Please note: This is the third in a three-part article series recounting my experiences on ABC’s Shark Tank, adapted from my new book Pocket Man. You can read part one – how I got on Shark Tank – here, and part two here. My episode – season 3, episode 7 – was the highest rated up to that point, and is still considered to be one of the most controversial episodes in Shark Tank history. There is an unofficial version posted to YouTube here (while it lasts) and it is available on iTunes.
The Sharks are Savvy
The Sharks truly have no fore-knowledge of the people appearing on the show. They are very savvy individuals, though, and they have an intimate knowledge of how the rules work… both the on-screen rules, and the behind-the-scenes rules.
At the time, there was a rule on Shark Tank that the production received a portion of your company just for appearing on the show. That rule has been changed in subsequent seasons, but it applied to my episode.
I was pitching my smaller patent licensing company TEC-Technology Enabled Clothing® to the Sharks in an effort to grow that business, but the Sharks caught wind that I also had a much larger retail company. The problem was that they wanted a piece of my retail company – SCOTTeVEST – and if I mentioned that name during filming, I’d owe the producers 5% of that company, too.
This is why I believe that The Sharks were intentionally “baiting” me into discussing my retail business the entire time I was being filmed. The more I challenged them and tried to keep the conversation focused on my licensing company, the more they pushed back.
I went into the Shark Tank pitching TEC, and I had to carefully tiptoe around the brand name (SCOTTeVEST) that I spent years successfully building. If I slipped once and either mentioned SCOTTeVEST or countered any of their offers for SCOTTeVEST, part of SCOTTeVEST would belong to Mark Burnett and the producers of Shark Tank automatically and forever.
Imagine how hard it is to talk about your job without mentioning the name of the company. If I had, it would have cost me millions and for no good reason.
Ultimately, I didn’t take any of their bait.
I walked away from the possibility of a deal with The Sharks when it became apparent that they were only interested in SCOTTeVEST, and based on a bargain basement valuation.
They Shrink You
I’ve already written about how intense the filming was. It was hot and nerve-racking, and I was afraid I would look like a sweaty mess.
Immediately after exiting the tank, I was ushered into a mandatory meeting with the show’s psychologist. The visit had nothing to do with the content of my filming, but it was part of their standard process to make sure that the guests didn’t wind up too scarred by the experience, and that they understood that contractually, their episode might not even make it to air.
“Wait… did you see my taping?” The Shark Shrink nodded yes. “What are the odds that it won’t air?”
The Shark Shrink looked left and looked right before leaning in and saying in a hushed tone, “Off the record – very, very, totally off the record – it would take a declaration of war for it not to air.”
Just as I expected.
And immediately after that… more waiting. And more waiting. In the following months, I kept playing the filming experience over and over again in my head. I was bound by contract not to tell anyone about what happened in the Tank, but I’m transparent enough that most of my employees had some clue. Secrecy is not my forte, but I stuck to my Shark Tank contract: no one knew the outcome.
It turns out that the biggest secret of all was being kept from me as the months rolled on: I had no idea what would make it to screen.
Preparing for Liftoff
We didn’t know if or when my episode would air until the end of that year, and they didn’t tell us the actual air date until two weeks before it played. Usually, we’re fine with doing things “off the cuff” at SCOTTeVEST, but there were a lot of opportunities riding on Shark Tank, not the least of which was the millions of dollars of extra inventory we bought to be ready for the Shark Tank demand. As soon as we heard the air date, we jumped into action.
We had already mapped out how we would prepare for the episode and how we would react when it aired. At the time, I was the only one who knew the outcome, and none of us knew what the edit would be like. Of course, since there were no six-figure checks sent to us from a new billionaire supporter, I think most of my staff was able to piece together the broad strokes of what happened in the tank.
Two weeks of site updates, contingency plans, phone tests, staffing schedules, and press release writing followed. Customer Service staffed up and prepared for what would be an intensely busy night and a busy weekend. Most of the team was scheduled through the weekend, and we had backups in place in case they were swamped.
The marketing team focused on getting the website ready and on making sure people could find us when they went looking online. We bought AdWords keywords around every conceivable search term (Scott, Shark Tank, TEC, tech vest, shark tank vest, the jerk on shark tank, etc.) and set up redirects to funnel people from www.TechnologyEnabledClothing.com to a special landing page on the main SCOTTeVEST site. We were going to make some sales!
We anticipated having some press calls to deal with in the following days, and did everything possible to prep for the chaos we knew would follow.
