III. The Pitch - Swimming with the Sharks
DELAYS AND DISASTERS - THE LEAD UP TO TAPING DAY
Originally, we were scheduled to tape our pitch/episode in June. But there was a chance we would have our taping date delayed to September if shooting was running behind schedule. Since I was local (in Los Angeles), and didn’t require expensive travel plans (flights, hotels, etc…), it was a lot easier to change our taping date at the last minute, rather than having to cancel reservations and re-book someone coming in from out-of-state. As it turns out, our original June taping date was indeed pushed back to September, so I had another few months to prepare (agonize) for the pitch. In fact, once we got rescheduled to our September taping date, we were once again pushed back an additional week in September to the FINAL taping day, due to more schedule overruns. After getting pushed back for a second time, I couldn’t help but think about all the times the producers would caution us that we weren’t 100% guaranteed to get on the show. Maybe we weren’t going to get a chance to make our pitch at all!
Nevertheless, a few days before our scheduled (final) taping date, I rented a UHaul, packed up our giant display, and headed over to the Sony Studios lot. Once I arrived, I dropped off the display and all our props (display walls, mannequin heads, shelving, standees, banners, and Beard Heads), and worked with the production team to make sure they knew how we wanted to set everything up on the day of the taping. I also checked-in with our “Sherpas” to go over the pitch, practice Q&A, and review anything else that may be important. To be honest, I really just wanted to stick around the set as long as possible, trying to just “soak everything in.”
I have to say, it was wonderful living so close to the taping location. I was able to take a few hours out of my day to handle getting things set up at a relaxed pace, and still get back to my warehouse for a bit of work before the day was over. I can’t imagine how much more stressful it would have been if I had to fly to the taping location, stay at a hotel, have everything shipped ahead of time, and be away from work and my home for an extended period. Not to mention how stressful it would be if I forgot to bring something important or needed to replace a broken set piece! So, a bit of advice…if you’re going to be on Shark Tank, try to live in Los Angeles. It’ll make things a lot easier on you. 😉
On Friday afternoon, two days before our Sunday taping, I got a call from one of the producers saying they had some bad news. My heart sank. I immediately thought of the worst-case-scenario: They had run out of time, and our taping was canceled. We had already been pushed back from June to September, and once again in September to the “last-chance” final day. I silently cursed the fact I lived in Los Angeles, making Beard Head the easiest target to push back to later filming dates. All the comments I made earlier about how wonderful it was to live close to the set were coming back to bite me…
But no! Fortunately, the bad news had nothing to do with canceling our taping. It turned out there was a problem with our set display…it had collapsed. Hooray! I couldn’t have been happier! In normal circumstances, I’d probably be devastated with the news that our entire display collapsed days before I was set to film the most important pitch of my life…but compared to the bad news I was expecting to hear, I was thankfully relieved!
So, two days before the taping, instead of going over Q&A and practicing my pitch, I had to rush over to the set and try to fix our display. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, our display was very large…what I didn’t mention was that it wasn’t terribly sturdy. The display wasn’t meant to be moved around once constructed, and it could easily crack and fall apart…which it did (partially) when the production team tried to move it to a different area of the sound stage. Fortunately, I had spare parts back at the warehouse that could be used to fix everything (this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened). It took a while, but with the help of the production crew, we were able to get everything put back together again by that evening.
In the end, I think the display collapsing was a bit of a blessing in disguise. Instead being in my office all day Friday, stressing out about the upcoming taping, I was able to be on the actual set and around the production crew, all while keeping busy (and distracted). I think all the extra time on the sound stage in the days beforehand actually helped keep me more relaxed once I returned to do the taping. A lot of the other applicants had limited time, if any time at all, on the actual set prior to taping. Being on set for the first time can be a bit overwhelming, so I’m thankful I was already pretty familiar with the environment by taping day.
TAPING DAY - HAIR, MAKEUP, AND BUTTERFLIES
I woke up around 5:00 am to head over to the hotel where the rest of the applicants (contestants? entrepreneurs? pitchers?) were staying. While waiting in the lobby for the shuttle that would take us to the Shark Tank set, I noticed that I was the only person there alone. Everyone else had a team…whether they were partners, employees, or just people to help out with the presentation. Part of me felt a little lonely, but it was also kind of nice not having to talk with anyone, or worry if someone else on my team was nervous or unprepared. At this point in the early morning, I felt very relaxed. I knew I was prepared.
