…there’s no reason to be nervous because you’re standing in front of five successful people who are millionaires and billionaires. It’s much more important to be nervous about standing in front of several million people who are watching the show. In the end, the big win of being featured on Shark Tank is the millions of consumers who get to know your business personally and choose to buy your products as a result.
As a part of my series about the ‘5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank’ I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Franco. As a serial-entrepreneur steeped in design, Anthony Franco has straddled the worlds of creating technology for consumers as well as creating tools they can leverage for their own enjoyment and enrichment of the world around them. Having sold his user experience design firm, EffectiveUI, in 2012 to WPP, he has a proven track record for predicting and building stellar experiences that incorporate tons of end user feedback. He understands the power of observing behavior, watching and learning how people like to work and interact with the world around them to provide innovative solutions they may not even know they need. mcSquares is a culmination of all this experience. Earning a coveted spot on Shark Tank, and seeing explosive growth in sales this last year is an affirmation of Anthony’s passion and vision.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of the backstory about how you grew up?
I was the stereotypical computer nerd in high school. In fact, I spent so much time in the computer lab that I allowed my other studies to slip. I wound up just barely graduating high school. Code was the only thing that made sense to me back then. I started my entrepreneurial career shortly after high school by taking on freelance technology projects for local advertising agencies. As my business grew, I realized that, if I wanted to thrive, I needed to understand people better than I understood technology. Ironically, my most current venture, mcSquares, is a company that focuses on people collaborating in “real life”, sans technology. My friends call me a “reformed technologist”.
Can you share with us the story of the “aha moment” that gave you the idea to start your company?
My “aha moment” actually came after a meeting full of Fortune 500 executives, who had loud voices and really liked to hear themselves talk. After the meeting, a quiet saleswoman came up to me. She began talking about her ideas. I was impressed by how good they were and sad she hadn’t brought them forward in the meeting. I wondered how we could get people like her to speak up in meetings. It’s been my experience that the people with the best ideas are often the least likely to share them.
For the next meeting, I took a whiteboard, took a saw to it and cut out little squares. I handed those personal dry-erase boards around the room and told folks to share their ideas using them. I was amazed at the difference it made. I decided to build out a suite of offerings that allowed people to collaborate with each other in a way that allowed for all voices and ideas to be heard. That was how mcSquares was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting insight I’ve had since I started mcSquares is just how different running a consumer products company is from high tech. An entrepreneur has to take special care in thinking about their supply chain and sales channels (much more so than a software business)
On the manufacturing side, if your vendor fails, you fail. For example, my overseas manufacturer destroyed the mold for our flagship product. I made the agonizing decision to retool the product and bring manufacturing in-house. It’s the same story on the sales side, where you’re so dependent on channels like Amazon. The smallest tweak to their algorithm can have massive repercussions for your business.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
This was a mistake that wasn’t funny at the time it happened. But I’m able to smile at it now because the incident taught me an important lesson. When we started mcSquares, we had outsourced our manufacturing. In hindsight, this was a mistake. When my manufacturer messed up the mold for one of our products, the difference between designing software and manufacturing consumer products became apparent to me.
When you’re designing software, you can make mistakes and issue fixes on the fly. But physical products are different. The processes are completely different and each decision you make can have long-term effects. As a result, you have to be that much more careful at every step.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re working on scaling both the breadth and depth of mcSquares’ offerings. The questions we’re asking ourselves are, “What are the new products we should be building?” and “How do we broaden the appeal of our existing offerings?” Ultimately, asking these questions on behalf of our customers is what’s helping us turn any environment, virtual or otherwise, into a truly collaborative environment.
Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now move to the main part of our interview. Many of us have no idea about the backend process of how to apply and get accepted to be on the Shark Tank. Can you tell us the story about how you applied and got accepted. What “hoops” did you have to go through to get there? How did it feel to be accepted?
Prior to this appearance, I had applied four times to be on Shark Tank. I was grateful to have been rejected the first three times. We just weren’t ready at the time. We only had a couple of products. We didn’t even have Stickies — our popular reusable sticky notes with a premium whiteboard finish.
When we applied the last time around, we were in a much better place. We had a much wider range of offerings — reusable sticky notes, desktop whiteboards and collaborative dry-erase Tiles that turn any room, virtual or physical, into a collaborative environment. Most importantly, we were seeing our users respond positively to our offerings. We were experiencing 600% YoY growth in Q1 2020 even before the episode aired.
Shark Tank was a massive validation of our vision for mcSquares. It also proved that we were ready for the big stage — both the producers and the Sharks put us through the most intensive investment vetting process I’ve been through.
