Like many others in the business community, last week I was saddened to learn Channel 10’s Shark Tank has been put on hold indefinitely.
Whether you’re a fan of the show or not, the opportunities the sharks have afforded entrepreneurs and promising small businesses over the last four years have been nothing short of life changing for many. From my own experience as a former contestant, this has most certainly been the case.
In 2017, I appeared on Shark Tank with my business partner Dr Geoffrey Draper, to pitch for investment in our meal program Be Fit Food, which we co-founded in 2015. Being Australia’s first dietitian- and doctor-designed meal program, which had proven results, we knew we were onto a great business opportunity. And like any entrepreneur, my dream was to grow a great idea into a million-dollar company.
But despite its proven results, our full belief in the product, and the blood, sweat and tears we invested into getting it off the ground, the business was going nowhere. In fact, in reality, it was going backwards. Sadly, this isn’t unusual for small businesses, with 50% failing in the first three years.
I had always been a huge fan of Shark Tank but had never considered going on the show — until one night I saw an ad on TV and I jumped online to register. Of course, I had my doubts. I was worried about the potential damage it could do to the brand, but more concerningly, the damage it could do to my professional reputation as a dietician and obesity educator. Despite my fears, I had faith in the business and was willing to give it a go, hoping the sharks might be able to turn our luck around.
To prepare myself, I studied every episode of Shark Tank ever made, wrote down every question, and practised all of my answers. Every minute of preparation was worth it. And after being interrogated by the sharks for two hours, we secured investment from Janine Allis.
To paint you a picture, before Shark Tank aired, a good month of online sales would bring in about $10,000-15,000, plus an additional $20,000 between our two stores. After the show aired in August 2017, we cracked six figures worth of sales every month, our business grew 1500% practically overnight, and our team went from five staff to 63 in just four short weeks. Our annual revenue jumped from $90,000 to $300k in our second year and $4.5 million in our third. This year we are on track to double this figure.
Beyond our unprecedented financial growth, the business lessons I learnt from Shark Tank (all of which would be almost impossible to list) has been invaluable.
To name just a few:
- Financial accountability should be welcomed;
- People management is complex;
- Financial planning requires strategy; and
- Always plan adequately for growth.
Our steepest learning curve came immediately after the show aired when our website crashed, we sold out of six weeks’ worth of food within 24 hours, and I needed to employ an emergency call centre to keep up with demand.
Throughout this time, and still today, the most important thing the show gave me was an incredible, intelligent mentor in Janine Allis, who I still turn to weekly when I’m feeling challenged or need advice.
Almost two years on and the effects of Shark Tank continue to ripple across our business. New customers still say they heard about us from the show. Last year, we won Telstra’s Victorian Business of the Year award and ranked number 47 on the AFR’s Fast Starters list, both accolades I attribute to our success on the show in many ways.
There is no better way to learn in business than from the successes, failures, lessons and stories of other entrepreneurs. Shark Tank encouraged everyone in the small-business community to learn from mistakes and keep moving forward.
It’s for this reason that I, and so many others, are so sad to see it leave our screens, and are hopefully awaiting its return.