Sunday, March 25, 2012

6 Business Lessons From Shark Tank Failures

I admit getting rather "immersed" in Shark Tank over the last few months. To anyone who has ever called themselves an entrepreneur, or dreamed of great ideas America just can't live without, the show presses all the right buttons. Do you have what it takes? Can you avoid looking like an idiot in front of the panel? Will your idea stand up to scrutiny? Are you passionate -obsessed-talented-savvy-sacrificing enough?
I had thought about blogging before on this, as let's face it- it is a highly bloggable show, capturing all the highs and lows of entrepreneurship, as well as the basic tensions of "will my idea sell?" Recent great Shark Tank posts such as the James Altucher's"Ten Lessons I Learned from Shark Tank," inspired me to step forward myself.
The most recent episode that aired on Friday, March 23rd, clearly illuminated how to fail in business pitching.
*One ambitious store owner specializing in custom imprinted clothing was ready to go international, but alienated the Sharks when his personality got in the way, and he came off as mercenary and not focused enough.
*Another trio of presenters was trying to get funding for their "beer flavored" ice cream, which apparently was quite tasty according to the panel, but there were other problems with valuations for their company, and "math" in general. None of them could answer mathematical business questions with ease, and in fact seemed to be struggled with even basic business concepts. They hadn't done their homework.
*Finally, 2 former business women had created a line of fashion motorcyclist clothing, and were seeking backing. Although in the end they did surprisingly get one of the sharks to buy in, it was a long drawn out process in which they too were criticized for lacking focus, and repeating what they had done wrong--specifically, that they had lost $400,000 of their own money. They mentioned this throughout their it was a good thing.
So, here are my takeaways on how to pitch an idea successfuly, not only on Shark Tank, but in any situation where you are trying to convert to customers for your business or get backing.
1. Do Your Homework
No one is going to back your idea if you can't readily and easily answer their questions, and speak in dollars and cents. The Sharks always ask the same questions in the same terms: What is the valuation of your company? How much have you sold so far, in dollars. How much profit have you made? How much in orders have you received, in dollars.
2. Be Focused
The moment others sense that you are distracted and lose focus easily, they "are out." You have to show that your project or idea is your passion, and that it means more to you then anything else. How many hours in the day do you spend on your idea? What have you sacrificed? That's what others will want to know.
3. Be Transparent
It's part of business to have occasional setbacks and failures, but most of us know that comes with the territory and is not necessarily a dealbreaker. It's important to mention these experiences so that you can convey what you learned from the process and also convey your authenticity.
4. Don't Act Greedy
It's not the 80's anymore, and greed is not necessarily good. If you create the image that money alone is your top priority, and that "sticking it out" means making at least six figures, you're not going to win. You should value your product over money, and make the case for your passion.
5. Solve a Problem

New product ideas and businesses succeed because they solve a problem, and many entrepreneurs arrived at their ideas from direct life experience. The creator of Spanx, for example, got her idea while getting dressed for a party. You should be asking yourself what problem you are solving for your potential customer, and how well are you solving it compared to your competitors. This is an essential foundation of any pitch.
6. It's Not About Being Fancy
The best ideas I've seen have been so simple, that anyone could have come up with them. Think Post-Its.
So, are you a Shark Tank fan, and what businesses success tips have you learned from the show?
Carrie Jaffe-Pickett
writer, editor

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