SharkTank: A Founder’s Perspective

by Bryan Thomas, PopUp Play (Austin ’16) CEO and Co-Founder

It all started in 2015, when we first debuted PopUp Play to the world at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Hardly a couple hours had passed before someone came up to us and said: “you guys should really go on Shark Tank.”

Amelia, one of PopUp Play’s co-founders, with one of our castles.

I only knew about Shark Tank primarily because I have been a fan of Mark Cuban since the early ’90s. However, I had never seen a full episode and didn’t understand what made for a good Shark Tank product. So, we initially dismissed the comment.

However, that was just the first of many.

It seemed like every other day, someone would say to us in person, over email, or by phone “you should be on Shark Tank.”

Finally, Amelia, PopUp Play’s co-founder, looked into this phenomenon. Of course, the opportunity to talk about your business and your story on a national stage was very appealing. Equally appealing, though, was the opportunity to pitch to a group of very smart and well-connected investors. So, when we had the opportunity to apply to be on the show, we took it. Now, the whole world knows how it turned out.

Shark Tank is a very popular show. Close to six million people watched the episode that we appeared in last Friday, January 27. Since people first found out that we were going to be on the show, we’ve received countless of questions. There are a couple that I’ve been receiving, though, that I wanted to share. So, here they are:

To start, TV viewers only see a sliver of the discussion in “the Tank.” 
I know Chris Sacca has mentioned this publicly before, and I agree with his suggestion that it would be really cool if the Shark Tank creators could make a few uncut pitches publicly available.

The whole time we spent in the Tank is edited down to 10 minutes. I was excited and curious to see what parts of our time in the Tank made it on TV. Ultimately, the way millions of people will see your business is in the hands of the Shark Tank editors and producers.

Photo Courtesy of ABC

Secondly, this is a real investment discussion. I think the format of the show can make it feel like a bit like a game show sometimes. However, make no mistake, each of the Sharks are legitimate, knowledgeable business people and investors. They are there to make real investment decisions.

Amelia and I considered the Shark Tank pitch experience like any other investor pitch, but with a few key differences. First, the Sharks don’t know anything about you or the business until you walk down that hallway. I have never been in any other investor situation where I am standing across from someone about to make an investment decision and they haven’t done any research on us ahead of time. I really liked that format. The Sharks came ready to ask all of the questions they had and make a decision, while we came as entrepreneurs ready to answer their questions.

Everything is out on the table: there won’t be any follow-ups or multiple meetings. You are either going get a deal or not. There’s no in-between. Ultimately, this makes things more efficient and transparent. It’s my style and because of that, I felt comfortable.

The second big difference is that you’re facing five investors all at once, all with different backgrounds. 
This makes for a very challenging environment. If you have any part of your business that is weak, they will find it. Also, you have the opportunity for the investors to talk to each other and even talk one another out of a deal. All of this to say, if you are planning to pitch the Sharks, you better know your business backwards and forwards, be candid with your answers and come ready to negotiate.

I get a lot of questions, but those two are the most popular. I am thrilled to have been part of the show and show off PopUp Play. Most importantly, we are thrilled and honored to have Chris Sacca as an investor in PopUp Play and looking forward to growing the business from here.

Stay tuned for some more exciting PopUp Play developments coming your way, and let us know your thoughts on our experience at Shark Tank!


This was originally published on PopUp Play’s blog.