How to Get on ‘Shark Tank,’ According to Contestants and the Sharks

Shark Tank judges

Getting on Shark Tank isn’t easy. | ABC

Ever wonder how to get on Shark Tank? Well, you and a couple other hundred thousand applicants each season feel the same. The show that introduced American households to wildly successful products, such as Scrub Daddy and Tipsy Elves, consistently attracts millions of viewers every week. It’s the type of game-changing exposure and publicity that could become the big break your newest business idea needs.

But, like many reality shows, getting face time with the investor Sharks on Shark Tank is easier said than done. The application process is meant to test even the most motivated entrepreneurs. And without a little insider information, it’s unlikely you’ll make it past the initial application.

Luckily, The Cheat Sheet got down to the nitty-gritty for how you can increase your odds of getting on the show, including some fun facts you probably never knew about the process. Read on for our step-by-step approach, highlighting everything from the application and audition process to the secrets for getting your pitch accepted by one of the Sharks.

1. Pick your application poison

Interested entrepreneurs have the option of submitting an email application or attending an open casting call to apply for Shark Tank. Regardless of your chosen method, all applicants are required to complete the 17-page, handwritten application first.

Sure, there’s the standard stuff, such as your business name, gross profit, the stage your company is in, and the number of years in business. But the show also digs into your past with a background check, inquiring about open restraining orders or prior felony convictions. Then, you sign your life away, promising the rights to your audition video and not to sue.

Next: What happens when you make it through step one

2. You’ll pitch twice

A man and woman stand on the show displaying their sneakers.

Be prepared to do your pitch more than once. | ABC

Whether you’re invited to move on to an open casting call or asked to provide additional information by a producer, applicants should be prepared to pitch their idea more than once. Of course, you’ll have to bring the heat in front of the Sharks during filming (more on that later), but the show will also ask for an additional pitch during the application process as a way to further weed out candidates. This is either done live or filmed by the entrepreneurs themselves and sent to a producer directly.

Next: One way you could skirt the application process entirely

3. You could get on the show without even applying

xcraft on Shark Tank

Creators from xCraft were scouted off of Kickstarter. | ABC

A select few are actually handpicked by the producers. They frequently monitor crowdfunding websites and other trade shows to recruit young companies with investing interests. In fact, founders of the phone drone company xCraft were scouted on Kickstarter to appear on the show and nabbed a $1.5 million deal from all five Sharks as a result.

Next: See how long the application process takes.

4. Be prepared to invest months into your application

James McDonald and Cole Egger pitching Sweet Balls on Shark Tank.

The show only wants dedicated candidates. | ABC

Jamie Siminoff, Season 5 contestant and inventor of a video doorbell app, tells Business Insider the application process took 18 months. ZinePak co-founders Brittany Hodak and Kim Kaupe, who also appeared on Season 5 told Entrepreneur they were required to free up 35 days to shoot in Los Angeles, just in case.

And don’t expect forgiving application time frames from your producer contact either. Shark Tank’s deadlines are especially “brutal” and are conceived in a way to weed out the halfhearted candidates.

Next: Is the show even worth it?

5. Practice and prepare

toygaroo on Shark Tank

You have to know your stuff. | ABC

As you can probably already tell, getting on Shark Tank is not for the faint of heart. Both former contestants and producers note you can’t wing this type of thing and still come out victorious.

The ZinePak founders advise in their interview with Entrepreneur that applicant hopefuls must truly know their stuff. They spent countless hours with their CPA to ensure they understood their financials inside and out. And researching the Sharks individually to decide whether they’d even be interested in your product doesn’t hurt either.

Next: Inside information on your pitch

6. Your pitch should last about 60 minutes

Mark Cuban and Daymond John

Be prepared to talk a lot. | Shark Tank via Facebook

Just like the viewers, investors on the show know nothing about the entrepreneurs or their products until they enter the room and begin their pitch. Producers thinks this makes for better TV when the Sharks learn about the companies alongside the viewers. But the 10-minute pitch seen on TV usually lasts about an hour in real time, according to Business Insider. Editors remove most of the boring material — such as the financial nitty-gritty — that viewers won’t understand and leave only the good stuff.

Next: The downside of reality TV

7. Not all segments filmed make it on air

Lori Greiner smiles while sitting in a chair on Shark Tank

Not everything makes it on air. | ABC

Hours of preparation and practice pitches do not guarantee your segment will make it on air. It’s reported that producers film way more segments than they actually debut on TV. Out of the 100,000 companies that applied for a spot on Season 6, 200 were invited to Los Angeles, and only 120 company sessions with the Sharks made on air. So yes, you could spend months preparing for a pitch in front of the investors and still fail to get your product in front of the nearly 8 million viewers across America. But hey, that’s showbiz.

