Shark Tank: Secret to Success

John Livesay interviews Michael Parrish DuDell

Hi and welcome to The Successful Pitch Podcast. Today’s guest is Michael Parrish DuDell. He’s an entrepreneur, a speaker, and author of ‘Shark Tank Jump Start your Business’. He’s been called one of the top 3 most popular Amazon authors for a reason. He’s also a Millennial generation expert. He’s been on a lot of media from CNBC to CNN to New York Times. He’s worked with Seth Godin, and was involved with GE’s relaunch of Ecomagination, so he has a very interesting background. I can’t wait to dive in. Michael, welcome to the show.

Hey. Thanks so much for having me.

I’m sure a lot of people would love to talk about Shark Tank the whole time, and we will definitely get there. But, firstly, how did you become a Millennial generation expert?

Well, it helps that I’m a Millennial myself. There are a lot of people out there that talk about and speak on the generation, but in fact, don’t have that first-hand experience of being part of the generation. We know a lot about Millennials, but one of the things that we know, numerous studies suggest, is that Millennials learn best from other Millennials, and that Millennials prefer to be around Millennials. So, it helps that I’m of that generation.
That’s the short answer to a much longer answer. The longer answer is that in 2007, I became the Senior Editor of a site that’s now been sold and changed a lot. But, back in 2007, when digital media was first becoming a force to be reckoned with, the conversation that we were having was a conversation with Millennials for Millennials. That led to a lot of different kinds of work — speaking, writing, consulting — and it was quite by accident that, over the years, I turned into this Millennial expert and positioned right in the future of work small business space.
There’s actually a lot of overlapping between some of the things we talk about in the book, some of the topics that I generally speak about, and this idea of the next generation who’s going to be carrying the torch and taking over the future of business and entrepreneurship.

I don’t think a lot of people realize that the Millennials are even bigger than the baby boomers. The baby boomers have this reputation of being so huge and changing everything, but there’s more Millennials, am I right?

Yeah, that’s exactly right. As it turns out, Millennials are the largest generation in the history of the world. It was the baby boomers, but we have beat them. We’re about 80 million members strong, and that means a lot. That means that we have an overwhelming ability to make purchasing decisions that affect numerous businesses. That means that when it comes to voting and when it comes to a lot of other activities that majority makes a difference. We’re going to be leading the way. The conversation around Millennials and how Millennials grow and evolve into leaders and into adults, I think that’s a fascinating conversation. I’m really honored to be a part of it.

I love it. Can you tell us about how you came across Seth Godin and what you did with him on the Domino Project?

Seth Godin is one of my all-time favorite people. I worked for him, as you just said, in 2011 as part of the Domino Project, which is a publishing company that was started with Seth, by Seth, and powered by Amazon.com. It’s funny how we met; my literary agent is the same literary agent as someone named Josh Kaufman, who wrote the book, ‘Personal MBA’, and it’s also Seth’s literary agent. I guess it would’ve been 2009, maybe. I was 25, I pitched a book to her, and she said, “Listen, there’s no way I can sell this book but I think you’re interesting. Stay in touch,” and I did, and over the course of the years, we got to know each other very casually as acquaintances and this opportunity happened. I saw her on Facebook page that Seth was looking for somebody. I applied just like the thousand other people that did, and the rest is history.

Do you have any sense, Michael, what it was about your application or your interview that made him pick you out of all the people that wanted to work for him?

No. I don’t. That’s a really good question. Seth, over the years, has really been able to fine-tune people. It wasn’t a traditional ‘submit your resume’, it was an essay question-based Google form that really required a lot of examination and a lot of personality in order to stand out. Anybody who has cultivated their ability to lead and to manage and to run businesses, I think he probably has a good sense of the kind of people that he works really well with and he can see that through that sort of thing. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I knew somebody that knew him.
I think he just sort of knew. It wasn’t just like you submitted and you got accepted. There was a whole interview process. It was a process but I think there were close to a thousand people that applied, about 13 of us were brought in for a group interview, and of the 13, I believe 6 were chosen to work on the project.

