by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
What is Shark Tank? It’s a reality show that airs on Friday evenings on ABC in which hopeful entrepreneurs pitch their concepts to a panel of real entrepreneurs — so-called self-made millionaire and billionaire tycoons — to get one or more of the “sharks” to invest in their business.
After five seasons (with a sixth starting on September 26) and hundreds of pitches, here are the key lessons learned from the entrepreneurs who secured investments from one or more of the Sharks — as well as insights from the lectures given to those entrepreneurs who failed in their pitches.
10 Key Lessons from Shark Tank
Hard Work is a Given. All the best workers and entrepreneurs know that the work is everything, so stating that you are a hard worker — willing to work as hard as it takes — is a wasted opportunity to say something more valuable to convince the employer/investor of the value you bring.
Do Your Research. If you go into a pitch meeting or a job interview with limited knowledge, you are wasting everyone’s time. You must come prepared with as much information as possible. For job-seekers, preparation means knowing the employer, its key competitors, and the business environment. For entrepreneurs, it’s understanding every aspect of the business, key competition, cost of customer acquisition, sales figures, and broader industry/category issues, such as barriers to entry.
Know Your Brand. Whether a job interview or an investor pitch, you are selling your brand — and if you do not know what your brand stands for, then certainly no one else will. You need a clear brand statement and an understanding of how your brand is different than all others in the marketplace; in other words, what unique thing do you (or your product/service) offer?
Tell a Good Story. The most successful pitches on Shark Tank involve an engaging story — and the same is true for job interviews. A good story not only engages and endears the listener, but makes you more memorable. And every brand has a story. For job-seekers, your task is developing several (short) stories around your key accomplishments.
Practice Your Pitch. Part of your preparation HAS to be practicing. You don’t have to be perfect, but surely you’ve noticed that people with smooth deliveries often get a pass on other things — because the speaker is confident, knowledgeable, and engaging. For entrepreneurs, practice your pitch, and if you’re nervous about public speaking, join Toastmasters. For job-seekers, conduct a mock interview to sharpen your interview responses.
Develop Rapport. Ever notice how it’s much harder to say no to someone when you have a strong and positive connection? On Shark Tank, you’ll see entrepreneurs showcase both their research and their attempt at establishing a connection by giving each Shark a sample with their favorite color, flavor, and the like. For job-seekers, establishing a connection also comes from your research — and by showcasing your knowledge of the interviewer and/or employer; even better, if you have a mutual friend/network contact and can discover a mutual interest (sports, hobby, volunteering).
Listen and Adapt. If you blab your way through the pitch or the job interview, all you will end do is waste everyone’s time. If an investor or interviewer raises an objection, don’t ignore it and keep going forward with your canned pitch. Stop, contemplate, and make adjustments. On Shark Tank, one of the fastest ways to go underwater with your pitch is by ignoring their questions; on numerous occasions, one of the sharks has been heard to say, “I could never work with you because you would never take my advice.”
Know Your Value in Marketplace. You have to walk into that pitch meeting or job interview knowing exactly what you or your company are worth in the marketplace. Underestimate your value, and you will be considered an amateur who either doesn’t know any better or who doesn’t do your due diligence. Overestimate your worth and you will get booted from the pitch or interview without even an afterthought. For entrepreneurs, your value comes from myriad of factors, including innovativeness of idea, number of competitors, demand for the product/service, patents in hand or pending, and the like. For job-seekers, it’s your mix of skills and accomplishments, the number of others with similar qualifications, and what the employer pays; use services like Glassdoor.com, LiveCareer Company Search and Salary.com to assist you.
Take Offer When it’s What You Asked For. One of the saddest moments on Shark Tank is when a shark gives the entrepreneur the offer they sought and the entrepreneur decides to get greedy and see If any other sharks are willing to pay more for an investment — and the original offer is rescinded. For job-seekers, we are not suggesting you immediately accept a job offer, but if you are asked for your salary requirement and the employer offers it to you, you risk losing everything if you come back with a counter proposal for a higher salary.
There’s More to an Offer Than Just Money. For both entrepreneurs and job-seekers alike, money is just one part of the entire offer. For entrepreneurs, as seen on Shark Tank, one of the perks of an investment deal is not only the braintrust that comes from an investor who has already navigated the waters successfully, but also the wide and powerful network of that investor. For job-seekers, other items besides salary include bonuses, vacation time, job title, office, profit-sharing, education reimbursement, flextime, flex-location, relocation reimbursement, workplace wellness benefits, office enhancement fund.
Final Thoughts on Lessons from Shark Tank
Entrepreneurs and job-seekers alike can benefit from the lessons Shark Tank has provided through its first five seasons. Remembering this mindset will make you more successful in your next investor pitch and/or job interview or networking event.
You do not need to be a shark, but you need to win over the shark.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.