The shuttle took us to the Sony Studios lot, where we disembarked to a large trailer with separate dressing rooms. We were to hang out in our dressing rooms until it was time for our taping on set. At some point before the taping, we were called out to hair and makeup to make sure we were presentable. For me, they just cleaned up the edges on my hair, and put some foundation on my face to help reduce shine once I got under the stage lights (they get quite hot). I think they tried to lighten up the giant dark circles under my eyes as well, but weren’t very successful.
After a few hours of waiting, my group of applicants were called on to set, where we would (once again) wait until it was our turn to pitch to the Sharks. At this point, my relaxed state vanished, and I was suddenly feeling very anxious. Up until now, the day had gone very slowly. We had hours of downtime, producers and crew moved about calmly, and the thought of pitching directly to the Sharks in front of cameras seemed like a far-off fantasy. Now, on set, there was a distinct electrifying energy that permeated throughout the giant sound stage. People were hustling back-and-forth with purpose, barely acknowledging my presence as I was led to my (new) waiting room.
I had no idea how long I had until it was my turn to pitch to the Sharks. There were five pitches in my group, and aside from not being first, I didn’t know where I was in line. Each pitch could last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour (or more), and there could be breaks in-between. I was largely left alone during this waiting period, just sitting in a darkened “room” (we’re on a giant sound stage, so the “room” is really just a small area that’s closed off with a frame and some curtains). Earlier in the day, I appreciated the time to myself, but at this point, I think having a partner or team member there to talk to would have been nice to help take the edge off. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long…maybe a little more than an hour…before it was my time to pitch. A producer called me over, led me down a walkway, and before I knew it, I was standing in front of two big doors that would open up to that famous long Shark Tank hallway.
‘Oh my God, how should I walk?! I didn’t practice a walk! What should I do with my face when I’m walking down the hallway….?!’ ……….and ACTION!
PITCHING THE SHARKS
I don’t really remember how I walked down the hallway, and I don’t remember what I did with my face. I barely remember the initial 2-3 minute scripted pitch that I practiced so many hours for. Fortunately, my brain performed (reasonably) well during the scripted pitch on auto-pilot, and I only stumbled for a brief moment about halfway through where I paused for a beat longer than I planned. Everything was a bit of a blur until I caught my stride when the Q&A started.
I recall the Sharks reacting positively when I first introduced my products…a few laughs, lots of smiles…which was reassuring. I was worried a Shark or two may have an immediate negative reaction to the Beard Heads (crazy, I know!) and groan or heckle me during the initial scripted pitch. If that were to happen, I’m not sure I could have recovered! Mark Cuban actually did groan at the pun I made at the very end (“I ‘mustache’ you a question…”), but I was already done by that point, so thankfully it didn’t throw me off.
After handing out the Beard Head samples to the Sharks--watching them playfully laugh and point at each other, grinning the whole time--I was feeling pretty good! I was especially pleased that some of the Sharks kept wearing the Beard Heads for a good portion of the Q&A. I fully expected all the Sharks to take off the Beard Heads once the Q&A began, to minimize any hair and makeup mishaps. It was a good sign to see all the Sharks were good sports about wearing the Beard Heads, both for my chances at getting a deal, and for the good TV exposure.
Once the Q&A started, I felt completely at ease. The entire session lasted a little more than 30 minutes (I think), but seemed to fly by much faster. I wish the Q&A could have lasted longer, to be honest. It would have been great to talk a bit more about potential growth opportunities for Beard Head in greater detail. I tried to lead the conversation that way a few times, but we kept getting sidetracked and interrupted.
Out of all the Sharks, I interacted with Mark the most. He seemed to take the most interest in me as a person and entrepreneur, offering plenty of praise and advice. He also seemed to enjoy busting my chops a bit. Unfortunately, I got a sense early on that Mark ultimately wasn’t interested in investing in Beard Head, despite our long exchanges. Nonetheless, looking back on everything, the back-and-forth with Mark Cuban was probably the highlight of my whole Shark Tank experience.
