People & Human Resources

Behind the scenes of Shark Tank with Red Balloon founder Naomi Simson

Eloise Keating /

Have you noticed that Red Balloon founding director Naomi Simson wears the same outfits in each episode of Channel Ten’s Shark Tank?

Simson, who founded experience and rewards company RedBalloon from her home with $25,000 in life savings in 2001, has been wearing red ever since a colleague told her years ago, “if she wanted to be a CEO she better start looking like one”.

And so wearing a red dress has become Simson’s “uniform” and symbol of the RedBalloon brand, Simson told a Business Chicks breakfast event for the launch of her book Live What You Love in Melbourne this week.

Simson has donated the dress she wore on Shark Tank to charity Dress for Success but she says her personal branding means she is now stopped in the street by Shark Tank viewers.

“We come into their houses every Sunday at 8pm,” Simson said about herself and fellow Shark Tank judges Steve Baxter, John McGrath, Andrew Banks and Janine Allis, who was in the audience on Wednesday.

“And I will forever be the Red Shark,” she laughed.

Simson entertained the room with numerous anecdotes from the show, including how she came to be involved.

Simson got a call from Channel Ten who asked if she would be interested.

“I thought, what is this Shark Tank thing?” Simson said, who asked her colleagues if they had heard of the show. They told her it was a great concept but she had one misgiving.

“I go, ‘do you have to get wet?’”

Simson told the producer she was a “little bit busy” and she was very sorry but she wouldn’t be able to meet with them as she was in Melbourne at the time.

But they said “not a problem” and arranged to meet her in a Melbourne café, film crew and all.

“How embarrassed was I when I walked in and they had lights, sound and a crew there filming,” she said.

“I said, I thought we were just having a little chat and he said, just in case we get along, do you mind if we get some footage to show the executives?”

Simson thought about the opportunity to encourage more entrepreneurs but she had one condition for producer Stuart Clapp.

“I said I don’t want to be a token female”, Simson said. “There has to be a balanced voice.”

“Half of the pitches we are going to see, at least, are going to come from women and we need a balanced voice.”

“He said, ‘not a problem, I’ve got someone up my sleeve’. And of course it was the gorgeous Janine and we get to work with each other.”

Simson says female entrepreneurs often hold themselves back in the business world and she says she makes a conscious effort to not do that on Shark Tank.

“Steve [Baxter] asks all the good questions quickly,” she said. “I have to say ‘it’s my turn’ now”.

“But you don’t have to wait your turn,” she told the businesswomen on Wednesday.

Simson says despite her personal fear of sharks, she has loved being part of a television show – hinting she would like to do more television down the track – and now has a stake in Hegs, an innovative peg business that was pitched to her on the show last week.

She was even carrying a Heg in the pocket of her dress on Wednesday morning.

Ultimately what the sharks are looking for on Shark Tank is an entrepreneur they can work with and someone who has a “deep passion” – a quality Simson says she and her fellow sharks have in spades.

The group didn’t really know each other before coming together for the show but Simson said she took the opportunity in the green room one night to ask Allis, McGrath, Baxter and Banks if they could remember their company’s first customer.

“And all of us can tell the story about the person who believed in us,” she said.

“The other thing the five of us have absolutely in common is a deep passion. A passion for entrepreneurship, a passion for innovation, a passion for getting things done and making the world a better place.”

“There is no doubt they are positive people … they see the upside in everything. And they have absolutely stuck at stuff, persisted when it wasn’t possible, gone on and on and on. But they also live with deep purpose of why they do what they do,” she said.

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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