Wow. Well, there’s so many similarities there, Michael, to pitching to get funded as to pitching to get on Shark Tank. There are the same kind of numbers and you said that one: a warm introduction is always a great way to get in front of an investor, and two: showing some personality. That’s what people respond to, whether you’re pitching to get hired, pitching to get funded, or pitching to get on Shark Tank, would you agree with that?

Oh, absolutely. There’s a million people that have a million different ideas and it all comes down to differentiation. The way that you differentiate yourself is by leading with your personality, by leading with that competitive advantage, which for a lot of people, it’s who they are.

Differentiate with your personality, nice. That’s part of who your personal brand is. How did you get from the Seth Godin connection to getting selected to write the book for the Shark Tank show. I’m sure that was equally competitive.

Sure, yeah. There’s a little bit of a gap between those years. In 2011, I worked for Seth then I went over to work as the editor of ecomagination.com right as GE was relaunching that property. It was a really great combination of all the things that I’d done in my career. I’d worked in the environmental movement in the editorial capacity, I’d worked in the business sector, I’d had this conversation with Millennials, and this combined it all. Ecomagination was all about talking about the solutions to some of the rather large challenges we’re facing from an environmental standpoint through the lens of business and how business can make a difference. I’m a big believer that business, probably even more than any other entity, is the one thing that can make a tremendous difference in this world. I was very proud to help lead that up.
Then, from there, I started my own firm, consulting and doing a lot of trainings and workshops all about things like media, content, Millennials, that sort of world. It was a very random story: the same literary agent, who I’d known, who connected me with Seth, had met with me a few days before. I’d been looking for a book project, and randomly, she got a call from the editor at Hyperion, which has since been sold now, that’s part of Disney. They said, “We’re writing this book for Shark Tank. We’re looking for an up-and-coming entrepreneur and author who’s familiar with the brand, who has experience in branded content to come in and write the book. It wouldn’t be ghostwritten names on the cover, work with the sharks, do you have anyone that’s interested?” Now, there was a caveat. The caveat was that the entire book, from start to finish, had to be completed in 30 days.

Oh my gosh.

Right. If anybody out there who’s reading this, and is a writer or has written, they know that 30 days is an incredibly short amount of time to write a book. If you’re doing the numbers on a 60,000 word book, that equals about 1950 words a day, every day without a break. There were a few writers submitted. I don’t know how many different agencies submitted.They’d give us these assignments and we turned it in about 2 weeks later. They chose me and I went off to Florida to lock myself in a room and write a book in 30 days, and now we just finished the second one. So it did well.

Fantastic. What’s the second one called?

The second one is ‘Shark Tank Secrets to Success’. The first one is ‘Shark Tank Jump Start Your Business’. The first one is very much a 101; how do you start tapping into some of the knowledge of the sharks and entrepreneurs,etc. The second book picked up where the last one left off. I traveled around the country with 9 of some the most successful entrepreneurs from the show, and told their story from childhood all the way to where they are now, how they built their business, the trials and tribulations, and how, ultimately, they succeeded as entrepreneurs.

Fascinating. I know that you were actually on the set a lot, is that correct?

Yeah. I wasn’t on a lot but I was on a few times and got to be there during the filming of the fifth season, some of those episodes. So, that was really cool.

What did you see is the biggest challenge people have when they make a pitch?

In that context, the biggest challenge is the nerves. It’s a very high stakes situation and if you’re not used to being in front of the camera, that makes it even more terrifying. It’s getting out there and really being afraid that, A, you’re going to be eaten alive by the sharks and, B, maybe that camera thing is scary and the world could possibly see it and you could mess up and all of that. I think that gets in the way most of the time. I think if you’ve made it all the way to the show, you have all the answers. You’ve done the research into what they’re going to ask and you know about your business, hopefully. I think, most of the time, it’s the fear that stands on the way.

Well, let’s talk about that because it’s a high stakes game whether you’re on Shark Tank or in front of an angel group or a VC to deal with nerves. Do the producers of Shark Tank require the people to practice a lot before they start rolling the cameras to try and make sure they don’t make a total fool of themselves?

