Slawsa on Shark Tank
"Nobody who achieves greatness does it without learning from someone else along their journey. If I can play a small role in the success of my fellow entrepreneurs by sharing my experiences or insight, then the world will be a better place. I'm obligated to give my part." - Busha
My Shark Tank Experience
So many people ask me about how can they get on Shark Tank. With over 35,000 entrepreneurs applying to be on the show every year and only 100 who will ultimately air, there is no path and I feel it often involves a little luck. I can tell you that if you've put the work in on the front end, you have something unique and you have a great story, your chances are going to be better, but I have very little doubt that hundreds of fantastic entrepreneurs slip through the cracks. It was never meant to be. Don't let "making the show" be your path to success, go and create success on the sweat of your own brow. Opportunities come when you're laser focused on achieving your goals, not when you're looking for them.
I had watched Shark Tank a little bit in season one and consistently since season two as I don't know a serious entrepreneur who doesn't. While it is still edited "reality television," how wonderful is it that there is a show like Shark Tank that exists where families can spend time together and learn business lessons they can carry with them in their own lives. I actually began the audition process as a season four reject. I felt our company got pretty far in the casting process but since the business was still so young, they passed on us. In looking back, what a blessing that ended up being. I decided that instead of the email submission I had done the prior season, I would take the four hour drive to Atlanta and take part in the open casting call (or shall I say, cattle call) on April 14th, 2013. I met lots of deserving people in line, one of which I still stay in contact with, and some…well…not so serious entrepreneurs as well. A long day of waiting culminated in having the opportunity to give a one-minute pitch in front of casting agent, Heather, whom I was randomly paired with. That led to participation in more levels of the casting process including an insane amount of paperwork. I got my ticket for Los Angeles in July and would end up being the final entrepreneur to pitch to the Sharks on Sunday, July 14th, 2013.
I have to say, the producers and entire staff are as professional as can be. I loved my assigned producers. I felt I was very well prepared and knew exactly what I would do in each scenario I could potentially picture myself in, from answering any possible question to knowing how I would negotiate, all the way to making a special "marketing request" that I felt I could utilize with my future Shark partner. I'm very much a marketing person so I had that in my pocket. I was initially set to pitch on Saturday but, as schedules change all of the time in the world of television, I got the call Friday night that they would change my flights and I'd have to stick around another day. I was honestly so ready to go, the thought of waiting another full day when I knew the Sharks would not be as fresh, bummed me out. But like not being picked for season four, that would also be a blessing in disguise.
I woke up at 3am on Saturday (which is not unusual as my internal clock was still on east coast time) only to find myself in the bathroom the bulk of the day. Sure, I hadn't been sick for over two years, but as it turned out, one of those 24-hour flu type illnesses hit me like a ton of bricks…and it wasn't pretty. It was one of those illnesses where you go from shivering to sweating and you don't have the energy to stay awake but for 30 minutes at a time. You're not in the mood to eat yet you know you've got to drink as much water as possible to flush it out of your system. And it flushed out indeed…both ends, all day. I'm not going to sugar coat this…we've all been through this bug before. I must have taken eight showers in as hot of water as I could stand to make myself sweat. By the evening, I had stopped puking and felt well enough to eat about a piece and a half of toast and a few spoonfuls of a very mediocre black bean soup. The room service staff were so kind to bring me as much water as they could throughout the day. Looking back, I never would have been able to pitch that day (though wouldn't puking my guts up in front of the Sharks have made for great television?). By the next morning, I was starving, but purposefully ate the breakfast items I felt would agree with coming off a flu (bananas for potassium, egg whites for protein and toast to, well…"solidify" things).
By the time the afternoon hit, I felt a thousand times better, as I tried to eat small snacks like crackers and cranberry juice all day. Of course, I was scheduled to pitch last so I prayed that the entrepreneurs in front of me would go quickly. Soon, 4 o'clock would turn into 5 o'clock and that would turn into 6. By this time, I was worried that I might get cut and either brought back in September or not brought back at all. It was just before 7pm when I got the thumbs up to pitch. Finally!
