Standing in line, sleep deprived, dehydrated and surrounded by strange nervous people. We were all waiting to get into the Shark Tank open casting call but I started wondering if I had actually be tricked into joining a human bait ball. We'll get back to that later....
If you haven't heard of the TV show Shark Tank you're missing out big time. It's like crack for entrepreneurs but without all the nasty side effects (my non-entrepreneur friends that love it too). I can't begin to explain how exciting it is to watch or how motived I am to improve my business after watching. I'm totally hooked. It's verging on an obsession to the point where I have the walk in theme music repeating in my head while I flesh out my business plans to take over the world muhahaha! Ahem, and now that Im feeling like a idiot fan boy lets get back to the process.
So when I heard about the open casting calls in Los Angeles I decided to take a chance and throw my hat in the ring and have some fun. The first thing I did was to download the current 20 page casting call application form they posted on the ABC website. You really want to get this done as soon as you can for a number of reasons. For one you likely won;t have all the information they ask for on hand, even for simple products. Plus filling out the form will help you to focus your vision and create your pitch. As soon as I got through the paperwork I started working on creating my main focus points for the pitch which was basically a very condensed version of what I stated on my application.
Thanks to an email response from the kind folks at Lollacup (successful Shark Tank alumni) I knew ahead of time that the allowed pitch time might be only one minute long and even then I should expect to be interrupted with questions at any point in the pitch although likely I'd get at least 30 seconds. This was extremely helpful as most people in line had no clue what to expect and most of them had very long stories they expected to tell. Really though lets think about this, the casting call was from 12-7pm and I hear they had over 400 applicants today! So of course it's important to keep it brief, in other words you need the classic "elevator pitch". I have actually struggled with this for years but I now feel quite confident in this area thanks to the experience.
Armed with my application and I headed out the door and although it was still the day before the casting call I went to check out location and meet up with the Lollacup folks for a little gathering they arranged at the hotel bar for us Shark Tank hopefuls (did I mention how awesome these guys are?). When I arrived at 6:45pm the line for the hardcore folks was already in place and about 40 count strong! These people had flown out for all over the country and were determined to be first, I saw everything from tents to full mattresses laid out on the sidewalk of a very busy street. One person had even hired immigrant workers to hold their place in line, oh you silly cheaters.
Although I admired their drive I still felt that it was more important to get a decent nights rest and simply show up in the morning in hopes I could still be done by early afternoon. As fate would have it the room above me that night was having a very loud party till about 1am, I thought about complaining but instead I decided to let them have their fun and spend the time mentally rehearsing the important points of my presentation. I then awoke (to the theme song for the original Dr. Who, my favorite alarm :) around 5am, got some breakfast and headed over to the hotel (I wasn't staying there since they didn't allow dogs, and I had to have my best buddy with me!).
When I arrived at 5:45am there were about 140 people in line, which wasn't too bad considering 260 would be behind me later. But in the end all were seen that day so honestly I don't think arriving too early is necessary. I spent the next 6 hours waiting in line with the aforementioned nervous strange people. But my fears turned into delight after meeting so many bright, friendly, interesting people (extra thanks to Lisa who gave up her blanket to make a shade spot for my dog Buddha :) . It was really amazing to hear about all of the great ideas and even the not so great ideas, at least these people were brave and willing to put themselves out there. The whole group was also very kind and supportive with everyone genuinely wishing each other the best of luck for the event.
Just as it was nearing mid day and I was wondering if I might get a sun stroke, the line started to move, and it moved fast. The process was that they led most of us from the street down into the hotel courtyard and then after another short wait they took us in groups of around 100 into an auditorium. Any momentary fears of having to present in front of the entire group were quickly squashed as the head casting director came on stage to give us the low down. He told us we would be going into smaller conference rooms in small groups and from there one at a time we would be turning in our apps and pitching to at least one person on the casting staff. He also answered questions and offered great advice on what they expected or hoped for in our pitches.
He told us we would likely get around 1 minute to present but it might be less because after all if you can't explain your product in 40 seconds you aren't ready for Shark Tank. He urged us to stick to the basics of our idea, back story and vision and not to get lost in details. He also reminded us how important it was to be enthusiastic, after all if you're not excited about your business, why would anyone else be. He also let one group on stage to present and then critiqued it for them, very cool. Also some people might be picked to do an on camera pitch that day, although it didn't necessarily mean you were in and if you were chosen to go on to the next round they would get back to you within two weeks so he urged us not to cancel any vacation plans just yet. My recount does nothing to convey his good humor during his talk or his general calm attitude that made the whole room feel more comfortable. He was a pretty cool guy.
Then it was time to get down to business. Row by row they called us out of the auditorium and as we were pleasantly cheered on by the remaining participants. This felt great and just added to the already very positive experience. I then waited for a just few more minutes before meeting with my casting manager. As luck would have it I got to pitch to Mindy, who I already knew from Twitter. She was so fun and easy to talk to. I did about ten seconds of my pitch before she made some relevant and humorous comments and then I went on for another 20 seconds and hit most of my main points. She then asked a few questions about sales, what I intended to do with an investment from the Sharks and she took a look at my products (I only had 4 of our bags to show). I'd say I spent around 4-5 minutes with her if you include the short dog affection session that started us off, if only my dog was the product I'd be a shoe in heheh.
Then it was all over and it was barely 1:30pm, thanks to the very well organized and very friendly Shark Tank staff, they kicked ass! I felt fantastic about the experience (and I never even use that word!). In fact I'm still on a Shark Tank high as I write this, it might be hard to sleep again tonight.
So there you have it, I hope this was interesting to all and helpful to those applying for the show. In short I highly recommend watching Shark Tank and if you have a business you think would be good on the show then get out there and let them know!
My sincerest thanks to all of you for the support, I couldn't do any of this without you :)