Rugged Events co-founders Rob Dickens and Brad Scudder went on Shark Tank hoping for nothing more than some publicity. Instead, they left with $1.75 million—and, more importantly, the backing of mega-entrepreneur Mark Cuban.
Rugged Events sets up hard-core obstacle courses, including "The Rugged Maniac Obstacle Race" and "The Great Bull Run" (which is exactly what the name promises). The sharks loved the company's unique take on the blooming business of extreme competitions. However, for Dickens and Schudder, the big deal didn't come without a little sweat, blood and tears.
Here's Dickens' behind-the-scenes tips on how to make it big on Shark Tank.
1. Stand out. Shark Tank actually approached Dickens and Schudder because their business model was unique and on trend. Your business should be the same, allowing it to stand out from the competition in the eyes of the sharks and viewers.
Dickens says the show aims to get a mix of competitors –succeed and those the producers predict will bomb – for the benefit of good television. If you want to make it on the show, both you and your business have to catch producers' eyes, before you are even close to meeting the sharks. Show them that you are both interesting and a guaranteed success story by laying out what makes your company unique and profitable.
2. Go for marketing. "Marketing is extremely, extremely important," says Dickens. "Going on the show is great marketing in and of itself."
Since Rugged Events was already profitable, Dickens and Schudder debated if they should even appear on Shark Tank. They didn't want to give up too much of their company and were making enough money that an investment wasn't crucial to their success. In the end, they decided to appear because it would help get their name out. Plus, if Mark Cuban decided to back them, his name alone would be key in future marketing efforts.
3. Know your numbers. "If you don't know your numbers, you're going to be a laughingstock," says Dickens. "You need to understand every aspect of your business." That means not just operations-side, but also business-side: your profit margins, your competitors, the wider market. Ultimately, understanding your finances is the most important predictor of success for the sharks.
4. Hire backup. "If you don't have the understanding of your finances that you need to, hire somebody," says Dickens. If you're even slightly shaky on some of your numbers, the sharks will be sure to attack your weakness. If you hire someone to look at all your books and operation, your increased knowledge will pay off as the sharks realize the extent to which you have prepared. Plus, you'll have the knowledge you need to strike a deal that benefits both you and your investors.
5. Take public speaking classes. "I've been on ESPN and CNN, but going on in front of five investors, when it's serious and quiet – it's a very surreal experience," says Dickens. He suggests practicing public speaking and presenting in front of large crowds. When the cameras are rolling, tensions are high. Unless you have practiced your pitch until you know it like the back of your hand, your nerves may ruin your big moment.
6. Know what you want. "We weren't intending to accept any offers from sharks, because we were already profitable," says Dickens. "But, we were open to the idea of having Mark Cuban as an investor, simply because he's a household name. He brings more to the table than just money."
In the end, Dickens did get an offer from Cuban: $1.75 million for 25 percent of the company. "Our business is probably worth a little more than 1.75 million for 25 percent," says Dickens. "However, Mark Cuban's name and marketing power is probably worth more." By going into the process knowing that Cuban was the only shark they were interested in, the pair was able to get exactly what they came for: a marketing boost.
7. Remember you're on television. One surprise for Dickens was how producers' drive to make an enjoyable television show molded the process. In his episode, two sharks objected to Dickens bringing up the company's second project – The Great Bull Run – halfway through his pitch, feeling he was trying to hide the second concept.
"The reason we did that was because the producers wanted us to do that," says Dickens. "It's all kind of scripted, and they wanted that kind of drama. I did not expect the sharks to react as negatively to that as they did."
While the sharks' ultimate decisions are not, according to Dickens, scripted, producers will encourage the entrepreneurs to pitch in a way that will heighten the drama – something that potential future contestants should be aware of before showing up on set.
"It all goes back to reality TV," says Dickens. "The producers wanted something to happen in the pitch."