Swimming with the Sharks
In case you missed it, I was on ABC’s Shark Tank, Friday night, October 11th, 2014, introducing Sunday Night Slow Jams to 6.5 million new people. No words can ever express how amazing the whole experience was for me. Appearing on the show was simply a dream come true. The only way I can describe it: Think of your absolute favorite TV show. Now picture yourself starring in an episode…where the whole segment is centered around you. It was absolutely surreal. Probably the second best day of my life.
Why Shark Tank?
If there’s anything I have learned in my 36 years of existence on this planet, it’s “listen to your mother.” So two years ago, when my mom told me I should watch a great show called “Shark Tank,” I listened. I was “hooked” the very first episode. What an entertaining, yet educational show. I’m not kissing arse here…it’s a just a damn good show. In a world of hideous reality programs and silly game shows (Minute to Win It…barf!), Shark Tank provides real life stories intertwined with a “challenge” to get a deal from some really bright and witty investors, and what comes through the screen is nothing short of magic. After watching my first season, I decided to apply.
Getting in The Tank
After watching a full season of Shark Tank and seeing a ton of “food” items (spreads, cookies, cakes, etc.) I figured the only reason I might have a slim chance to get on the show, was because my business was completely different than anything that has ever been on Shark Tank before. My mom didn’t “get it,” but being in the entertainment industry, I knew the value of something different. I applied on line. There was a note on the website explaining that 40,000 entrepreneurs apply every year and that they couldn’t guarantee a personal response to every applicant. I had nothing to lose. I filled out the online forms and pitched my “business” the best way I could, in under 200 words. I must have made a million edits before I clicked “submit.” This was such a longshot. Click. Submitted. I forgot about Shark Tank in a few days. On with my life.
I will never forget “the call.” I was doing a live broadcast from LEGOLAND on the radio. When I answered the unknown call and was greeted by “Heather” from Shark Tank, my heart took off like a racehorse. We had a ten minute phone interview and she notified me that she’s “moving me on to the next level,” would be sending paperwork for me to fill out, and that I needed to send in a video to Shark Tank, pitching my product. I had work to do. Needless to say it was hard concentrating on that afternoon’s broadcast.
This was my chance. I was now getting looked at by the producers of the show…I had to wow them. I called up a local film crew and started sketching out my presentation. This couldn’t be boring. It had to be nothing less than fantastic. I didn’t have much time either…about a week. I had a lot to do.
The Brian factor
I had to make my presentation standout. I mentioned in my initial application that I could bring a “celebrity” endorser on the show with me. The casting folks told me they liked that idea and suggested I incorporate him into the audition video–even if it was just a “picture” of him, or a cut-out…or a Skype session. Nope, that wasn’t good enough…I had to do it big. Before I knew it, I was rolling up to Brian McKnight’s ginormous mansion in Los Angeles. He answered the door in his sweats and invited me and the crew in. Was this really happening? Needless to say, the video came out amazing. Things were feeling good.
The journey to Shark Tank
I’ll spare you the boring details…but the next three months consisted of a ton of paperwork, then more paperwork. And multiple calls and interviews with the producers of Shark Tank. I had now been officially “handed off” from the casting department to the producers of the show. Very exciting. Except that I was constantly reminded that I wasn’t yet “guaranteed” to get on Shark Tank. There was still a chance I could be “eliminated.” I developed my opening “pitch” and practiced and practiced. And practiced. And practiced some more. When I was done, I practiced again. There could be zero room for error. After two and half months of gut-wrenching suspense, I was given my film date. Holy crap. This was really happening.
The practicing continued. Every waking moment I found myself rehearsing my spiel. Over and over again. I kept messing up. I couldn’t get it right. I took it one sentence at a time, until each was memorized. Then I had to dive into my business’s financials. And memorize them. Let’s just say I wasn’t the best bookkeeper. Then I came up with a million potential questions the Sharks might ask–and how I would answer each one. This was probably the toughest challenge–since I was dealing with the unknown. There was a million questions they could ask. Did I have every scenario and possibility covered? It was nerve-wracking. Like trying to memorize a dictionary…there was just “too much.”
On Friday, July 15th, I found myself, along with Brian, at Sony Pictures Studios, going over my pitch with the producers of the show. I didn’t realize what a huge production this all was–600 employees worked on this one TV show alone. Fascinating! Me, and a group of other entrepreneurs, got an official–and very detailed–briefing from the legal team and the producers of Shark Tank. Clay Newbill (Mark Burnett’s right hand man) and other big names were breaking it all down for us. I gazed on at it all in wonderment, just taking it all in, and listening more intently than I have ever listened to anything in my life! I wanted to get this right. This was national TV. There was no room for error. 6.5 million viewers and forever on YouTube…make a mistake and it would be around forever. I had to nail it. But my biggest fear…being clowned by the Sharks… If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank, you know the Sharks can be absolutely brutal. They’ve made people cry; made fun of, belittled, embarrassed and downright “destroyed” dozens of “want-trepreneurs” on national TV. Going on the Shark Tank was a gamble. I could absolutely become one of “those” losers–belittled on national TV. I’d never live that down. So I practiced more. I role played with friends and co-workers, and asked Mom to “test me” and act like a Shark and ask me tough questions. The day before my shoot I played out the show in the living room of my friend’s family, as they all took on roles of the Sharks and lobbed questions at me.