Next: The best way to craft an enticing pitch

8. Pitch for the audience

pitch on Shark Tank

You’re catering to the average American. | Shark Tank ABC via Instagram

One of the most important thing dreamers must know when figuring out how to get on Shark Tank is the audience they’re speaking to. Siminoff advises entrepreneurs to decide whether the show is even worth their time before they begin the arduous application process. Shark Tank caters to the average American household. Therefore, he says any and all grandmas must be able to understand — and find value in — your product.

What are some of the most successful products bursting with instantaneous value to appear on the show? The sponge company Scrub Daddy that Shark Lori Greiner invested in is now making over $75 million in revenue. And Bubba’s-Q Boneless Ribs, now available in grocery stores nationwide, has made over $200 million in lifetime sales.

Next: See why incorporating a one-line zinger is key.

9. Have a killer hook

Kevin O'Leary leans forward in a chair on Shark Tank

Know how to draw in the Sharks (and audience). | ABC

It’s the one-sentence pitch, or the memorable hook, that’ll spark the interest of the Sharks. Filming for the show is packed into just 17 12-hour days, with the investors hearing nearly 100 pitches. This means candidates must stand out from the rest if they hope to make it through. Siminoff used his one-liner on the producers claiming, “Sharks, invest in me, and the next time you hear a ‘ding,’ it’ll be a ‘cha-ching.'” He’s convinced it’s what got him on the show.

Next: Personality over everything

10. Show personality

you smell on shark tank

Personality is everything. | ABC

Scott Salyers, the supervising casting producer on Shark Tank, says one of the keys to getting a pitch accepted by the producers is to show personality. Salyers tells Entrepreneur he’s prepared to pass on a pitch for the next Uber if he thinks the founder won’t perform well in front of the cameras.

Next: The next key to success is all about a human element.

11. Be natural and human

Bobby Edwards is sitting on a Squaty Potty in a suit on Shark Tank.

It’s interesting pitches that impress people. | ABC

Part of preparing for your TV time is being ready to answer the hard questions, knowing your product pitch inside and out. Salyers confesses he intentionally tries to interrupt applicants he feels have watched too many casting tapes to sound authentic in their own right. Robots don’t make good TV. It’s the entrepreneurs who can adapt when thrown off their game mid-pitch, maintain a human element to their stories, and avoid overly rehearsed interview techniques that make it past his tough scrutiny process.

Next: The businesses that do or don’t get deals on the show

12. Know which products don’t normally see success

Shark Tank judges

Pet products don’t tend to do well. | Shark Tank ABC via Instagram

A critical component to appearing on Shark Tank is understanding which products get deals. The show is not in the business of tossing a few ridiculous ideas into the mix for ratings. It’s looking for plans that are relevant to consumers today. Salyers suggests steering clear of baby and pet products. And those B2B enterprise products? They’re also a waste of time.

Next: The true art of the deal

13. Don’t ask for the moon

Robert Herjavec holds his hands together and learns forward in his chair on Shark Tank

Be realistic. | ABC

One of the biggest tips for how to get on Shark Tank involves a bit of strategy. You already know both the producers and the Sharks want people with guts. But when you get Sharks itching to do the deal, it’s best to be cautious, or better yet have offer expectations in line with where your company is at. Salyers says it best: “Don’t ask for a million dollars for 10% of your company if you haven’t sold anything. You’re not going to get that.”

Next: So you got a deal

14. Your deal is not guaranteed

Mark Cuban sits in a chair on Shark Tank

A lot of people go for the publicity. | ABC

You certainly don’t have to make a deal on the show if you don’t want to. Even Shark Mark Cuban knows many investors simply use the show’s popularity as free publicity. For example, karaoke founders of the company Singtrix inadvertently confessed to using the show for publicity on Twitter after their Season 6 appearance.

The game doesn’t end with a deal. In fact, your plans could unravel once the cameras stop rolling. After shooting wraps, the Sharks will confirm the entrepreneur’s claims are valid before securing the deal. But not all deals get closed. Shark Daymond John says about 80% of Season 7’s deals closed, up from previous seasons, Inc. reports.

Next: What getting a deal really means for the founder of the company

15. You really do give up some control of your company to the Sharks

the Sharks

Know that you are giving up some control. | ABC

Founders hoping to score a profitable deal with the investors must be prepared for an intense, hands-on partnership with the pros. And for some who have spent significant chunks of their lives building a brand on their own, it can be a tough pill to swallow. Before you apply, consider whether targeted professional insight is worth giving up some control of your business.

Cuban’s team is known for taking over important sectors of the businesses he invests in, including accounting, websites, and packaging design. He tells Inc. it’s all part of his plan to build successful businesses. “We realize that by taking the back office off their hands, they can focus on core competencies,” he says.

Greiner makes herself personally available to each of her entrepreneurs, day or night, for assistance, according to Business Insider. And John confesses he spends about 12 hours working on show-related things every week.

Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.

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