I’ll also say that we were fortunate that the show aired when it did. With the need for social distancing, our tools have found an increasing relevance as teachers, students and professionals are working and learning from home and outfitting their new home offices with the tools they relied on before the pandemic.
I’m sure the actual presentation was pretty nerve wracking. What did you do to calm and steel yourself to do such a great job on the show?
I’ve never been as nervous in my life as I was the twenty-four hours before the recording of the episode. I kept rehearsing the script repeatedly. But I wasn’t able to shake off the feeling that my mind would go blank when it came time to present to the Sharks.
There were two ladies helping with hairstyling and makeup prior to the taping. They really calmed my nerves. They were a Godsend. They told me that being nervous was normal. They complimented me on my jacket and asked questions about my business. I don’t know if they were coached to help entrepreneurs before meeting the Sharks, but they put me at ease. After our conversation, I felt that no matter what happened on the show, we were a good company, and I was worthy of being there, no matter the outcome.
So what was the outcome of your Shark Tank pitch. Were you pleased with the outcome?
The outcome was a surprise. Kevin O’Leary is an astute investor. But he’s not the most creative, UX design-focused investor among the Sharks. So I was surprised to land a $300,000 deal with him. I gave up more equity than I would have liked, but Kevin’s experience is going to really help us scale our manufacturing.
What are your “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Before anything, I would say that you shouldn’t bet your business on being on Shark Tank. You should operate your business like you’re not going to be on the show and be very disciplined in every aspect of your business. Prior to the Shark Tank call, we were laying best-practices in place for taking our products directly to consumers with digital marketing and outside sales. We were already on a steep trajectory toward profitability. Shark Tank was a welcome boost, but we weren’t depending on it for long-term success.
After the show, I had so many people congratulating me on getting a deal. But as an entrepreneur, you should be proud of being on the show, irrespective of whether you got a deal. Anyone who makes it through those doors should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished.
I’ve spent my career in the world of B2B marketing and design. I’ve always been comfortable speaking to businesses and executives. But Shark Tank really taught me to think about my company from a B2C perspective and taught me how to speak to consumers. Preparing my pitch for the Sharks helped me hone my message to consumers, which drove the strategy for approaching the market.
I’d also say that there’s no reason to be nervous because you’re standing in front of five successful people who are millionaires and billionaires. It’s much more important to be nervous about standing in front of several million people who are watching the show. In the end, the big win of being featured on Shark Tank is the millions of consumers who get to know your business personally and choose to buy your products as a result.
Lastly, I would encourage entrepreneurs to keep it simple when talking about their company. Other than Kevin O’Leary, none of the other Sharks really understood mcSquares. In hindsight, I might have erred in taking the Sharks through all of our products — instead of just focusing on Stickies, which are intuitively easier to understand as a replacement to wasteful paper sticky notes
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive and avoid burnout?
When it comes to maintaining work-life balance, I really have no sense of balance. Therefore, I’m maybe the wrong person to be answering this question. What I can say is to surround yourself with people who have strengths that you may not. This makes certain no one person is taking the brunt of the whole project. We all have strengths in different areas, and it’s always a productive exercise to get to know how your colleagues can help alleviate the workload and collaborate effectively.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Technology has its benefits. After all, we are using technology to cure cancer, build quantum computers and one day, inhabit Mars. But technology can also make you feel overwhelmed or distracted. And that’s why when we come up with the cure for cancer or build a quantum computer, you can bet there will have been a whiteboard in the room at every step along the way. I’m excited to be starting this movement, where people can stop being distracted by technology and collaborate a whole lot better with each other. Think about the moment you pick up a dry-erase marker, open the cap, and press it against a smooth, white surface. There’s something magical that happens in that moment — it’s the moment when your ideas are introduced to the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A person wiser than me once told me to be comfortable with who you are. Don’t try and be or pretend to be something that you’re not. I’ve taken this lesson to heart. It’s why I was able to admit to Barbara Corcoran that I’m not the most organized person. It’s why I’ve learned to accept this about myself and surround myself with people who are more organized than I am. Understanding your strengths and complimenting them with people with other strengths is the purest definition of collaboration. It’s funny to think that the 17-year-old version of me was sitting in a poorly lit computer lab on an Apple IIe computer is now talking about human creativity and collaboration without the use of any ‘tech’. Life is so gloriously unpredictable.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos. I’d love to hear directly from him how we can do a better job of selling on his platform.
Known for the “Art of Whiteboarding,” mcSquares designs and manufactures innovative products in Denver, CO. Their reusable Stickies sticky notes, whiteboard Tiles, personal whiteboard Surfaces and layered whiteboard Tablets empower communication, collaboration and creativity for teams, while eliminating information overload, distractions and distortions caused by technology.