Whether you love it or hate, television shows like Shark Tank, The Profit and others have been fueling the imagination of
entrepreneurs world-wide to pitch their ideas to experts in exchange for the opportunity to build their business.
Pitching an idea is something every inventor or entrepreneur will eventually do, whether it is to make a single sale of the
product or to get funding for their company. Knowing and understanding who you are pitching to is critical.
Unfortunately, too often entrepreneurs go into a pitch with dollar signs in their eyes instead of keeping their eyes open
and ears to the ground for opportunities to learn. Whether the experience comes from pitching to a small group of
angels or standing on set with the Sharks, the experience of entrepreneurs is similar and preparing is essential.
The Shark Tank Effect
Ultimately shows like Shark Tank have a net positive effect on entrepreneurship. It sparks the imagination and the
American Dream of building a business. Even if they do not specifically want to be on Shark Tank, it still inspires people
to give it a try. I recently asked Henry Miller, of Henry’s Humdingers about his experience being on Shark Tank in 2014.
“It is revolutionary for any small business” he says, “granted it is highly likely that you will not get on the show, but if you
do it will change your life and put you on the map. There are 8 million viewers for Shark Tank so it is fantastic whether
you get a deal or not. The real benefit of Shark Tank is the exposure.”
For most entrepreneurs, they will never be part of the elite few who are chosen to be on the show (not to mention the
nearly 50% of people who think they will be on the show only to be cut before it ever airs). Besides being inspired, the
best thing for entrepreneurs in watching the show is to listen carefully to the questions the Sharks ask. Other investors,
venture capitalists and entrepreneurship experts agree, if an entrepreneur cannot answer the Sharks questions about
their own business than they are not ready to pitch to others.
For the rest of us
Since most businesses and many entrepreneurs are not Shark Tank material, it is important to understand what it is
really like pitching an idea or business to other investors and what work has to be done in preparation. Jerry LaChapelle,
a serial entrepreneur and investor, says many entrepreneurs forget to do homework before they meet with an investor
and wind up pitching to a room full of people who were the wrong audience all along. “They need to understand it is
not just about them, they have to understand the needs of the investor not just what they need.”
Pitching a business to a potential investor is also about building a relationship. Diane Kamionka, NWIRC Executive
Director has experience pitching to investors, as well as coaching others how to prepare for it. “Asking someone to
invest in you and your business is more than just a potential negotiation, it is a partnership.” she says. “Knowing more
about the individual you are pitching to means that you can be prepared to rapidly respond to all the forks in the road
the other person may want to take.”
Practicing the pitch is also important for getting valuable feedback from other investors and entrepreneurs who have
pitched before. Events like PitchFest offer a local, low pressure experience to get some first time practice in front of an
audience and First Look Forum offers an opportunity for investment ready companies a chance to pitch to a select group
of investors for advice.
*This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.