Some offers are just too good to refuse. In early 2011, my company OrigAudio was contacted by the producers of ABC’s Shark Tank after we were featured in Time magazine’s list of the 50 best inventions of the year. We weren’t looking for investors, but the potential of being seen by a national audience on TV and getting to work with a successful and well-known entrepreneur was worth spending a few hours on an audition tape. We auditioned for the show and were then given a one-way ticket to Los Angeles to pitch to the sharks.
At the end of our pitch, and with an offer from each shark, we shook hands with Robert Herjavec, accepting his deal, which was exactly what we asked for ($150,000 for 15 percent of our business). Although we didn’t come to an official agreement after the show, the experience, confidence and exposure we got from the show helped us grow in the years since.
That one pitch changed our lives and our business forever. And while no pitch will make a business a success — only hard work will do that — many strong businesses have failed in properly pitching themselves, missing out on great opportunities. You may never pitch your business on Shark Tank, but as an entrepreneur, you will make important pitches that could have just as significant of impact as our pitch to the sharks. When preparing for that important pitch, whether meeting someone at a cocktail hour or meeting in front of a room full of venture capitalists, here are seven things you should do:
Practice like your life depends on it.
Our pitch worked because we practiced and prepared harder than we ever did for a final exam or public speaking engagement. To prepare, we watched every episode of the show, wrote down every question the sharks asked, and created and practiced our answer for every single one. When it came time to pitch in front of the sharks, we were calm and confident because we knew what they were going to ask and what our answer would be.
Know your audience.
Each shark has a unique personality, different interests, specific expertise in different industries and tendencies in the way they approach making a startup an offer. Even with knowing the questions that would be asked, not knowing our audience and what they were looking for would make our answers suck. We studied each shark while focusing on Herjavec, who we wanted to work with the most.
We also knew from previous shows what the sharks liked and disliked. For example, you don’t want to insult Kevin O’Leary, who is ironically known as “Mr. Wonderful.” Get to know your audience, whoever they might be, well in advance of pitching to them.
Pitch as you are.
You have to know who you’re pitching to and cater to their personality, but you should never take your personality out of a pitch. And while we didn’t insult O’Leary, we did joke about him, which is in line with the light-hearted nature of OrigAudio and my co-founder and me. Your pitch should reflect who you are and the personality of your business just as much as the financials of your business.
Keep your pitch short.
It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to share anything and everything your business has done and your plans for the future in your pitch. Don’t! Your goal is to get the interest of your audience. Keep your pitch short and don’t be afraid to leave pieces of information out of your pitch that they’re likely to ask about after you’re done.
Present the present, excite with the future.
Unless you’re pitching to idiots or lying through your teeth, you can’t hide obvious flaws in your business model or alarmingly low sales numbers, nor should you. You need to give an accurate view of your business’s current standing while highlighting the positive. Investors are willing to put up with a few risks if your business has the potential to overcome them, but if you’re pitching them lies or trying to be overly optimistic, they’ll smell through the trash you’re pitching.
Be poised and confident.
To have faith in investing in your business, an investor has to have faith in you and your team. If you can’t get through a pitch without completely falling apart — which has happened in plenty of pitches and on Shark Tank — when being questioned or criticized, an investor won’t have confidence in your ability to handle problems that are sure to come your way in the future.
Don’t bank on it.
Not every startup that pitches for Shark Tank makes it on TV; many investments never finalize. No deal is final until the money is in the bank and all parties involved have signed off on the deal. You should always work like you are bootstrapped and never count on an investment or marketing opportunity to make your startup a success.