Since season 6, Shark Tank has averaged over 9 million viewers an episode. Not only does the show provide entrepreneurs an opportunity to receive an investment from a famous investor, it also advertises their business and product to millions of potential customers.
Slyde Handboards recently appeared on Shark Tank season 7, where they pitched their bodysurfing handboards and won an investment from Mark Cuban and guest-Shark Ashton Kutcher. I had the opportunity to speak with Steve and Angela Watts to ask them about their experience and advice for getting on the show and successfully earning an investment.
The inspiration for the handboard came from when I was a kid. I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and to get us out the house my mother would take me and my brother down to the local beach to let us run amok. We would body surf a lot and play in the waves, and it wasn’t long before we started using objects on our hands to get more lift and speed when going down the wave.
I remember using frisbees, flip-flops – anything we could find. One of the favorites was a fast food tray. We quickly evolved from random objects to tearing open our old surfboards and refined the shape. At the time there was no brand associated with this, even though a lot of kids were doing it. That’s when I decided to start a brand and product that a new generation could associate with. Those found random objects are essentially the early prototypes for what you see on our website today.
We first applied to be on Shark Tank in 2013. I’d never seen the show as I didn’t watch a lot of TV. I was too busy starting Slyde and putting my hours into the company. It wasn’t until a customer from San Diego came around our space in Venice Beach to check out some boards and suggested the awesome idea to apply to the show.
We ended up applying to the show three times before we finally got accepted. Each time we got a little further down the road and started to understand how the process actually worked.
In 2013, Angela had just started working with me but I did the first video by myself in our garage space in Venice Beach with a really bad camera. It had a pretty poor production value to say the least. Also I focused a lot on the product and very little on my personality. I hate being on camera and I’m getting a little more used to it for the sake of the company but still can’t watch myself.
The first attempt was as quick as I could make it with very little personality to it. To be honest, I thought they wanted more about the product when in reality, it’s a TV show and the producers want to know you’re going to have a great story and be entertaining on their show.
The second time, Angela had been working with me for a year and we did the video together. The second attempt was only marginally better than the first. We had a better camera and lighting as we did it on the beach in Venice and we tried to bring out our personalities a lot more. I think this video put us on the radar of the producers at Shark Tank as they told us to “please apply for season 7” and to contact them directly when we were ready.
In 2015, we found a lot of YouTube videos of past companies that had posted their attempts and we studied what worked and what didn’t. We got a great camera (mostly for product shots) and a good tripod. I think the biggest change we made was making it a lot more personable, we smiled a lot, and made a video that really sold not only the product and showed our passion for the company but also showed our story on what it meant for us and the company to get an investment.
The application process is very long and arduous. I think part of it has to do with the fact that they need to know you’re serious about getting on the show for the right reasons and you’re serious about your company.
I was initially concerned about how the whole experience could adversely affect the company. As a business owner, your company is your baby and anybody that treats it badly will see the wrath. From the beginning, the whole team at Shark Tank, from the producers all the way down to regular staff, were all very aware of what your company means to you and that even though it’s a show you and your company’s best interest are always a priority.
Pitching to anyone is a nerve-wracking experience. And that’s without a camera and 6 million people watching you screw it up. There are so many things that can go horribly wrong. What helped us the most is we had already pitched Slyde to various investor groups and we were also a part of an incubator program called San Diego Sports Innovators. Without the help of our mentors at SDSI we would not have had a hope in hell of getting to pitch ready. Coupled with the fact that we had already stood up and were asked the really difficult questions, put ourselves in a very strong position to be able to answer everything the Sharks threw at us. In fact something I found out about myself was I actually really enjoyed doing pitches. I love the rush and more importantly I love talking to people about Slyde. It’s like an excuse to talk about what you love to do for 40 minutes, who doesn’t want that? After any pitch it’s a great high for a few days.
A lot of people, myself included, thought Shark Tank is a series of retakes and cuts but that couldn’t be much further from the truth. On the show, you see the doors open and people walk through. In reality, we had to wait on a line behind that door for 5 minutes while they got the set ready for filming with a guy counting us down. When the doors fly open, it’s go time no cuts, retakes or anything. If you trip and land on your head the show goes on. If you can imagine taking a 45 minute bungee jump, that should get you some idea on what it feels like.
To be honest, I remember thinking the minute we finished our initial pitch and Robert Herjavec told us he liked the product, I knew we had them. It was our pitch to lose at that point and we were in a great position to win an investment from one of the Sharks.
Luckily for us it we made a great first impression because I think the product sold itself. At the end, we got an investment from Ashton Kutcher (guest Shark for that episode) and Mark Cuban.
The whole pitch felt like it was 5 minutes and I couldn’t believe it when our producer told us we had been up for 45 minutes.
The show is literally just the start of the process. You still have to prove what you said on the show was in fact real, so there is a long due diligence period. We read that only a third of all companies actually make it through the due diligence period. This is actually where the real work starts and there are a huge amount of forms to fill out to make sure your company can actually do what you claimed it could during the pitch.
We filmed in June of 2015 and the due diligence was signed in November. We had a talked with Ashton even before signing, who was raring to go and start supporting us. I don’t think the ink had dried on the contract before we were thrust into both of their support systems. Both have been incredible in what we’ve been given.
It’s been incredible and continues to grow fast. We were featured in the New York Times entrepreneur section, Forbes, and the front page of Yahoo. I had to turn order notifications off as it was like a slot machine going off!
As I mentioned before, practice is important because if you can’t deliver the numbers in a confident and reassuring manner, then your pitch will fall flat.
We also learned not to use flaky words like “maybe” or “I think”. For example, Ashton asked us what the bodyboarding market was and Ange quickly answered “30 million”. Besides Ashton loving the product, I think that answer was the hook that got Ashton in the end.
As clichéd as it may sound you will hear “no” way more times than “yes”, but never give up! I actually started going into the pitch expecting “no”. It helped take all the pressure off and it allowed me to enjoy myself and give a great representation of myself, the product, and the company.
You have to find some way not to take “no” personally. After every “no” I would think “your loss, now I am going to show you what a mistake you just made not saying ‘Yes’” and then move on to the next person. At some point you will walk into the people that see what you see and those are the people you want involved in your company.
Believe in your product and believe that you’re supposed to be in that room with those investors, not that they’re doing you a favour. It changes your confidence, and in the end, if you’re confident in yourself and company then someone is going to be more comfortable in investing in you
The Shark Tank production teams says that the quality of the video you send in your application is not that important. The more important thing is your personality and product comes through. However, why take the chance. it’s so easy these days to get a decent camera or borrow one. It doesn’t have to be TV ready and you don’t need to hire anyone. Just get good lighting, a good quality camera and use a tripod. Make sure the sound quality is really good, too.
The producers get 50,000 videos a year, so make it stand out by making it personable, bright, colorful and fun. Think of the last time you watched a YouTube video and how quickly you turned it off if the content bored you. Think of your video in the same way. Make the first six seconds really capture anyone’s attention.
Spend the time to make it look good. We spent an entire Sunday in our apartment getting it just right. We wrote out what we wanted to say and did it in sections and then used Premier Pro to put it together, although iMovie is just as good for what you need.
Once you’re done, share the video with close friends and family and get their feedback. Ask them to be brutal. Better yet, watch them watch it and see the reaction. If they get caught up in it, it’s likely the producers will, too.