Shark Tank is incredibly popular with entrepreneurs and small business owners (and around the Bigcommerce offices), and we’re proud to say that several of our clients have appeared on the show.
We wanted to dig in to the process, how it can help a growing business take off and what business owners who appeared on the show learned from it, so we asked Daniel and Stephanie Rensing of The Smart Baker a few questions. Here’s what Daniel had to say.
How did you get on the show?
I’ve always been a big fan of the show Shark Tank on ABC and while Stephanie was in the kitchen baking, yet again, I said to her, “Hey, want to apply to be on Shark Tank?” I got a straight and serious “No” from her. Little did she know that as she was mixing her batter, I was searching the web to see if there was going to be a season 3 of Shark Tank. It was perfect timing. ABC was casting and, unbeknownst to my wife, I quickly sent in my introduction email to their casting email address. It was a brief summary of The Smart Baker and it’s products, along with a photo of Stephanie and I. I wanted to send in the cutest, most adorable photo we had, so I used our engagement photo. It worked, and within a few weeks I received a call from the casting company wanting to see if we wanted to continue the process and complete the formal applications and video submissions. Luckily when I finally filled Stephanie in on what I did, she was thrilled and not that mad at me.
Once selected, what did you have to do to prepare for your appearance?
After getting through the initial round, we moved on to the official application process and Skype calls, we had to work on our pitch and our presentation. We had to decide what we were going to do and say to “hook” not only the casting companies, ABC and Sony, but the sharks as well. It took months, but we finally nailed it down and planned out our presentation. Finally, we were asked to fly out to Culver City, CA to film our pitch. There were many nervous days in our hotel room as we waited for our filming slot. We got the call and headed to the studio to present to the sharks. One take is all we got, so it had to be perfect.
What did you do after filming to prepare your business?
After you film your segment, you are quickly sent home. Even though you filmed, it didn’t mean you would air so again, we had to sit and wait for that all-important phone call. Sometime in Nov/Dec. we were informed that our segment would air, but still no firm date. How do you prepare a home-based business for primetime television? How much inventory do you buy, how are you going to handle the website traffic? Are you going to be able to quickly process orders and fulfill them? All these questions and more immediately started running through our heads. The first thing we did was take a huge risk and invested in inventory. As e-commerce continues to grow, we didn’t want to disappoint our customers with a 4-6 week turnaround time on orders, so we made sure we had the inventory in house to ship ASAP. The next most important thing was to make sure we had a stable site for our potential customers to visit and place an order. I was constantly in communication with the great support ninjas at Bigcommerce to make sure we had the bandwidth available, as well as an emergency team available to keep an eye on the site and jump on any issues that may have arisen. Luckily, this was not needed and we had a very quick-loading, no-crash site that was complimented by other Shark Tank entrepreneurs. Even companies that had the resources from their sharks available experienced downtime, and this was not the case with The Smart Baker and Bigcommerce. On top of that, there were no additional costs incurred for this, whereas many others had to spend thousands for the necessary computer power to handle the increase of traffic.
What was the scariest part of the process?
We often get asked if we were scared or nervous during the pitch. Stephanie would tell you “absolutely”, but for me, I was so comfortable with knowing all the answers to any question they could ask. It was an adrenaline rush and time seemed to fly by for me. There are definitely some nerves and anxiety as you’re stewing waiting for your chance to impress these investors, but excited nerves.
When did your episode air, and did you get funded?
Our episode aired on March 2nd, 2012 and although we accepted a deal on air with Barbara Corcoran for a $75,000 investment, we did not close the deal afterward. It ended up being a better option for us to continue on the path we were on and not bring on a partner for that equity stake.
How did appearing on the show impact your business?
Since our airing on Shark Tank, we’ve seen tremendous growth. Compared to the same month the previous year, we saw an increase of over 5,000% in sales in the month of March alone. Q1 of 2012 had much greater revenue than all of 2011. Website traffic increased by 1,200%, and we had a great conversion rate.
Overall, we had a fantastic experience with Shark Tank. The Smart Baker would not be in the position it is in now without it. We’ve closed our first retail deal with JoAnn Stores, our wholesale exploded and our brand is much more well know all because of our airings.
What did you learn from the sharks?
One of the most important lessons from being on the show is that you need to have a passion for what you are doing. If you don’t have the passion or the drive, you will get slaughtered in the tank and it could ultimately be the downfall to the growth of your business.
What advice would you give other business owners who want to go on the show?
If you are thinking that Shark Tank is the place to go to get an investment and become a millionaire, you’re wrong. Shark Tank forces you to look at every aspect of your business and it may force you out of your comfort zone personally. This is needed in order to prepare you for the pitch, so it is more of a personal and business learning experience than it is about money and fame.
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