On Wednesday night a follow-up episode of CBC's Dragons' Den aired featuring yours truly hanging out with Kevin O'Leary in LA before pitching Shnarped to Mark Cuban on the set of Shark Tank. I took some punches from Mark on the set, but our fans and investors came out in our support and it's turned out to be a very positive experience. Below is a little chronology leading up to the big day, as well as a few lessons learned from the experience.
March 1st, 2013 - Following a crazy evening in Alberta that included a former NHL coach and the 4 AM birthing of a calf, cofounder Kamil Sikorski and myself auditioned for Dragons' Den in Vancouver.
April 24th 2013 - With considerably more preparation behind us, our third cofounder Kyle Hagel and myself flew to Toronto to pitch the five dragons in the den. We got all five dragons in on a deal, a result putting us in the top one percent of over 300 pitches in the past seven years. Plus Kevin O'Leary guaranteed us the NBA. Watch the episode here.
August 2013 - Everybody always wonders and is very surprised by what actually happens after a deal goes down on the Dragons' Den, and I elaborate about that process more in this post. During the summer we weren't too focused on the deal. It was a time of preparation for the October air date; we really wanted to twin our iOS app with an Android app in time for the airing. We hadn't heard a peep from O'Leary's camp in months, and as such were pretty surprised when he started to make good on his NBA promise. CBC called and told me they wanted to film a follow-up episode of Dragons' Den that would feature Kyle and myself pitching Shnarped to Mark Cuban. Could we make it to LA next week?
September 22nd, 2013 - At this point Kyle was busy trying to make the Phoenix Coyotes (Kyle played this year in the AHL), so pitching the billionaire NBA owner became a solo mission. Kevin and the CBC crew met me outside a fancy LA hotel, and we took off in a convertible for the Hollywood hills. Some forced-for-reality-TV conversation ensued as Kevin navigated LA traffic with cameras in our faces: Where is Kyle? Do you think Shnarped would work in basketball? Mark is a very busy guy, you'd better not screw this opportunity up! . CBC asked me at least 10 times about how incredibly important this meeting must be to our company, just waiting for the one emphatic comment they could use.
So what is Kevin O'Leary like in real life? He's a good guy. He's busy -- the guy is on TV or radio basically 14 hours a day. His Sunday was spent filming an extra Dragons' Den episode with me instead of relaxing. His on-air persona is as you know it, and he's on-air for most of his waking life, so to some degree his on-air persona is his real-life persona. Despite the fact he is no longer involved in our company, Kevin was genuine in his desire to help us out and I'm sure he was surprised and a little disappointed that Mark's reaction to Shnarped was less than positive. Like most of the dragons, Kevin is a believer in the entrepreneurial spirit and wants to see inspired entrepreneurs succeed (especially if he can profit from it in some way). CBC cut out the good things Kevin had to say about Shnarped and focused on the cutting remarks, which we'd expected. Kevin took me and the CBC crew out for dinner afterwards and treated everybody to a great time.
September 23rd, 2014 - Time to get down to business. A large part of my objective in going to LA was simply just for the exposure of another Dragons' Den episode, but Mark is a billionaire that owns an NBA team; if he backed us we'd be set. I'd prepared my pitch on the flight over the day prior, but got up early and made pretty major changes based on some of Kevin's suggestions (which in retrospect I regret).
I arrived at Sony Studios with the CBC crew at 10 AM, then drove around the parkade with a camera in my face for 45 minutes answering the same questions I'd answered the night before. We walked into the Shark Tank studio and I got to watch a couple of companies pitching to the sharks while waiting for my turn to go on during their lunch break. I entered the stage, got an intro to Mark by Kevin, and about four seconds into my pitch Mark interrupted with some hostile remarks (someone else had introduced the idea to Mark beforehand and he'd decided he didn't like it). Afterwards at lunch I had a few minutes to discuss things with Mark off-camera and he was much more encouraging.
October 30th, 2013 - Our first episode of Dragons' Den aired. We hit the No. 1 sports app in Canada for two weeks and the phone was ringing off the hook with potential investors, partners and sponsors. In the coming weeks we raised cash from outside investors at a valuation four times better than we'd been offered on the Dragons' Den, plus we closed a deal with Jim Treliving, one of the most connected people in Canada and in hockey.
April 2nd, 2014 - The Mark Cuban episode aired, and the edits made it obvious CBC wanted this to look as harsh as possible. But 1 million Canadians saw us on TV again, downloads went through the roof, our fans backed us on social media, Jim Treliving and Bob Mckenzie supported us on Twitter, and this article focusing on our successes just got national coverage from the Canadian Press.
So what is Mark Cuban like in real life? - He was pretty hostile on-air, but when the camera's weren't rolling he was a good guy and offered his encouragement and support down the road. I've heard from a number of entrepreneurs he can be really helpful and supportive; TV is just TV.
Lessons Learned: - DON'T be afraid to put yourself out there. Basically the worst case scenario happened -- Mark hated it -- and we still came out way ahead of if I hadn't gone to LA.
- DON'T overthink the advice of any one person. We've taken advice from hundreds of people way smarter than me and they all disagree with one another anyway.
- DO listen to everyone's advice, but make your own judgements.
- DO be continually thankful for the people that have supported you, as they form the base that will help you figure out how to get to the next level.
Summed up - it's the people that support you that matter, not the people that don't. But finding the supportive ones means navigating through some hostility.