The most interesting thing that got cut from what aired on TV was probably an exchange with Mark right after he said he was “out.” I actually predicted Mark wasn’t going to invest, so I planned ahead of time to respond to his rejection with a business proposal. Immediately after Mark declared himself “out,” I thanked him for the consideration, and then offered to supply the Dallas Mavericks a few thousand free custom-designed Tailgate Beard Heads for a giveaway during a game at the American Airlines Center Arena. I thought a bold move like this would be something Mark would appreciate, and ideally accept on the spot. I was very wrong. Mark’s exact response was:
Mark: “I would have to be the dumbest owner in the NBA if I did a promotion like that!”
I was stunned! That was definitely not the answer I was expecting. I was so shocked that my brain couldn’t comprehend what exactly he meant by that, so I just stood there with a sort of dumb look on my face. I assume Mark noticed my dumb look, because he followed up with:
Mark: “Do you know why? Are you a basketball fan?”
Me: “Y-yeah, of course!” I stammered.
Mark: “Have you heard of a player named James Harden?”
Me: “Of course, he’s an amazing player…” I replied, still not really grasping what Mark was getting at, but thoroughly embarrassed that he thought I didn’t know who James Harden, one of the most famous players in the NBA, and current leader in average points per game (at the time), was.
Mark: “Well, James Harden is known for his beard. So I’d have to be an idiot to do a beard promotion during a game for one of our biggest league rivals!”
Ah…now I feel stupid… Thankfully, Mark didn’t let me suffer too long. After a quick moment of awkward silence, Mark suggested I reach out to James Harden’s agent, and make the same offer directly to him. Mark even gave me Harden’s agent’s name, and said to tell him Mark Cuban sent me! The whole exchange felt surreal.
For the rest of the Q&A, the questions the Sharks asked were fairly basic and straightforward. The toughest question regarding our flat revenue growth was expected, but none of the Sharks really pressed me as hard as they could have. I was really hoping Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary, was going to dig into me because I had prepared a lot of good responses that were professional and informative, but also had some nice zinger comebacks woven into them. I figured getting a couple of good zingers off would surely make it on to some additional preview commercials and replays, so I was really looking for a chance to get some extra TV time and exposure. Sadly, all the Sharks ended up being too nice in the end, so I didn’t get to “fight back.”
As the Q&A portion of the pitch neared its end, the only Shark left that was not already “out” was Robert Herjavec. Robert was always my number one target for making a deal. He had invested in a similar business in the past, Tipsy Elves, so I knew there was a possibility he may be interested in Beard Head as well. I actually didn’t go into the pitch very hopeful that I would get a deal, so the thought of walking away empty handed wasn’t particularly devastating. After all, the amount of exposure Beard Head would get from being on Shark Tank was a huge prize by itself! But as I stood there waiting in front of Robert as he mulled over whether or not to invest, I found myself becoming increasingly optimistic that he would say those magic words, “I’m in.”
Unfortunately, as you probably know, we didn’t get a deal. Robert ultimately declined, as did the other Sharks, and I walked back down that long hallway empty handed. It was a long shot, to be sure. I knew the flat revenue would be a sticking point, and the Sharks would be concerned about the size potential of the market opportunity for Beard Head. I didn’t disagree with anything the Sharks said, and if I were in their position, I would have made the same decision not to invest. While a Shark investing in Beard Head would have been amazing for its growth, the opportunity for a brand like Beard Head may be somewhat limited in the end…at least when considering the income and scale of some of the Sharks’ other investments.
Overall, I was happy with how the pitch went. Going in, I was concerned about coming across as stupid or unprofessional, but after the pitch was over, I didn’t get the feeling that was the case. Of course, I didn’t know how the segment would ultimately be edited, so that could always change…but I was fairly confident I didn’t do anything TOO foolish that could be spun to make me look like an idiot. I was disappointed in the immediate aftermath that I didn’t get a deal from Robert, but that disappointment faded after about an hour. I was relieved to be done. I had been working on Shark Tank for almost a full year, so it was great to be finally done.
But I’m not quite done…of course. The taping may be over, but there was still a lot to prepare for before the show aired. Now, it was time to get down to business…literally.
Continue >> Part IV: Aftermath - TV Air Date and Beyond