Yeah. They do get a practice around the day before and they’ve been up there. Never in front of the sharks. They don’t get a chance to do it in front of the sharks. What you see on television is the real deal. But, they have practiced it and over the course of the few months, usually, before they get there, via remote, they’re working with the producers and folks from the show to really nail down their pitch and make it something that is really enticing to the sharks. There is a good amount of coaching before they get up there.

I’ve also read and heard that they have to stand there in front of the sharks for a few minutes while they set the lights and the sharks automatically start judging them of how comfortable are they in their skin before they even open their mouth.

Yeah. It’s pretty funny. It’s the nature of television. You have to get the shots and that there has to be some sort of production quality on top of all of that. There are some little things like that that, maybe, make it a less organic experience than one might think. I’ve read a lot, even from the sharks, about how long they’re standing up there. I’ve read some people say, “They were up there for 5 minutes,” and some people say, “Oh, 10 seconds.” When I was there, I would say, the average was about 30-45 seconds, which is an awkward amount of time but it’s a part of the process and they know it’s going to happen.

Well, I just think that’s still valuable for our readers because whether you’re on Shark Tank or in front of an angel group, the minute you enter the building, leave your home, you are ‘on’. You’ve got to have your game face on. You can’t just say, “I’m going to turn it on when I start speaking.” You can’t wait until you open your mouth. People start looking at you, how comfortable you are, how confident you are just from the moment you walk into the room.

Yeah, absolutely. It’s crucial that you’re prepared and ready to go from the second you leave the house, honestly.

I’m constantly telling clients, “Don’t get defensive.” When you get a question from an investor or a shark, don’t get defensive. Because the minute you get defensive, you’re not coachable and they don’t want to work with you.

Exactly. When somebody is deciding whether to invest in a company, they’re not just looking at what the business does, they’re not just looking at the product or service, they’re looking at the person and they’re looking at the potential. Depending on the investor and their strategy and what’s worked for them, they’re probably putting weight on one of those categories more than the other.
If you looked at the sharks on television, I can tell you right now, Barbara Corcoran, it’s all about the person. She said this in the book and she says it time and time again. She will happily take a business that she doesn’t think can make, yet, a product that’s not going anywhere, turn it around, as long as the person is someone that she feels she can invest in. The person is honest, the person has integrity, the person’s fun, and that she wants to spend considerable time and energy with. You look at someone like Lori and, yes, she cares about the person, but she’s a product investor. She really is looking at the potential of that product and how that product fits in the portfolio of what she does and of her other investments.
It depends on the investor. The best piece of advice is to do as much research as you can. Whether you’re on Shark Tank, pitching at some sort of pitch competition, or even just having a meeting with an angel to do as much research into who this person is, and into how they like to be approached, spoken to, and position your product that way.

I’m so glad you said that, Michael. It’s all about the due diligence that you do on the investor as much as they’re going to do on you.

Absolutely. We’re getting into business with these people, so there is this idea that when somebody’s approaching somebody for money, the power dynamic is ‘I’m asking you for something’. That’s totally wrong. You have to approach it as you’re giving somebody an opportunity to be a part of something that’s going to make them money. This is with equal partnership. When I think about pitching, I don’t like the idea of this subservient mindset where I really hope they give me a deal. It’s 50–50. If you’ve done your job right, you’re walking in with a business that has the potential to make these people a lot of money. You’re offering them an opportunity.
But wait, there’s more!?

This post has been adapted from The Successful Pitch podcast. Listen to this past episode for more on the inspiring story of MICHAEL PARRISH DuDELL!

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About
As a funding strategist, John Livesay helps CEOs craft a compelling pitch which engages investors in a way that inspires them to join a startup’s team.

After a successful 20-year career in media sales with Conde Nast where he worked across all 22 brands in their corporate division [GQ, Vanity Fair, Wired, W and Vogue] and created integrated programs for clients such as Lexus, Hyundai and Guess, John won salesperson of the year in 2012 across the entire company.

Follow John on Twitter at @john_livesay. We welcome your comments.