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On a recent episode of Shark Tank, likability netted David and Nique Mealy $150,000. The Florida couple owns Bubba's Back 9 Dips, a line of chicken dipping sauces. Offering the sharks a 15% stake in their company, they shared samples, sales figures and their personal story.
Four sharks dropped out, all claiming insufficient knowledge of the food industry. When it looked like the Mealys weren't going to get a deal, Lori Greiner, who had been the first to drop, jumped back in saying "I really like you. There's just something about you." Robert Herjavec came back in, too, partnering with Greiner and telling the Mealys "everyone deserves a chance." The Mealys walked away with $150,000 for a 25% stake in their company.
Sure, everyone deserves a chance, but plenty of entrepreneurs leave the tank without one. How did the Mealys soften the sharks?
"Research shows that we are emotional decision makers," says Rohit Bhargava, Georgetown University professor and author of Likeonomics (May 2012, Wiley). "A study published by Harvard Business School found likability trumps competence," he says. "You see this play out on the show almost every week when one entrepreneur gets money or valuable advice because they were likable and another walks out with nothing because the sharks didn't want to work with them."
Bhargava says likability isn't necessarily inherent, it can be learned. He offers three tips:
1. Be Truthful. When you're willing to be vulnerable, people connect with you on a deeper level, says Bhargava, especially when you tell them something you don't have to share.
The Mealys agree. "We didn't go in expecting to talk about David losing his job," says Nique Mealy. "It just came out. Too many people go in with a schtick. I think the sharks liked our honesty."
2. Show Your Heart. If a company stands for something, their passion will become infectious and others will want to be part of it, says Bhargava. The Mealys' love of their product was evident, and the sharks responded.
"Ours was an emotional pitch with laughter and tears," says David Mealy. "Daymond became emotional, too, telling us he could relate to our situation. And Robert told us he'd never seen anyone who knew their product like we did. That was a big compliment."
3. Demonstrate a Concern for Others. More and more, customers want to support companies that give back. Bhargava says this principle especially matters to the millennial generation, and as they become more engaged in the consumer sector, company ethics will become increasingly important.
"This group, age 16 to 24, is growing up with a deeper sense of the environmental and social impact companies have," says Bhargava. "And through social media, they see that individuals can change the world. One micro way they can join in is to buy from companies that demonstrate unselfishness."
Nique Mealy says she and her husband have always been grateful to those who have helped them. The couple renamed their product to honor TampaDJ Bubba the Love Sponge, who promoted them early on.
"People invest in people," David Mealy bottom-lines. "We have the best dip on the market, but we're also selling the Mealys. You've got to know that going in."