During the taping, I wasn't stressed. I was only worried about getting through the initial "prepared" pitch without missing a line I had rehearsed. I knew once I could get past that, the questions would be the easy part. I have a habit of being long-winded so I tried to keep responses as short and concise as possible. I knew by business, my numbers, my industry and assumed I would be asked more industry-related and logistical questions that I would have wanted to know as as an investor (read "When a Food Company Enters the Tank"). Obviously, the unplanned "human moment" happened. Several of the Sharks have had moments like that and mine stemmed from not only the things I said (and one impactful line that didn't make the final edit) but from some family sacrifices that I chose not to communicate. I wasn’t in there looking for pity…I was looking for a partner. It was a short moment and the questioning continued.
Throughout, I never felt attacked. I am so thankful that Lori loved the Slawsa Spicy so much that she raved about the flavor. She not only finished her plate but she finished off Robert's Spicy and was about to reach for Kevin's (all left out of the edit). Both she and Robert were extremely complimentary on my packaging/branding as well with Robert giving compliments on the efforts I've put forth. And, of course, Mark's statements were overwhelmingly positive…not to mention what he said when I left that I couldn't hear.
By the time Kevin was the only Shark left, I was already thinking about that famous parting statement I made. After all, I was very vocal earlier about dismissing a royalty in perpetuity offer (aka RIP offer in every sense of the word, read "Royalty in Perpetuity stands for RIP") so I had little doubt he would go out as well. He just knew I wouldn't accept a RIP offer. As I walked out, I think everyone else behind the scenes was in as much shock as I was because I don't think anyone behind the scenes thought that I wouldn't get multiple offers. It was just bizarre. Before I left the lot, I wrote a thank you note to each of the Sharks, because, well, that's how I roll.
After I left Los Angeles, I was honestly in a state of disbelief for nearly a month. For nights on end, I would stay awake as I couldn't figure out how my numbers, our growth, how I managed the business, my background in marketing and the mass retailer confidence we already had wasn't as obvious of an investment as I saw it was. Considering the uniqueness, taste, health attributes and most importantly, the affordability of Slawsa, the only conclusion I could come with for the non-interest…perhaps it was me? I took it personally. I'll be honest, I took it really personally. You hear all the time how they invest in the entrepreneur more than the product. I was at a loss.
As the weeks went on, as I'd run the conversations in my head, I realized that the sharks I pitched perhaps didn't have as much knowledge about my industry and I am quite sure a few of them have been burned by similar investments in the past. They like to invest in businesses where they can give added value (Daymond wants to plug something into his overseas manufacturing pipeline, Lori wants to get an item on QVC, Mark & Robert want tech…and of course, Kevin wants a royalty). While the Sharks likely forgot my name within minutes of me walking out those doors, I'll never let someone else's inability to see my value determine my worth. There is nothing more fulfilling than waking up each and every day, knowing your efforts are the ones that have grown a great brand and no matter what, you'll be there to push its growth into the future with the tireless effort you've always given.
You never know if or when you'll get that air date so I prepared the very best I could, so when the time came, I'd be ready. Within weeks of my taping, I had four press releases written, a video taped, emails and Facebook posts teed up that I would send to my current retail partners and all of the parties I do business with. I knew I'd have to create inventory pretty quickly given the time constraints in case our retail partners wanted to stock-up…and they did. I was having my website revised so it could handle the traffic and I had a plan of promotion in place. As type-A as I am, I didn't want to have to be thrashing to get stuff done at the last minute. I was going to be in a position where I would promote the episode more than most of the entrepreneurs who do get deals and that came as a result of not only planning everything I needed to do for the show but to conduct business as usual at the same time.
On November 15th, 2013, we made our debut to the world. #Slawsa trended on twitter during our airing and I think its safe to say that our outcome received the most uproar from fans of the show. I cannot tell you how many emails, tweets and Facebook posts we've gotten from viewers who felt the same way I did after the taping. What I said in that human moment turned out to be extremely relevant to what so many people are thinking about given the state of the US economy and it being $17+ trillion in debt (see our post-airing press release). I so appreciate all of those people who have come to love Slawsa since we aired and all of those who are being a voice for our brand. Sharks or not, I truly look forward to the future and with my sleeves rolled up, we'll be expanding to every corner of the US. Join us in keeping that promise!
Y'all are "Slawesome!"
If you would like to book Julie for a speaking engagement, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or book through TankTalkers
"Hate to disagree with the Sharks but we just tried Slawsa here at HungryLand AND WE LOOOOOVE IT!!!! #rockincondiment"
Hungry Girl & Food Network Host, Lisa Lillien