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My Shark Tank Open Casting Call Experience

May 6, 2015

If you’re a serial entrepreneur, chances are you haven’t missed a single episode of Shark Tank.  Seriously.  It’s like the worst of the worst addictions for entrepreneurs.  I can’t get enough of this exhilarating, exasperating show, and often find myself yelling at the TV things like “ABK!”  (Anyone BUT Kevin)” or “Are you NUTS asking for that valuation”?!  There’s an underlying excitement slash
envy that wells up inside me as I watch all of the eager and
hard-working entrepreneurs cross that stage; the products, the timing,
the stories, and the determination to make it big.  So instead of being a hopeful sideline
spectator, I decided instead to get in the game and attend a Shark Tank
open call for myself.  After all, this is America, right?  And this is the land of opportunity…

My husband Greg and I arrived in Knoxville, TN on Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 after a 4-hour drive from Columbia, SC.  We arrived around 10 pm, checked into our nearby hotel, and then decided to swing by the casting location to make sure we knew where it was prior to the next morning.

Downtown Knoxville was dark and quiet as we meandered silently through the city streets, anxiously studying every 100 ft. on our GPS navigation system.

We arrived at our destination, an old brick warehouse on our left – a very unassuming and sort of decrepit looking building from the outside.  Already lined up on the street were hopeful entrepreneurs hunkered down on lawn chairs and determined to be one of the first 500 applicants that are guaranteed to be seen by the Shark Tank Casting team.

We were enthusiastically greeted by a young, twenty something year old male who told us that he was number one in line, but for $20 cash, would offer us a phone call when the line hit 100 people or more.  After all, sleep would be our best friend on the eve of our greatest business pitch yet (and to which my husband quickly replied “Buddy, not a chance)”.  

I can’t tell you if my first “Black Friday” or my first “Shark Tank Thursday” was more exhilarating, but I can say for sure that we didn’t sleep a wink.

I must have practiced my one-minute pitch a thousand times during the night and at 5 am finally hopped out of bed excited to greet the day.  I can’t tell a lie here…I was very worried that the lineup may have already exceeded capacity.  But to our joyful surprise, the line was short so we pitched our chairs, wrapped ourselves in blankets, and waited in the dark for three more hours.

There was a nervous, excited vibe in the air, and the first thing I noticed was that entrepreneurs definitely do not come in a one size fits all shape.  There were old and young, male and female, athletic and obese, polished and sloppy, refined and weird.  And we were all just one bunch of ecstatic little Shark Tank junkies eager to share our stories.

We met a very pleasant gym teacher from Tampa, FL who was there to unleash his mobile dodge ball arena.  And the gentleman behind us was an ex-NFL Carolina Panther player who had created the first ever, super cool-looking, FDA approved orthopedic shoe for children.

At 9:00 a.m. the casting crew came out and greeted us with numbered wristbands; mine being number fifty-five. Using a hand-held megaphone, the lead casting crew person ushered the first 50 applicants inside the building and instructed the next 50 applicants to return at 11:30.  (This was perfect since I wanted time to freshen up, get some breakfast, and rehearse again)! 

At 11:30, numbers 51 to 100 were escorted inside into a large banquet style hall with rows of chairs, TV screens playing Shark Tank episodes, curtained “practice booths” with mirrors, water bottles, goodies, and snacks.  The head of casting made his way to the front of the room with microphone in hand.  As far I could discern, he had two very specific roles:  1.  Get the crowd laughing to ease the tension in the room and 2.  Answer any and all questions, no matter how dumb. 

A long curtain separated the first and second room.  Numbers
51 to 55 were called and without a chance to practice one last time in
front of the mirror or even put on my apron to enhance my pitch, we were
directed to the next room and led directly to one of five less-than-new
wooden banquet tables. 

Sitting behind our table was a young man named Steven who seemed genuinely interested and ready to hear our pitch.  He asked for our application packet and my husband handed it over.

“So…” Steven said looking straight into my husband’s eyes.  “Who owns this business”?  Greg replied pointing at me.  “It’s hers!  But she’s my wife.  So technically…I guess you could say…it’s mine too”.    Cue nervous chuckle.

“Then tell me about your business” Stephen mused looking straight into my soul.  Without a single moment’s hesitation I blasted flawlessly through my pitch.  Wow. Nailed it.  Who would have thought?

After a series of four or five more business related questions (i.e. What would you do with the money if you got it), we were thanked for our time and escorted out the door.

Quite honestly, the anticipation leading up to the pitch was way worse than the actual pitch itself, and I found myself kind of disappointed and let down that the experience seemed to end so abruptly. 

The one thing we learned was that Shark Tank, if interested in your idea, will call you back within the first few weeks to let you know if you will advance to the next round.    With more than 40,000 applications for only 150 on-air spots, chances are we will not be receiving that call.  But even if we do, we’ve been sworn to silence. 

So Shark Tank fans, there you have it.   The experience was nothing short of spectacular and I’m so very glad that I braved that crisp morning in April to stand in line with all of the other wonderful and hopeful entrepreneurs.  So how about you?  Is it YOUR turn now to brave this shark-infested experience and enter the tank?  Da da, da da, da da da da….(to the tune of Jaws).  

 

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Jan Pinnington

Jan Pinnington is the founder of Healthy Hands Cooking.