Tonight, Sunday, October 7, 2018, at 10pm EDT, the reality television series “Shark Tank” returns to ABC for its 10th season. The Season 10 premiere also marks the show’s 200th episode. Ten years and 200 episodes are clearly a testament to the program’s staying power and perpetual popularity, but it is the success of the every-day entrepreneurs that is the real story behind the show’s popularity. Giving hope to the viewers that the American Dream is alive and well.
This season should be no different. Not, simply, because the formulaic pitch, argue, deal (or no deal) rhythm won’t be changed, but because the guest Shark joining for Episode One is a former entrepreneur “contestant” – Jamie Siminoff. Highlighting the show’s power to change lives, Siminoff returns to the show for the first time since his Season 5 pitch of his home security company “DoorBot.”. Siminoff didn’t take an on-air offer from the Sharks, but later took an offer from Amazon – that offer was reportedly valued at more than a billion dollars. Billion. With a “B.” Amazon renamed the product to “Ring” and sells it on its gargantuan website starting at $99.99.
Siminoff returns as a poster child of Shark Tank success. We’ll have to see how he does while sitting in the leather chairs of the Tank and how he treats the other fresh-faced entrepreneurs that take the carpet and stammer and stutter thru their pitch for funding.
Frequently, especially when a new season of Shark Tank kicks-off, I’m asked about my own experience with the show. It was September of 2015, I joined the entrepreneur founders of the company I was working with for a trip to LaLa-Land for the filming of their Season 7 episode. But it was the lead-up and aftermath that were the most educational.
Our episode aired in January of 2016, and included about 9 minutes of the standard pitch, argue, deal rhythm. However, that process actually lasted nearly an hour on-set in Los Angeles when it was filmed live. Clever editing, cuts, and multiple camera angles spliced together help make augmented reality look real – and assist in cutting down an hour of bickering to a watchable ten minutes. In advance of the final pitch taping, the process was a series of phone calls, video calls, and coaching sessions between the entrepreneurs and their assigned Shark Tank producer – over the course of nearly a year. The producers used their experience and knowledge of the Sharks to assist in refining and restructuring the pitch script and the requested deal – hoping to help their entrepreneurs to be successful with their pitch and land a deal with the Sharks.
That September day, after the taping, my entrepreneur bosses left the studio on edge and filled with a bevy of mixed emotions. They questioned their performance, they second-guessed their deal, they commiserated over the final details and how much they gave away and how much more, they wondered, they could have gotten had they argued more… or would the whole deal have fallen apart? They recounted the stories of each Shark and how their in-person persona was different than the curated persona – the one that gets presented on-air after the edits. They shared how before the producers let them leave the studio, they were put through a “standard consultation” with a network “shrink” to make sure that each entrepreneur is mentally healthy, not overly stressed from the experience, and capable to leave on their own accord. While they had passed the consult with no trouble, at our informal debrief, over drinks in a hotel bar, they were certainly a mess of emotions and mental quandaries.
Over the next few weeks our marketing and public relations team documented the stores that had been recounted from the entrepreneurs time in the Tank. Each story that might air, each argument that they could remember, each joke, each comment, each quote – to the best of their recollection. Our marketing/PR team used that information to craft a plan for the eventual air date – crafting imagery and tweets to push out, dependent on final edit. The pre-show prep was intense and calculated.
When the episode finally did air, a full quarter of a year later, our team was only given about 10 days notice prior to airing. We were told we’d be featured in the promo that week for the following week’s episode. That amount of lead time was never going to give us enough time to ramp up our manufacturing capacity, but it would have to serve as ample time to perfect our social media war room. We brought in about 15 people to work our social media accounts for the day of airing – ensuring that our customer service would be top notch, that each comment would get a response, that each negative point made by a Shark would have a positive answer to serve to the public. We ran the war room for the Eastern time zone airing of the show, then re-set the room and re-ran the same exercise for the West-Coast airing. Every message was answered and customers were our number one priority. . . and within the first 9 minutes of the first (East Coast) airing, our product sold out and went into “BackOrder/Pre-Order” status on the website.
While we didn’t have the inventory to cover the demand, we had a plan in place to help customers feel they were being cared for and listened to.
Ultimately, the biggest take away was akin to the Boy Scout Motto: BE PREPARED which means you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your DUTY. Our marketing/PR team was definitely prepared for the airing and the aftermath of the Shark Tank Effect.
The year that followed the airing was a whirlwind of ups and downs that no amount of preparation could have readied us for, but our team had previously learned to pivot and to be agile – and those learnings carried throughout the following year of partnership with the Shark that had snapped up part of the company on-air. I, personally, enjoyed working with the Shark and their team, they were smart and innovative and constantly tried to elevate the work of our small start-up. They brought quite a bit to the table and I enjoyed learning from them and collaborating with them. However, within 18 months of airing and finalizing the Shark deal, a new deal was entered into with our Shark-partner that saw a dissolution of the partnership that had been penned after the episode. The new deal was quickly followed by an amicable separation of the two organizations.
Hopefully, tonight, Shark Jamie Siminoff will strike up a partnership with a winning entrepreneur and will help guide the entrepreneur contestant to a similar outcome as he saw when he exited his company – a brand new deal raking in a billion dollars… with a “B”.