Suddenly on TV: Our experience pitching in the German Shark Tank
It was one of those emails that makes you jump with excitement. A great feeling that fills every inch of your body with warmth, from head to toe. This feeling was not unknown to us. Because in the months before, we were able to feel it at different points in time: the confirmation of the Berlin Startup Scholarship which made the start of our journey possible. The first, big press request of the German magazine Stern who featured us in a story. Or the confirmation of the EXIST Business Start-up Grant with which we still fund our team today.
But this mail was different. Because it confirmed that not less but better would come into the living rooms of millions of people: Our pitch at the German version of Shark Tank is going to be aired. 🌟
Five weeks have passed since the show was broadcast. Countless media reports, user messages and pre-orders later, we find the space to review this special experience. With you. Because on Instagram, we received many messages from great people who asked us how we got involved and what happened afterwards. Here comes our story.
The inquiry: Do we want to do it?
It was end of February 2020 and an email from the production company reached us. A very friendly editor had found out about us via Facebook and asked us if we could imagine participating in the show. She was talking about the recordings for the next season which should be aired in autumn 2020.
That came as a surprise to us. Because actually we were still flying quite purposely under the radar.
A brief introduction: We started in 2019 with the idea of making learning healthy smartphone habits simple and effective. Without screen tracking, without digital detox. With real habit change that comes from science. We were able to acquire the Berlin Startup Scholarship and a renowned psychiatrist from Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin as a mentor. Inspired by our mentor, our goal was to share the training app with the public only after its effectiveness had been sufficiently scientifically tested. Said and done. In 2019, we developed the training concept in partnership with the Freie University Berlin and conducted an efficacy study. With success. We won an award and the first press reported about not less but better.
The request for the show came at a time when we were developing the training app further and had just submitted our application for the EXIST Business Start-up Grant (startup program of the German government).
We were happy about the interest. It confirmed that we were working on a problem relevant to the millions of people who watched the show. We wondered whether the timing was right for us. Because our app was still in the beta phase and we were not yet actively looking for investors.
At the same time we understood that this is a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’:
We hat the chance to bring in a new, practical solution to the societal conversation about smartphone addiction. And it was much needed. Because this year’s pandemic at the latest showed us that a healthy use of technology is essential for our society. We also hoped to win strong investors for our mission.
We accepted the request and went through the normal application process with a questionnaire, a casting video and an interview. With success. At the beginning of May we got the confirmation and only a few days later we were in the show.
Only a few days remained until the recording. With lots of focus, coffee and a great network we prepared the pitch and traveled by train from Berlin to Cologne. It was showtime.
The recordings: Lights, cameras, action
We arrived at the studios early in the morning with great anticipation and were warmly welcomed by all production staff. There was still some time to pass which we spent practicing, giving interviews, practicing, meditating and practicing.
The closer the show was coming, the more nervous we got. That’s probably how it is when you pitch in front of five well-known investor and almost 2.4 million people watched.
The time had come. The production team took us into the cave. Everything was set up. In the final rehearsal, we went through the pitch, got final feedback and were ready. We went backstage again and had the famous ‘silent minutes before the show’. It was dark. We were alone and had a few minutes for ourselves. It felt magical. We blanked everything else out and were in flow. Then it started.
In our pitch, we shared our personal story. How dissatisfied we were with our own smartphone use and how we just couldn’t get a handle on it with current solutions. To bring the training concept closer to the investors, we decided to do an audio exercise from our basic course with them.
Here you can watch the pitch:
Eine App gegen Handysucht
Mit ihrer App „not less but better” wollen die Gründer Handysucht bekämpfen
The negotiation: On equal footing
The three-minute pitch was over and it went into open negotiations. The investors were curious and wanted to know more about our training app. We first talked about the difference to meditation apps, our scientific validation and what makes the training unique. Then we discussed our business metrics: prices, margins, customer acquisition, revenue forecast. And very early on, we noticed that Carsten Maschmeyer and Nico Rosberg went to the back for a private discussion.
We negotiated for almost two hours. It’s crazy, and you hear it all the time. But at some point, we blanked out all the cameras and lights, and were in the tunnel. In our perception, only the investors and we were still there.
The feedback was great because all investors agreed: A product that is urgently needed, especially in these times. We were also very honored that all Lions perceived us as a strong team. Dagmar Wöhrl, Dr. Georg Kofler and Ralf Dümmel (who moderated the discussion round wonderfully, thanks again for that!) left the negotiation with positive feedback.
