and marketing of a licensed “Tailgate” line of Beard Heads. By entering an enormous new market with a unique product, we hope to evolve the Beard Head brand from novelty to mainstay.
Our two producers saw the snoozefest above, and probably gave the most important bit of feedback I received throughout the entire process. They reminded me Beard Head was a FUN brand and a FUN product…so have FUN with the presentation? Go a little overboard! Get a little ridiculous…but do it in a tongue-in-cheek way. And most critically, while it’s important to be professional and try to convince a Shark to invest, the absolute #1 priority is to first actually MAKE IT ON THE SHOW! Remember, there’s no guarantee your segment will actually air on TV. If it’s too boring, too terrible, or you completely flub the pitch, there’s a chance the show producers won’t actually air it…whether you get a deal with a Shark or not! With that in mind, I retooled the pitch to have more…I dunno…buzz? Silliness? Puns? Take a look at what I actually ended up going with on the show:
Hello Sharks, my name is David Stankunas. I am the owner and creator of Beard Head, and I am seeking $250,000 in exchange for 25% of my company.
The Beard Head is THE NEXT ESSENTIAL WINTER ACCESSORY that’s set to take the country by storm. Whether you’re skiing down the snowy Swiss Alps, or cheering in the stands of a championship game …the BEARD HEAD has got you covered!
Now…Weather is crazy. What did we have last year, Kevin…9 snow storms in Boston? Record blizzards all across the East Coast? The POLAR VORTEX?!? It’s COLD out there, people! The question is, for those who DON’T have a LUSH, FULL beard of their own…how do you keep your precious face warm? How can you protect it from HARSH Mother Nature on those long, cold winter nights?
Well, I have the answer for you. (gesture to display) BEARD HEAD.
A Beard Head is a beanie or hat with a detachable hand-knit beard facemask. They’re soft, warm, comfortable…and they function much like a real beard would. In fact, we like to say our Beard Heads put the FUN in FUNCTIONAL.
With more than 200 different Beard Head designs, from our OUTRAGEOUS Barbarian Roadie Beard Head, our BUSHY BIKER Beard Head, or our pint-sized Kid Collection…we’ve got something for practically everyone. WANNA CELEBRATE the holidays in style? Our Classic Santa Beard Head is perfect for spreading Christmas cheer all night long. Going to a football…or basketball…game? Choose one of our 36 different color combinations of Tailgate Beard Heads to show off your team spirit!
Now, I know what you’re thinking…you can’t WAIT to get your hands on one of our Beard Heads. Well, lucky for everyone, I brought samples! But first, I have an important question I “mustache” you … which one of you Sharks will join me and take Beard Head to create the PERFECT STORM of success?
With the opening pitch script complete, there was still the matter of practicing it…which I did over and over and OVER again. Every night I would pace up and down my hallway, reciting the script until I could get through without a flubbed word, pause, or even a missed inflection. My (now) wife would laugh at me because she would overhear my practice rehearsals while I was in the shower. I would get stared at by random people as I practiced the speech while walking to work, seemingly talking and gesturing wildly to myself. Honestly, I probably didn’t need to practice that much. But since the opening pitch was really the only thing I was really stressed over, practicing was the only thing that made me feel a little better.
Q&A PRACTICE AND SET DESIGN
Of course there were other things to prepare aside from the opening pitch. There was still the matter of coming up with a set design, and prepping for the Q&A. For the set design, I adopted the strategy of trying to show-off as much “stuff” as possible to the Sharks. I wanted the Sharks to see that Beard Head wasn’t just a silly idea with one or two novelty products, but rather Beard Head had a HUGE collection of products that touched a variety of different markets (snow/ski, sports fans, novelty, kids). Looking back, I may have overcompensated a bit…there was a LOT of stuff on stage. 😝
Part of the reason we were even able to have so much stuff was that we were local. Shark Tank is filmed just a few miles from Beard Head’s warehouse in Downtown Los Angeles, at the Sony Studios Lots, so getting everything over there and on set just required a U-Haul rental for the day. If we were flying in from out-of-town like most of the other companies, there’s no way I would have brought such a large set design.
For the actual set design itself, I basically just used the same setup we have at trade shows. Our retail display packaging made for a pretty visually striking backdrop, doing a good job conveying the breadth of our collection (which was my goal). I had the little kid cardboard cutout standees made at the last minute, because I planned to focus on the kid-market as a potential area for growth during the pitch, and we didn’t have any other kid styles displayed on the backdrop. The giant display banners may have been a bit unnecessary, but I just loved the way they looked too much to leave them out. I figured if we went overboard with clutter, and the set looked “too busy” for TV, the producers would let us know and I’d just cut back. Thankfully, no one seemed to mind!
Below are some images showing the original Photoshopped concept, a mock setup in our warehouse (sorry for the quality), and the final set design that aired on TV:
The Q&A portion is probably the most important part of the entire Shark Tank pitch, so one would assume this is where the majority of our preparation time was spent. But as I mentioned earlier in this blog post, I really wasn't too worried about this portion. After all, I essentially spent every day of the past 7 years preparing for questions about my business, just by running it! "What's your target market?" "What were your last 3 years of revenue?" "What is your net income margin?" These types of questions get asked all the time, and shouldn't be anything to stress out over. If you're running a business, you should know all your numbers inside-and-out. If a certain number isn't good...that's fine, as long as you know why, and you have a plan to address the issue.
There certainly were some questions the Sharks could ask about Beard Head that may not have such easy answers. There were definitely some questions that wouldn't have a purely "positive" answer. But whatever tough questions the Sharks may have about Beard Head, I've asked myself those same questions a thousand times. So my mentality going into the pitch was, while there will likely be questions that may not have such a rosy answer, there's no way I'm going to get caught off-guard or stumped.
I prepared for the Q&A by writing out a giant list of every possible question I could think of, and then writing out the answers to all of them. Some were short and easy answers, some were quite long, and may have required a several page plan to fully explain. I got really nasty when trying to come up with potential things Mr. Wonderful may have asked...like, aggressively mean questions. It turns out he was actually quite nice and didn't give me any trouble at all. I was actually a little disappointed...I had prepared some really good comebacks/zingers for him.
In addition to my own list of Q&A, I also invited several of my entrepreneurial/business-owner friends to do a mock Shark Tank Q&A and pitch session at my warehouse a few weeks beforehand. Since they were pretty familiar with Beard Head (we had monthly "support" meetings to talk about our businesses), they didn't hold back with their tough questions. To be honest, their questions were a lot harder than what the Sharks asked. In fact, my own prep questions were a lot tougher than what anyone ended up asking me...which makes sense I guess, since no one else would know the potential pitfalls of Beard Head better than me.
I didn't really bother memorizing anything for the Q&A, unlike the opening pitch script. I had a few key phrases I made sure to highlight in memory for certain tough questions, but for the most part, I think the act of going through all the questions and writing down answers for them was good enough to not draw a blank if a certain question came up.