The Countdown to Destiny
On the night of the show, most of the marketing team came to my house to watch the episode at its first air time (East Coast time zone). The ET and PT time zones have the largest audiences, so there would be no warm up to the main event. We were going in hot. As nervous as I was in the filming process, I was even more nervous the night of the show. We filmed my reactions watching that first airing (www.scottevest.com/sharktank).
The site did go down temporarily due to traffic, though we had been promised that we wouldn’t have an issue. Compared to the thousands of orders I expected, we didn’t get ANY orders. Something like 30 total for the whole night. That’s like a slow Tuesday morning.
We had a large team in the office nonetheless, monitoring the site, answering calls, and preparing for post-TV press. I received thousands of emails about the show, and it was split about 50/50 between congratulations and vitriolic hate-mail.
A fan once referred to me as “amicably abrasive” and it seemed that just like the camera adds 10 pounds to your appearance, my personality was likewise amplified.
While my appearance on Shark Tank didn’t do anything for sales, it did generate quite a bit of buzz. Some people lauded me for standing up to them and for keeping my head on my shoulders. But it would take more than congratulations to sell through all the extra inventory we purchased.
Other people blew me a lot of $#!+, saying that it was all a publicity stunt, that I was disrespectful, and a “patent troll.” The press got in on the action, too, and I was covered in the “official” Shark Tank blog, Forbes, Yahoo Voices, The Huffington Post and Leo Laporte’s This Week in Technology, among others. The Huff Postarticle is actually one of my favorite SCOTTeVEST articles of all time (see it atwww.scottevest.com/STHuff).
Did You Only Go On Shark Tank to Promote Yourself?
This is the question that I am most often asked about my experience on Shark Tank. The answer?…
You bet your ass I did… but I also wanted a deal and access to the Sharks contacts and resources. So, I guess I did not ONLY go on Shark Tank to promote myself, but it was 90% of the reason I did. I really did want to make a deal for TEC, and I’m too transparent to lie about that.
Even though we didn’t reach a deal, I do think it was successful. I suppose it matters on how you measure success. People recognize me when I go to trade shows, and it’s been a great conversation starter… but you can’t take that to the bank.
After Shark Tank aired, I definitely basked in the notoriety and played it for all it was worth. The appearance was not without its challenges, though.
I regret buying all the extra inventory leading up to it, but we have been able to sell down to a normal level of inventory by now (a few years later). I regret preparing as much as I did with the expectation that the immediate sales would be so dramatic. Those hundreds of hours could have been better spent. I also regret not suggesting that SCOTTeVEST could guarantee $100K in revenue to TEC each year, taking all the risk out of the Sharks getting repaid on their investments. It just didn’t occur to me when I was in the tank.
I also received criticisms about my demeanor – that I was disrespectful, aggressive, and less-than-cordial in my interactions with the Sharks (although usually expressed in more colorful terms). I already covered how creative editing played a role in how I was presented, so I’m not going to rehash that.
But let’s put this in perspective. How many times have you seen entrepreneurs – people who are really starting out, who have a great idea and need guidance and money – flounder into the tank and get taken advantage of?
The difference between my segment and most others is that I am a businessman and that I was willing and able to engage the Sharks in a serious business interaction. I most definitely wanted to strike a deal with one or more of them, to get TEC off the ground as a licensing company with much more to offer than a single patent for a wire management system.
But I was not about to turn wobbly kneed, forget why I was there, and sell away part of the company that my wife and I have put our hearts and souls into for over ten years.
I argued fiercely with Mark Cuban in the tank about intellectual property rights (he later indicated in a podcast that he made it his mission to make me cry… he failed), about standing by my patent and about the essential “American-ness” of the patent system.
I still believe firmly that Intellectual Property and the defense of IP rights are fundamental components of the American way of doing business, and a foundation of our country’s success. Deal or no deal, I am glad that I had the chance to go on Shark Tank and make this a topic of conversation in front of so many millions of people.
I don’t regret an instant of my Shark Tank experience, though there are some things I would have done differently. In the end, what you see on the screen is NOT exactly what happens in the tank, but there is no denying that Shark Tank is a great, entertaining show that gives many entrepreneurs their moment in the spotlight.
For even more stories about my approach to business, check out my top-rated book, Pocket Man.
If you want to learn more or just enjoy my “reality show” life, follow me on Facebook.
ABOUT SCOTT JORDAN and SCOTTeVEST
Scott Jordan is the CEO and Founder of SCOTTeVEST, which creates multi-pocket clothing designed to carry electronics. He is the author of Pocket Man: The Unauthorized Autobiography of a Passionate, Personal Promoter.
Read a sample of Scott’s book for more about his experience on Shark Tank and the pocket empire he has built.