When we were contacted by ABC to appear on Shark Tank shortly after we launched our company our first and only thought was "No."
We did not want to be taken down on national TV.
Over the next two years or so, two things changed our outlook. One, Audry's Aunt Esther and our Head of Operations, Marla Bogaerts, were unrelenting in plugging the show; and two, after our time in YCombinator, we had perfected our product and learned the craft of the pitch, making the likelihood of being taken down considerably less than it was before.
We interviewed and got our casting call. Audry couldn't swing the trip (her three children have a way of always spoiling our travel plans) so I flew out to California by myself to represent.
I spent 72 hours practicing, breaking only to power nap. Just when I was beginning to psych myself out, Audry directed me to stop memorizing my lines and quit watching episodes. Since the best pitches are really just personal stories, letting go of the script was the best advice she could have given. Audry also told me a blatant lie about the show having dismal ratings, which I chose to believe despite hard evidence to the contrary. It helped me tremendously to think that nobody would see my appearance even if I tanked.
The time I spent in the tank is a blur. It's like being given anesthesia. You remember lights hitting your face and then it's a black out until you are backstage calling your mom to tell her how it all went.
I recall a small collection of moments - like how the toys wouldn't stop talking the first 10 minutes because all I had to demo was a preproduction unit. I remember looking over at my buddy Ellie, a Toymail superfan and Shark Tank junkie who volunteered to help demo the product for the taping, and thinking, if I get this right we can reach hundreds of thousands of kids just like her who are hungry for a safe, screen free voice messaging platform. I remember my face hurt because I hadn't trained myself to smile for that long. I remember feeling like the sharks were not at all into me for a minute. And then, I remember experiencing this complete and abrupt emotional shift, when actual hope began to creep in.
My takeaways for folks who want to dive into the Tank are this:
Always listen to your aunt
Don't under prepare, and definitely don't over prepare
Don't think you know what's going to happen...in the tank, or ever
And that's about all I have to say about the Tank right now because you haven't seen the segment and I'm under nondisclosure. We'll post an update as soon as we can after the airing on 2/17.