How to Get on Shark Tank—and Win!

Are you a small business owner? A fan of ABC's Shark Tank? Ever wonder what it takes to get on the show and then, actually get a deal done with one of the Sharks like Mark Cuban or Lori Greiner?

I had no idea how, but I turned to someone who did: Sarah Apgar, a former volunteer firefighter from Long Island. She launched a company called FitFighter, featuring a new fitness device called the Steelhose. On the show, which was broadcast November 13, Apgar offered 15 percent of her company for $250,000. She settled for 25 percent from guest Shark, and KIND bars creator, Daniel Lubetzky.

My interview with Apgar was featured on Better, Newsweek's interview series on LinkedIn Live (Thursdays, noon ET/9 a.m. PT), where I talk with authors, business leaders and other thinkers to help us learn how to become a little bit better at what we do.

Here's what Apgar had to say about her Shark Tank experience, the lessons she learned and her tips for other aspiring entrepreneurs. Excerpts from our conversation have been edited for space and clarity.

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C.J. Burton/Getty

How to Get on Shark Tank

There are a couple of ways that Shark Tank finds its companies.

First, in the pre-COVID days, you could go to a public casting call and get [before] a Shark Tank producer [go to for info]. The casting calls are on hiatus now, [but] I'm sure those will start up again in 2021. What you can also do is submit an online submission—a video and an application explaining what your product, idea or service or company is. They review, from my understanding, over 30,000 companies and ideas every year.

I got a phone call at the end of May, after I had launched a new line of home gym sets and training programs, which would help people needing to stay fit at home. We pivoted, like everyone else, and started to serve people right in their living rooms. And I think that was one of the attractions to the Shark Tank producer team. They called us and said, 'We love the story here. We love that this is now available to the general public, and we'd love to feature you on the show.'

So what ensued was six to eight weeks of fast and furious interviews and business documentation, and all kinds of interactions with the Shark Tank [production] team. It was a really cool experience.

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Sarah Apgar: Be ready for the two-minute drill with the Sharks ABC

How to Get Ready for Showtime

During this six- to eight-week time—from the time I got that very first phone call until the time that I was standing there pitching in front of those five Sharks—I really engaged in a planned day-to-day, week-over-week, series of mindset and presentation preparation. That included a business and industry coach. She took me through meditations in the mornings [and] practice sessions that were timed so I wouldn't get exhausted. [We also did] question and answer preparation in which we categorized questions based on business information, industry information and the research that we did about the show and the interest of those [Shark] investors.

At the same time, you work with the producers on the pitch and the wardrobe. For me, it was just a dream way to present. But you get one shot only. And I love all that comes with that—all of those beautiful elements of preparation. I mean, that's life. This was the big limelight; the national stage—the ultimate culmination of all of those things that I talk about as part of our mission 'readiness' mantra with FitFighter. So for me, this was really living out a lot of the elements of what I teach and the training that we provide.

Nail the Two-Minute Drill

For me, the single most challenging thing was to prepare; to think about your own personal strengths and limitations. And when I say limitations, I just mean the challenges we deal with based on our strengths, our personality, the way we present and who we are. One of my limitations is that I'm a talker; I'm very verbose. It's one of my best assets. But it can also [be] my biggest weakness during a presentation.

I knew that in [this] setting, you had to be concise—and say things one time and provide one piece of information. And then, not say it again...that's something that, for me, [was] a huge challenge. But I knew also that I would really nail that initial two-minute pitch where I had the limelight.

I knew no [Shark] was going to interrupt me, and I could just go out there and shine without interruption. So what I did is make sure that I spent a lot of my preparation time really on those first two minutes, knowing that I was going to own that. And if nothing else, if I crashed and burned and face-planted after that, by golly, that [two minutes] was going to be dynamite.

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Aogar: "When I walked into the Shark Tank, I knew the metrics of my business" Courtesy of Sarah Apgar

Prep Hard for Shark Questions

What I did was spend more of my time, probably 60 percent, preparing for the question-and-answer period, because that was going to be where I was going to struggle and trip up. I practiced that role. I had friends and family ask me questions and actually treat the preparation like the stage. I created a dress rehearsal where I would say things, [give] answers and get feedback. And over time, I'd get more and more comfortable with what, for me, was a big limitation. And I'm here to say if you think you have a can improve on that just enough so that you can shine.

Know Your Numbers

When I walked into the Shark Tank, I knew the metrics of my business; the basic numbers. I was an expert. You best know your product, your service, your customers, your teammates, your industry, your market. I guarantee you know those things better than anybody else.

Dealing With Stage Fright in the Tank

As a practical matter, some of those techniques I mentioned, like the meditation ahead of time and practicing two to three times that day. Not 20, 30 or 200 times that day. That's a great way to exhaust yourself and your mind. And then really dress rehearsing with all of the exact scenarios. So I knew that I was going to have to stand for 30 seconds while all the cameras swirled around me. They had told me that. Standing and staring awkwardly at each of the sharks.

And so, I had planned what to do in that 30 seconds. I had planned that I was going to smile at each of the Sharks and look them in the eye. And then, I was going to look straight ahead at a spot that wasn't looking them in the eye and just go neutral with my face. And I prepared what I was going to do with my posture and my body. And it worked, those 30 seconds flew by as if they were nothing, because I just did exactly what I had planned to do.

What I Learned

There's two things I wish that I'd done differently. One, is pushing back [on the Sharks]. Some people don't realize that the seven to 10 minutes we see on TV is much longer [segment] in person. And during those conversations, there were a couple of times when I felt I had been either misrepresented or misunderstood.
Going back, if I had the chance to have a private conversation with a couple of those folks in person, I would make a clarification or I would push back on something I felt I was misunderstood, which is my responsibility; of course, it's our responsibility to ensure that we've communicated in the best way we can. So that's the first thing.

And the second is that I [wish I] had more cogently been able to communicate the long game and the long-term mission, which now, I'm able to communicate much better. I'm working on it. I didn't do a good job...of explaining [our long-term vision]. And fortunately, the editors of the Shark Tank segment did this remarkable job...I was so touched by the way that they told the story and pieced it together. But I think I could have done a little better job. And so, if I continue to get a chance to, I'm going to get better and better at that.

Dorie Clark, author of Entrepreneurial You and Duke University Fuqua School of Business professor, hosts Newsweek's weekly interview series, Better, on Thursdays at 12 p.m. ET/9 a.m. PT. Learn more and download her free Stand Out self-assessment.

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