Shark Tank: Survive and Thrive

Exhibitors pitch their ideas to top investors

What does it take be a successful entrepreneur? Several exhibitors at The Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market® can tell you. They’ve appeared on the hit ABC show “Shark Tank” to present their ideas to some of the top self-made business tycoons in the world.

What did they have to do?

Monkey_MatChristie Barany and Courtney Turich say just making it to the taping phase is an ordeal. The co-owners of Monkey Mat had to pass several tests before their episode finally aired on April 4, 2014. They originally submitted their pitch through the Shark Tank Web site in September 2012. Producers finally responded the following March.

“They gave us an on-the-spot interview over the phone,” says Barany. Then came the mountain of paperwork. “It was a 200-page document we had to fill out by hand,” says Barany. “If you have a business partner, you each have to fill one out your own. We found out later from the producers it’s a test to find out how interested you are. It’s a mind game the whole time.”

The final test was a five-minute video they put together to answer every conceivable question about their products. The invite to Los Angeles for the taping soon followed.

Is it a competitive atmosphere?

PullyPalz owner Julie Thompson, who appeared on the show April 10, 2015, says the intense experience tends to bond everyone who goes through it. She taped her segment the same day fellow Atlanta exhibitor Ryan Shell of The Home T taped his.

PullyPalz“We’ve stayed in touch ever since and I’ve stayed in touch with a few others, too,” she says. “You feel like you’re on the front lines together. We’re our own Shark Tank support group.”

For Thompson, the uncertainty was the hardest part. Producers offer no guarantees that a segment will air, even after the taping.

“Then you make it to the tank and it’s intimidating,” says Thompson. “I thought it’d be intense and I could handle it, but that day I was a nervous wreck. Knowing 8 million people might see it and knowing anything you say can air, with so much on the line, it’s definitely stressful.”

Shell says the experience is even more nerve wracking in person because contestants are in front of the sharks for much longer than the 5 to 10 minutes that air. A pitch can last up to two hours depending on the sharks’ level of interest.

“It is extremely intense standing in front of them,” says Shell, who appeared on the March 21, 2015, episode. “They often hit you with multiple questions at once. You have five very confident individuals grilling you, and if you don’t know your stuff, it’s a very long day.

How do you pitch your idea on TV?

Freaker_USAZach Crain of Freaker USA appeared on the October 18, 2012, episode. He says once he walked onto the stage, he let go of all his concerns and inhibitions.

“I thought, ‘If I get nervous and start sweating, I’ll just own it,’ but luckily I was comfortable and acted like myself,” says Crain. “It was like I stepped into my TV screen. Mark [Cuban] has that funny grin on his face the whole time. You don’t know what he’s doing over there in the corner. And Kevin [O’Leary] did his thing.”

Erin Bickley and Jenny Greer of Hold Your Haunches appeared on the April, 10, 2014, episode and say they had a great time pitching the sharks.

“When Kevin was carrying on we were laughing, although they edited it to make it look more intense than it really was,” says Bickley. “They got shots of us looking pensive and tense at some point. We don’t remember that, but there must have been some tense moments.”

What happens after the show?

While Crain and Shell left without a deal, Bickley and Greer got one from real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran. Mark and Hanna Lim of LollaLand stood in front of the sharks for 90 minutes before finally accepting an offer from tech mogul Mark Cuban on the April 27, 2012, episode.

“One thing that has surprised us is Mark’s willingness to learn,” says Mark. “It still baffles me that he would email us at 11 p.m. on a Saturday to ask us about our business and our strategy. That tells you a lot. Here’s a billionaire who defines success and he wants to learn from us. It taught me I need to be constantly learning and adapting.”

Everyone who got deals agreed that they get as much value from working with the sharks as they do from the money they received. Even entrepreneurs who didn’t get deals say the experience was worthwhile.

Ray Phillips, CEO of SoapSox, appeared before the sharks last October. Fashion mogul Damon John made an offer but Phillips declined.

“Everyone is a Monday morning quarterback, saying we should have taken Damon’s offer,” says Phillips. “But when you air on Shark Tank it increases awareness. It’s increased our distribution three times over. Disney is now aware of us and talking to us. NASCAR is aware of us.

It’s a benefit that is ongoing. Exposure from reruns, follow-up segments and clips posted online make every participant a winner, deal or no deal.

For more information, visit the exhibitors during Market.  Monkey Mat: Carolina Baby Company, Building 3, 13-W124; The Home T: Building 3, 2-2200; PullyPalz: Building 3, 13-E319A;  Freaker USA: Just Got 2 Have It!, Building 2, 17-1721; Hold Your Haunches: Building 3, 4-115;  LollaLand; Carolina Baby Company, Building 3, 13-W124 and SoapSox Building 3, 3-315.


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