What it’s like in the Shark Tank with Steve Baxter
Last year I came out of many (poor) pitches to investors and had a recurring metaphor for what the experience was like: imagine you’ve created a baby from nothing, and spent years and tens of thousands of dollars nurturing it to ensure it receives the attention it needs to grow into something amazing.
Then imagine taking your developing child into the real world to have influential people (with access to money) very quickly scowl and tell you “it’s ugly”.
This is usually followed by 15 to 20 minutes of the same person listing all the reasons it’s deformed and everything they (being responsible and experienced parents) would do differently.
Fast forward to the completion of our first paid project for an ASX-listed resources company, turn the focus of the pitches into an idea stemming from that, and suddenly the baby isn’t so ugly. This is how we attracted the attention of our investors, which happened to result in a little pitching and mentoring to Shark Tank’s Steve Baxter in our own offices during the first week of the incubator.
To say I was a little nervous (and start-struck – he is an icon in Australia’s tech scene) is an understatement. I prepared a special deck and demo for our session, and as Simon and I went in almost forgot to button my shirt to the top (thanks Tom Riordon for ensuring everything was in tact).
“Bring me another one – that one tasted awful” Steve grunted as we were summoned into the room while the previous team stepped out.
I won’t go into detail about the session itself, as I’d prefer to make it harder for our competitors to know what we’ve been creating, but I will give 3 pieces of advice for anybody that happens to get the chance to pitch privately Steve:
(1) Don’t let him throw you – he’s going to be a shark. This means he’ll be blunt and seem harsh most of the time. Don’t let this put you off or distract you from delivering a strong pitch – if you can’t get over Steve’s criticism, you’re not going to survive when investors, customers, staff and the rest of the world start to pull your idea apart
(2) Prove him wrong. Steve stated that his understanding of VR and AR was limited, and like many blockers today, he believes that such wearables are a fad that will quickly pass (much like 3D TV and the Nintendo Wii). What Steve wasn’t aware of is the millions of active Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift users, or the fact that PlayStation VR pre-orders have maxed out, leading to expectations that there will be over 5 million active VR users by the end of 2016 alone. Don’t allow blockers to disruptive technology to phase you; use their scepticism as motivation to push forward with your idea
(3) Listen to his feedback. Steve will provide you with 2-3 pieces of invaluable advice that you should take on board immediately. For us, 2 of them were: you need to prove your science before you sell it (don’t be another Therenos) and you don’t set up a mining company during a gold rush – you set up a shovel shop.
To those of you that get accepted into Shark Tank’s second season, I hope that some of the advice above allows you to go in a little more prepared than we were. I’m more than happy to discuss our experience in more detail – tweet to me at @immersiadam and I’ll help you as best I can!