Nico Rosberg and Carsten Maschmeyer were interested. Nico said that by overcoming his smartphone addiction, he had become Formula 1 world champion. Through our research, we knew that he was promoting healthy smartphone use in the media. This was in perfect alignment with our goals. And with Carsten there was a discussion partner at the table who has an incredible amount of experience and a strong network in many areas: sales, cooperation with health insurance companies and further financing rounds. All areas that would be relevant for us in the medium term. We were happy about the investment interest and their offer. It confirmed that we are on the right track. The negotiations for the investment began.
We’ve been working on not less but better for two years now. More than 200,000 EUR of public funding has gone into the development of the app. In a scientific study, we’ve proven the effectiveness of the training. Even though the app is not yet available, we are not starting from scratch. We were and are aware of our abilities as a team and wanted to confidently represent our interests in the negotiations. And we did so. We negotiated at eye level. For a long time. We were aware that the negotiations were limited in time. They had to be, because that’s how the show worked. The next teams were already waiting for their slot.
At that moment, we would have needed more time to better assess the relationship between investment, added value and accepted valuation. But we didn’t have that extra time.
We received a third offer from the investors. It was still above our limit which we had set before the show. This valuation limit was tied to a specific timetable and execution plan. Because it was clear to us that the development of our company will involve further rounds of investment. So accept or reject the offer? At that moment we would have needed more time to better assess the relationship between investment, added value and accepted valuation. But we didn’t have that extra time.
And that is one of the biggest lessons learned from the show for us:
Decisions that have a long-term impact on the company are rarely made within minutes. If the decision to be made still feels good the next morning, we do it.
We decided to make the deal in the show.
After the show: No agreement
The recording was over and we met Nico and Carsten with their teams a few minutes later. We moved our conversations to a closed room in the studio. There we talked about the next steps and contracts, and agreed on dates for further negotiations. Because there were still many steps to be taken and topics to be discussed before the final investment was made.
In addition to different views on the strategic direction of the company, valuation was one of the reasons why a partnership ultimately didn’t work. In this form, it did not fit into our financing schedule, and talks to align all interests were constructive but did not lead to a result.
Unfortunately, the deal in the show did not turn into an investment. It’s a pity, but that sometimes happens in the venture capital. During this time, we got to know the teams around Carsten and Nico as helpful, open and absolutely experienced discussion partners. Even if a partnership didn’t work out, we’re very grateful for the opportunity to have met them and talked to them.
After the recording of the show, we got back to work. We knew that we had a little more than three months to be ready for a possible airing. Because with the recording, we were far from qualified to make the TV show. Little time for quite a lot of tasks. We completely redesigned the app, developed it natively and optimized for iOS and Android, created five courses and launched a new website in English and German. And then came the date for the airing.
The airing: Pre-order instead of download
It was the middle of August and we had a busy time behind us. There were 20 days between the confirmation mail and the airing. Even though we had worked hard through the summer, the app was still not where we wanted it to be for the launch.
As a small team with limited recourses, we couldn’t finish the development of the app for the broadcast. We decided to install a waitlist and a big early bird discount instead, and the possibility to pre-order in both App Stores.
Showtime. The evening of the airing. 8:15pm at VOX. Together with our small team of ten, we watched the first two pitches. And then it was our turn. Apparently, we were one of the focus startups of the show with over 20 minutes of air time. Amazing! We were also super happy about how they cut together the video material — we, too, saw the clip for the very first time.
What happened next was magical: tens of thousands of visitors on our website (which ran super stable thanks to Marius and Vladislav), thousands of pre-orders and hundreds of new followers in our community. The feedback was overwhelming. We were happy.
The days after the airing were filled with replying to many messages, several media reports and requests from potential new partners.
What’s next: Launch of the app and further plans
We are still working hard on the launch of the training app. In the next few weeks it will be available in two languages and with five courses in the App Stores. To find out which five courses are involved, read this blog post (4 min read).
Many more courses (including binge watching, online dating) and tools will be added to the app in the coming months to help you improve your smartphone use, such as: progress tracking, smart reminders and SOS exercises for immediate help.
The journey is just beginning.
We feel infinite gratitude for the support in this early phase. We could not have imagined a better start. Thank you for being there.