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May 8, 2016 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Three and a half years into running my business She Shopped, I felt like it was time to push myself outside of my comfort zone by auditioning for the second season of Shark Tank Australia. In 2012 I self-funded my business with a $30,000 redraw from my mortgage, so pitching for investment and considering a partnership was new territory for me.

I figured by auditioning I’d quickly learn if I had in fact built a commercially successful venture and I also considered the prospect of investment enticing but not necessarily required. I was most motivated by the opportunity to tap into the expertise of the Sharks and the exposure the show would give my site.

Initially I submitted a detailed online application outlining my business. A few weeks later I was called to appear at the Adelaide auditions. I realised almost immediately that my submission had been well received as the auditions were clearly divided into two groups; the ‘unlikely to go further’ group who were taken to have a relaxed conversation with a small team of producers and the ‘likely to go further’ group who were required to face a panel of six, including the Shark’s Venture Capitalist, Barry, and deliver a formal pitch.

I belonged to the latter, and even though I was incredibly nervous pitching for the first time, I must have gone ok because I ended up seeing the show’s psychologist, a further indicator I had progressed though the process.

Whilst this was extremely daunting experience and the panel didn’t go easy on me, I left with adrenalin pumping through me and a great excitement, because after three and a half years of really hard work I had validation that I had created an attractive business, not a hobby. Hurrah!

On the day of the Adelaide pitch I was almost certain I’d be taken though to the final round of auditions, which involved a pitch to the Sharks. Their venture capitalist Barry has indicated he’d like to take me through to the show and was so complimentary about what I had achieved. Of the entire experience, this is still a highlight for me. Having the nod of approval from such an astute businessman was nice recognition.

Before long I was at Fox Studios, Sydney, preparing to deliver my pitch to the sharks – Janine Allis, Andrew Banks, Steve Baxter, Dr. Glen Richards and Naomi Simpson. This day happens in a flurry! I was flown in by the production company early that morning, had a brief opportunity to talk with wardrobe and two producers and then I was whisked into the tank. This is where the theatrics kick in. There are loads of cameras capturing every nervous move and expression. This is where I had my “Lucy what the hell are you doing here?!” moment – and because I’m so expressive it would have been written all over my face – a producer’s delight!

There was no time to dwell on the answer, because the doors flung open and five very imposing figures were awaiting my pitch. I delivered my well-rehearsed pitch without too much trouble and then the Q&A started, with a few curve balls for good measure!

Overall the Sharks were quite complimentary, but I think I quickly knew the pitch wouldn’t make it to air. I’d best describe the pitch as ‘beige’. There were no catastrophes, no major disagreements, the Sharks even agreed with my valuation, but there was no funding so it wasn’t exactly riveting. Around 35 minutes into my 45 minute pitch, when all the sharks but Janine and Steve were ‘out’ Naomi was trying to encourage me to hustle for Steve’s investment – but by that point the fight had really left me. I felt if they were not inspired to work with me, I wasn’t going to try any harder to convince them. Janine and Steve both tousled with the idea of investing but in the end all the sharks were out and my time in the tank was done.

Here are my takeaways

  1. When watching this season of Shark Tank, understand that most pitches are 45 minutes reduced to six minutes of air-time. It’s the theatrics and cringe-worthy moments of a pitch that make for good television and ratings. Keep the judgement at bay when watching entrepreneurs pitch.
  2. The Shark Tank process forced me to do due diligence on my business which is such a worthwhile thing to do. I’m the first to admit I hate numbers, but I took time to scrutinise every aspect of my business with my accountant and an advisor and truly assess its value. I am much clearer about my business than I was before I applied for Shark Tank.
  3. The judges are not always right. I really liked Steve Baxter, but he did say he thought the success of my business was because of the profile of my husband (former AFL player Kane Cornes). I argued with him at the time but not sternly enough. My success is based on my lateral thinking, mammoth work ethic, determination, resiliency and the fact I’m a good digital strategist. My husband’s support has been priceless, the impact of his profile has been negligible.
  4. The Sharks are most interested in scale. Overall they really liked my business but the one thing they kept pressing me on was scalability. They could see how my business could scale to $1 million annual revenue, but they were more interested in $3 million.
  5. There are some things that will only be said when the cameras stop rolling. After my pitch was finished, I bumped into Naomi, where she said to me “you don’t need us, you’re better off staying in control of your capital”. I agree with her, because I was never really interested in their capital and more their expertise and the exposure the show could give my site, but I wish she said that during the live pitch.
  6. Some businesses go on to achieve amazing things after appearing on Shark Tank! My favourite success story from Shark Tank Season One is Throat Scope – a tool for oral cavity examination. Founded by Jennifer Holland in 2010, the mum of four, secured the support of ‘tech-shark’ Steve Baxter and has gone onto negotiate an international distribution deal, reportedly worth $15 million. Holland’s appearance on the TV show in 2015 was one of the major steps that accelerated the development of the Throat Scope. Good on her!

For me going through the Shark Tank process was overwhelmingly a positive experience. The feedback from the Shark’s venture capitalist, Barry, gave me a renewed enthusiasm for my business and a confidence that I was on the right track. It also forced me to scrutinise my model more closely and inspired me to develop a better business over the past quarter.

I got enough from the process to understand that success is not definitively measured by if you sink or swim in the shark tank.

Shark Tank airs 9.00 Sunday on TEN

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