Getting a deal with a “Shark Tank” investor can be an opportunity of a lifetime, but the flood of attention that comes after an episode premieres serves as a test for whether entrepreneurs can perform under pressure.
Through eight seasons of the series, Barbara Corcoran has assembled a portfolio of small businesses, and she’s made the founders of her highest-performing into a kind of family.
For the past four years, Corcoran has assembled a group of her most profitable entrepreneurs, along with the most promising founders from the most recent season of the show, for a three-day retreat at one of her homes. The group changes each year.
During this time, they all share best practices, give updates on successes and failures of the past year, and get to know each other better.
She brought the founders of five companies to New York City this June, ending the retreat at a New York Yankees game. The founders, with custom “Barbara’s All-Stars” Yankees shirts, got to enjoy the game from a box suite overlooking home plate.
We met up with them and asked them to share their best advice to fellow entrepreneurs.
The husband-and-wife team of Rick and Melissa Hinnant gave 10% of Grace and Lace to Corcoran in exchange for a $US175,000 investment in Season 5, in late 2013. The women's apparel company has made $US25 million in total sales since its appearance on 'Shark Tank,' and the Hinnants expect sales to be over $US10 million this year, at a profit.
Melissa is the visionary behind Grace and Lace, and while it's her first business, Rick is a serial entrepreneur and has been able to lend his experience.
He said that the advice he most often gives is to remember building a company is a 'process,' and that success doesn't happen in an instant.
'I think so many people can get in and try to hurry the process and try to not make mistakes, and that is an enormous mistake,' he said. Trying to be a perfectionist, or doing too many things at once, 'stifles the business.'
He said that trying to do too much too soon often leads to taking unnecessarily large risks that can sink the whole business. 'Take the little baby steps, learn along the way, and you'll be good to go,' he said.
Sisters Shelly Hyde and Kara Haught made a deal with Corcoran last year, in Season 8. Corcoran gave them $US100,000 to become an equal business partner, with a full 50% equity in their women's swimwear business Raising Wild. They have sold $US400,000 of products since their segment aired last October.
As the rookies of Corcoran's all-stars, they're fairly new entrepreneurs themselves. But they said that they have realised they need to remain confident and not be hard on themselves.
'Even coming here is so intimidating,' Hyde said, referring to the retreat with more seasoned founders, but adding that she and Haught don't let themselves get crippled by fear.
'As an early stage entrepreneur you've got to stay confident and really define what you're doing this for,' Haught said.
'It's remembering that there's a purpose behind it. And not forgetting that you had a problem and you're trying to solve it. So you just have to keep on going.'
Kim Nelson is the veteran of Corcoran's all-stars, having made a deal with her in Season 2, back in 2010. Corcoran invested $US50,000 for 25% equity in Daisy Cakes, and the South Carolina-based online cake company grew rapidly. Last year it brought in $US5.2 million in revenue, at a profit.
Nelson said her best advice is to keep an open mind. Corcoran warns her entrepreneurs of, as her fellow Shark Mark Cuban puts it, 'drowning in opportunity,' so that they do not lose focus of what their company's strengths are -- but Nelson said it's important to balance that with careful risk taking or even personal growth.
She recently jumped on an opportunity to take public speaking lessons, for example, and said 'the list is a mile long' of similar decisions that opened doors to more opportunities.
Sibling entrepreneurs Jeff and Jen Martin made a $US200,000 deal with Corcoran in Season 6, in 2014, for 10% of their New York-based Pipsnacks. Since then, they have landed a deal with Whole Foods that got their line of gourmet popcorn into every Whole Foods location in the US, and they're expecting sales this year to be around $US5 million, at a profit.
Jeff's advice to new entrepreneurs is to use the nascent stage of their business to learn how everything works. Micromanaging can be a disaster for a mature company, but Jeff said he's found that a deep knowledge of how your young company operates is what can get you to that point in the first place. 'We've had some friends that have outsourced everything from day one, and it's always a challenge because when stuff hits the fan, it's like, 'I have no idea how that even works,'' he said.
Jen's advice happened to be about advice itself: Seek out insights from entrepreneurs who have already faced the trials you're currently going through, but ultimately answer to yourself. Be open to advice, but don't rely on it.
'Know your company; know yourself,' Jen said.
Cousins Maine Lobster cofounders -- cousins from Maine who moved to California -- Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac made a deal with Corcoran in Season 4, in 2012. They gave her 15% of their two-month old food truck business in exchange for $US55,000. Cousins Maine Lobster now has 26 food trucks in 13 states, a restaurant in West Hollywood with up to 10 more on the way, and an online business. Tselikis said they are expecting revenues of just under $US20 million, at a profit.
'Don't do too much too fast,' Tselikis said. 'That's not as simple as it sounds, but people have a tendency to be excited' and want to begin selling things that have little to do with their core product.
'So establish yourself for what you do,' he continued. 'Do it really well until no one else can do it better.'
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