Since 2009, ABC’s Shark Tank has been a fan favorite. Entrepreneurs and people who have zero interest in starting a business find the show equally entertaining and informative; rarely will you watch an episode without learning something interesting about business or a unique industry.
To learn more about what goes on behind the scenes on Shark Tank, we tracked down John O’Connor, the co-founder and CEO of Shark Tank featured company ‘brellaBox, for an interview. We wanted to find out whether past Shark Tank contestants believe appearing on the show is a worthwhile goal for other budding entrepreneurs to set.
John had lots of insightful and informative answers for us.
Interview with John O’Connor, CEO of Shark Tank Featured Company ‘brellaBox
You appeared on Shark Tank with your partner to pitch ‘brellaBox and handled the pressure of being grilled by the sharks really well. Kevin O’Leary called your idea “Maybe the worst idea ever on Shark Tank,” but a couple of the sharks seemed to get it. Was presenting your idea more difficult than you thought it would be?
Pitching the Sharks isn’t easy, that’s for sure. Editing makes it seem like there is a conversational back and forth when in reality it’s a rapid fire free for all. The Sharks all ask questions at once. The environment, with all the producers and the enormity of the sound stage, is intense to put it mildly. It didn’t help that we pitched dead last on a really long day of filming.
And yes, Anusha and I did take heavy fire, probably more than we expected, especially from Mr. Wonderful, but overall we were ready for it. The funny thing about ‘brellaBox is that enthusiasm for the concept tends to break down along generational lines. We’ve learned over and over that people 40 and older usually don’t like the idea of umbrella sharing and millennials tend to love it.
It didn’t come as a huge surprise when the Sharks weren’t too excited about ‘brellaBox, although Mark Cuban did see the potential. If Anusha and I hadn’t both been part time on the project, I think he may have made us an offer.
What kind of preparations did you make before going on the show? Was it a grueling process to be selected to appear?
Yes, Shark Tank becomes your full time job for about a month, there is a lot of prep work. Before you can pitch the Sharks, you have to prove to the producers that you’re ready for the big stage. This involves practicing your pitch multiple times, both in LA before filming, and at home by recording videos.
In fact, you’re practicing your pitch right up until you head out on to the live set. We were also working hard on our machine to make sure it was in the best possible shape to appear on the show. I had a number of very long weeks rushing through circuit boards and mechanical issues with our engineers.
How has being on the show changed your business? Have you experienced “the Shark Tank effect?”
Because ‘brellaBox is a concept, and not an eCommerce store or a baked good, we didn’t get the “pop” that some direct to consumer businesses get. You can’t just throw a ‘brellaBox in your online shopping cart and have it shipped to your front door, at least not yet, so we aren’t necessarily the type of business that gets a massive spike in sales from appearing on the show.
My new project, Gene Food, has an online store. That’s the type of business that crushes it the night of Shark Tank. Having said that, appearing on Shark Tank was great for our brand. We still get regular inquiries from universities and real estate operators all over the world. The Shark Tank publicity also helped us connect with an umbrella manufacturer overseas that is a huge relationship for our business.
You’ve had some success getting the ‘brellaBox in a few universities already. What’s next for the company?
Yes, we have had success securing orders from major universities, but lack of funding has caused those launches to be delayed. With the rise of the umbrella sharing model in Asia, we have renewed interest from investors and plan to raise a seed round this fall. Since the show, we have focused on securing patents in both the US and EU.
The emails from colleges continue to come in, and we do anticipate the college market being a strong one for us in 2018 and beyond. The primary goal for the more immediate future is to perfect and harden all aspects of the machine. We realize the importance of an airtight product and are proud of the engineering work our team has done to this point, especially the new machine we launched after appearing in the Tank. More long term, we see a ‘brellaBox ecosystems launching in a major European capital before 2020.
Looking back, what lessons did you take away from the Shark Tank experience?
The first lesson that was reinforced for me is that investors want to see real traction. You can have a cool idea, but ideas don’t mean much without execution and market demand. In an ideal world, we would have gone on the show when we were more established, but we were still happy with how our segment turned out, criticism and all.
The second lesson I learned through Shark Tank is to stand your ground when you believe in something. Ben Horowitz has said that all breakthrough ideas look stupid in their infancy, and that’s why they become breakout ideas, because not everyone gets it right away.
Now, we realize that ‘brellaBox isn’t the next Instagram, but it’s a concept we believe in, one that people ask for all the time.
Do you think appearing on Shark Tank is a worthwhile goal for business owners looking to grow their business?
One thousand times, yes. Especially for direct-to-consumer and eCommerce businesses, the exposure from Shark Tank is invaluable. Not only that, doing the show is fun and it’s a challenge. I was really excited to pitch both Chris Sacca and Mark Cuban, two entrepreneurs I have tremendous respect for. Where else can you present your startup to two billionaires on national TV? If you get the chance to do the show, take it. ▲
Read more Shark Tank contestant interviews now on our Shark Tank Cooler Talk page!