Ask many entrepreneurs how their appearances on ABC's Shark Tank went and, unless they got a deal, you'll hear the same story: "Sales were okay, but man, the buzz!"
Such was the case for Denver, Colo.-based The Bear & The Rat: Cool Treats for Dogs. Owners Meg and Matt Meyer appeared on the show in October 2012, pitching their frozen yogurt found in Colorado Whole Foods Markets and dog boutiques.
The couple was approached by producers who convinced them to apply. While the duo didn't land a deal or many immediate sales after the episode aired, the publicity propelled them into 100 King Soopers grocery stores.
Or take Eco Nuts, founded by Mona Weiss and Scott Shields, who won a 2012 NEXTY (awarded by New Hope Natural Media) for their eco-friendly soap nuts laundry product. The duo applied for each season of the show before getting the call.
After their show aired in October 2012, Eco Nuts, which also didn't get a deal, climbed to #3 most sold for household products on Amazon.com through their resellers. The show has also opened doors for large sites such as Soap.com and Vine.com, said Weiss. Read Weiss' full take on the antics of Eco Nuts' episode.
On the show, investors Mark Cuban, Kevin O'Leary (Mr. Wonderful), Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec and Daymond John field pitches and cast their offers to budding entrepreneurs. But because the show isn't focused on one industry, and because the investors all have a variety of backgrounds and expertise, a deal doesn't always get done.
Now that the dust has settled on their Shark Tank appearances, Eco Nuts and The Bear & The Rat are speaking out about their TV appearances with advice for other natural companies eyeing the show.
Is the show advantageous for natural companies?
For EcoNuts and The Bear & The Rat, consumer education is key. For that, Shark Tank has done wonders. "The big challenge we have with Eco Nuts is to educate people on a simple product. It's a simple idea that needs a lot of explanation," said Weiss. Whether we did or didn't get a deal, "we knew this was going to be a win-win for us because it meant we could get the word out there about our product."
"For the natural industry, for any industry for that matter, it's good exposure," said Matt of The Bear & The Rat, adding that although they didn't get a deal, "the sharks reiterated the fact that what we are doing is right and that we should believe in our company."
Being on the show gives the Meyers credibility with retailers that may otherwise have been skeptical of their pet product. "It's always going to be a door opener for retailers," said Meg.
7 tips for Shark Tank hopefuls
They say hindsight's 20/20—here's what the The Bear & The Rat and Eco Nuts suggest for natural companies looking to swim in the tank.
1. Practice with a faux Shark Tank environment at home.
What you don't see on the show is how fast the sharks fire off questions, causing the entrepreneurs to scramble for answers—sometimes to multiple sharks at once. Meg's tips for other companies: Put together a panel and have them fire off questions at you about your business in order to prepare for the main event.
2. Work and rework the valuation.
Eco Nuts sought $175k for a 15 percent stake, while The Bear & The Rat sought $125K for a 20 percent stake. The sharks dinged the Meyers on their company's valuation, even though the couple spent a lot of time and energy to prepare for the money conversation. Meg suggests bringing in even more professionals to help with the valuation. However, the two think not receiving an offer is for the best: "It's still a little too early for us and we need to create more value in our company before we start giving equity," said Meg.
3. Remember: It's reality TV.
While Shark Tank's content is focused on closing business deals, the container for those deals is still a television show. Entrepreneurs that cry or have an animated personality most always get more air time. Are you as entertaining as your product? If so, you'll have a better chance of appearing on the show.
4. Prepare for unexpected publicity.
After their shows aired, other investors and media outlets have approached both companies. But it's the customer recognition that has been the biggest surprise. "I almost fainted on the floor at a pet boutique when I was sampling and a little girl asked for my autograph," said Meg. "I basically just put 'Paw bump! Love The Bear & The Rat' on the pint. It was one of the most surreal things that has ever happened."
5. Your website will crash.
Both natural companies' websites immediately crashed and resurfaced an hour after the show aired on Friday evening. Eco Nuts' spent thousands of dollars to prevent this, while The Bear & The Rat bolstered their site as best they could, watching it crash after Shark Tank aired in each time zone. Which brings us to…
6. Stay active on social media before, during and after the show airs.
To mitigate the loss of your offline website, take to social media to communicate with customers right away. "Social media has turned into a customer service tool for us," said Weiss. "The day after we aired I spent the entire day on Facebook. Literally every time I refreshed the screen there were more questions about the product."
7. Make connections with other natural companies that have received deals.
The following natural & nutrition companies received deals on Shark Tank:
- Nardo's Natural, organic skin care; Barbara Corcoran
- Wild Squirrel Nut Butter, all-natural peanut butter; Barbara Corcoran
- Ice Chips, candy made with Xylitol; Barbara Corcoran
- Pro NRG, protein water beverage; Daymond John
- Elements Bars, custom energy bars; Kevin O'Leary
- RuckPack, caffeine-free nutritional supplement beverage; Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavec
- Lollacup, BPA-free, made in USA straw sippy cups; Mark Cuban and Robert Herjavec
- A Perfect Pear, small-batch natural gourmet foods; Robert Herjavec
- Marz Sprays, vitamin sprays; Lori Greiner