How to ace your pitch: Tips from a Shark Tank shark - Hindustan Times
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How to ace your pitch: Tips from a Shark Tank shark

Jan 29, 2022 01:23 PM IST

No fumbling. No sob stories. No cowing down. A Shark Tank India investor offers advice on cracking the best deal on the show, in business and in life.

It could not have been better timed. The India edition of Shark Tank, the award-winning American reality show in which millionaires invest in fledgling businesses, premiered on Sony Entertainment Television at the tail end of 2021. The year was a turning point for India’s start-ups. A record 43 of them were valued at over $1 billion. Many others launched successful IPOs. And thousands of others watched carefully, in the hope that they’d be next.

Businesses as varied as his-and-hers underwear and disposable urinal bags were pitched on Season 1 of Shark Tank India. (Photos courtesy Sony Entertainment Television)
Businesses as varied as his-and-hers underwear and disposable urinal bags were pitched on Season 1 of Shark Tank India. (Photos courtesy Sony Entertainment Television)

Think of the show as a crash course in understanding how businesses can grow. Entrepreneurs have only a few minutes to pitch their venture to begin with. Then the sharks start circling. There’s no waffling, no sob stories. The brand must hold up to questioning and negotiation in order to land an investment deal. As Shark Tank India wraps up its first season, spawning an afterlife of memes and online chatter, here are some lessons on how to pitch your own dreams to perfection.

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Do your homework: Learn as much as you can about the people you are hoping will open their wallets and clear their calendars for you. Shark Tank USA has been on air since 2009, so aspiring entrepreneurs typically watch the most recent seasons and note down every investor’s investment interests and objections before they customise a pitch.

The India edition is just taking off, but the judges seem more supportive, less hard-nosed. Knowing what drives an investor is key. For Namita Thapar, executive director of Emcure Pharma and one of the sharks on the India show, it’s all about supporting job creators, especially women. “Women’s participation in the workforce is dropping. I want this to be a platform for women entrepreneurs,” she told Wknd. She has invested 10 crore across 25 businesses in Season 1 of the show.

Refine your pitch: Fumbling will cost you, on air and in real life. The best introductions are crisp, fun and well-rehearsed. In 2012, when American inventor Aaron Krause was pitching his year-old cleaning tools company Scrub Daddy, he’d already been talking up his products at grocery stores for months. His pitch seemed so smooth and confident, the panel on Shark Tank USA said that he sounded like a live infomercial. He cut a deal on the show, and went on to become the most successful company in the show’s history. Scrub Daddy had revenues of over $200 million by 2019.

‘Be prepared to defend your business. Pitchers have every right to ask questions of their investors,’ says Namita Thapar, who invested ₹10 crore across 25 deals in Shark Tank India. (Photo courtesy Sony Entertainment Television)
‘Be prepared to defend your business. Pitchers have every right to ask questions of their investors,’ says Namita Thapar, who invested ₹10 crore across 25 deals in Shark Tank India. (Photo courtesy Sony Entertainment Television)

Show and tell: The most memorable pitches are those where the audience can see a product at work. The stretchy quality of Bummer’s his-and-hers underwear and CosIQ’s non-sticky sunscreens were both tested live on the India edition. In the US, Krause demonstrated how his Scrub Daddy sponge turned soft in hot water and hard in cold water. “Investors need to touch and feel to see it work,” says Thapar. “They’re putting their own money in it after all.”

Be armed with numbers: Sure, you have a great product; but do you have a good business? Investors are more likely to buy into your company if you have some sales to show for your good idea, says Thapar. “It shows proof of concept, builds credibility, and investors know the business has benefitted from customer feedback and the hard knocks of the market.”

On the India edition, Rubal Chib and Dr Srishti Batra, founders of qZense Labs, successfully demonstrated that their product, a sensor to test the quality of uncut fruit, works. But they floundered when every investor asked them why they thought their company was worth 400 crore when they had barely sold 50 lakh worth of the sensors. They left without striking a deal.

Know your business inside-out: Your pitch will show investors how much you’ve lived and breathed your project. “The biggest mistake you could make is not knowing everything about it. Who else will?” says Thapar. In 2014, when American entrepreneur Andrew McMurray pitched Zipz, wine sold in single-serve plastic wineglasses, he came prepared. He mentioned that he’d built the company over 10 months. He knew why competitors had failed. He outlined plans to sell Zipz at baseball games and supermarkets. It’s what got investor Kevin O’Leary to give McMurray the $2.5 million he wanted in exchange for a 10% stake.

Haggle hard: Yes, harder than they do on the American edition. Sulay Lavsi appeared on an early India episode seeking 75 lakh for a 4% stake in the innerwear brand Bummer. The company had made 15 lakh in sales the previous month. Lavsi argued that his products were lighter than those on the market. He didn’t back down when some investors tried to undervalue the brand. He didn’t budge when Thapar and Aman Gupta, co founder and CMO at boAt Lifestyle, offered to jointly invest at 10% equity. He ultimately convinced them to come on board for 7.5%. “Pitchers have every right to ask questions of their investors,” says Thapar. “Prepare to attack and defend, especially if you’re a woman. Women don’t speak up or call out problematic behaviour even today. It holds them back as entrepreneurs.”

Show your human side: For India, where entrepreneurship is largely new and even start-ups are experimenting, it’s important to show humility when you pitch. “We work with great teams. There’s no dearth of intelligent entrepreneurs,” Thapar says. “But we’re betting on the person as much as the business. So we want to see energy and passion in their body language, not arrogance.”

OUTSIDE THE TANK

* The American show is so popular, many businesses receive a boost in sales just by appearing on it.

* About 20% of the deals made on camera fall through afterwards, largely because the entrepreneurs find they’re now popular enough to grow their business without a celebrity investor.

* Several businesses that were rejected on the show have gone on to find success too. Jamie Siminoff pitched his video doorbell system on Shark Tank USA in 2013 but left without a deal. He went on to grow his company, Ring, with investment from Richard Branson and eventually sold it to Amazon in 2018 for $1 billion. Siminoff returned to Shark Tank that year, not as an entrepreneur but as a guest investor .

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