In The Tank
Monday, July 18th will go down in history as one of the most monumental days of my life. I remember being in the hotel lobby with all the other hopeful entrepreneurs. I met the “Mango Mango Mango” girls among others. We exchanged stories and wished each other luck, as we were shuttled over to the studios at 7AM. My God this was really happening. The next two hours were a whirlwind. I remember getting my makeup and hair done in a trailer with Brian, meeting Garrett (his product was “Scan“), trying my best to eat a granola bar (I was too nervous to eat), and overall just having to pinch myself multiple times. Was this really happening??? The moment I’ve dreamt about for so long? I this really about to go down? Soon I was at the set…a giant, and I mean GIANT building, the size of an airplane hanger–the actual Shark Tank set was inside, walled off in the middle of the big structure. Was I nervous? Yes! But my excitement trumped my anxiety. I was in this to have fun! My two goals: 1) To get on the show and make Sunday Night Slow Jams famous, and 2) To not be made a fool of. These Sharks can be mean!!! As an avid viewer of the show, I knew the two most important things were: not to be arrogant/cocky, and “know your numbers!” I was ready. Okay, now I am nervous. It really kicked in as I stood out side the famous “entrance” to the Tank–those two doors that lie at the end of the massive hallway leading into the tank. As they yelled “Quiet on the set!” and started counting down, I felt my knees shaking. The wardrobe lady ran her lint roller up and down my jacket. I squinted and tried to peer through the crack in the two doors to see what was happening on the other side. It was time. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…no turning back now! The doors swung open and I walked right in–overthinking every step as I approached the Sharks. I started with my pre-rehearsed “pitch” that included Brian McKnight, and that went perfect! I had practiced and practiced it–probably over 1,000 times. I was so afraid I was going to trip up. If I fumbled even one word, I would have considered it a failure, but I got through it, without missing a beat. The Sharks loved Brian. When his song ended…the beat down commenced! Nah, it wasn’t that bad…
The next 44 minutes was amazing. But a blur. You saw only six minutes of Sunday Night Slow Jams on Shark Tank after the edits; but good Lord, I was in front of the Sharks for 46 whole minutes! (***SPOILER ALERT***) And although I didn’t get a deal, I had a blast! It was so fun to be able to converse with the Sharks back and forth. They took a LOT of cool parts out of the taping. They had to–for time–it’s TV, I get it. But some really cool parts were chopped, including me giving Lori an old school Slow Jams “mix tape!” I joked with Daymond about the fact that I used to wear Fubu, and Robert told me a story about his radio days, and his show “Sunday Night Jazz” program. It was freakin’ cool. Every second of it. I discussed the digital side of Slow Jams (streaming, slowjams.com, our trademark, etc.) and most importantly, I defended RADIO. The Sharks never clowned me (thank God!) but they did slam radio. I came to radio’s defense every time–but my rebuttals were cut out in the edit room. I’m not mad–it’s TV, it’s reality TV, it’s entertainment. I get it! Actually, you could say I actually breathed a sigh of relief as each Shark said, “I’m out.” You have to understand, I really was deathly afraid of being made fun of on national TV. They can be cruel!!! So as each Shark passed on the deal, I secretly was really thankful that I made it through the presentation without being pulverized. I really wasn’t mad at all! I succeeded. Before I knew it, we were saying our goodbyes and walking back down the hallway. Wow. What an experience.
They film 150 pitches. Only 100 make it to air. There was a 1 in 3 chance that my episode might not even make it on! I didn’t really talk about it to many people. But inside I was jumping up and down like a little kid for the next three months. I was told if my segment was chosen I would be notified two weeks in advance. Season 5 started September 20th. No call yet. Would my piece be chosen?
I actually saw my episode in the TV listings before I heard from Shark Tank! “A San Diego DJ pitches his idea for a syndicated radio show featuring love song dedications with the help of singer Brian McKnight.” It was on! Our segment actually took the lead in all the TV guide listings and cable DVR episode summaries. Super exciting. The Friday before my episode was to air, things really got exciting, as a clip of me was featured in a promo for next week’s show. In the next few days, dozens of articles about the episode began to appear online. That just got me more pumped up. Here were a few:
I also did a dozen interviews on morning radio across the country. DJs had me on their shows to talk about my experience in the Shark Tank and help promote the show. Even one of my DJ idols growing up had me on his show…incredible! ABC even assigned a publicist to me!
Friday, October 11th, 2013
I will never forget this date…the date I appeared on national prime-time TV. ABC. 6.5 million viewers. I had to turn my phone off and stay away from the internet at 6PM…didn’t want any of my East Coast friends to spoil the show for me. I mean, I know how it “ended,” but had no idea how the show was going to be put together, packaged and edited. I was so curious and excited…I wanted to be surprised and see it for myself without any idea of how the whole thing presented. So we had a little viewing party at work. We all met in the conference room at 8:30pm for pizza and beer. No one knew the outcome of Shark Tank yet…it was a mystery to everyone but me. There was a viewing party in Tucson…I wished I was there!
9PM came quick! They ran a really cool promo at 8:55pm promoting the night’s episode and it was all about my presentation…wow!!! (the promo is included on my youtube video, before the show) Then the show started…I was first up. It was awesome. What can I say? Watch the video for yourself. I thought it came out great. Brian is the man!!! As I noted before, they edited the bejeezus out of the segment–but that was to be expected. And though I didn’t get a deal, the Sharks thankfully did not clown me, my business or my product. And really, that’s all I had wished for. It was a big gamble being on TV and opening myself up like that. But I got to present Slow Jams to millions, Brian did a killer presentation, and we weren’t insulted. Mission accomplished.
After Shark Tank
I stayed up ’til 3AM that night. Just reading all the emails, text messages and social media posts. It was an absolute avalanche! My website was overloaded. My voice mail full. It was awesome to hear from old friends, and strangers alike. A lot of people wanting to “sell me” something! It was neat. Many people I know sent me “sympathy” messages, like my cat died or something! “So sorry it didn’t work out.” The smarter folks “understood” the “win” was the free one million-dollar, six-minute Sunday Night Slow Jams infomercial on prime time television. Lots of press that Monday morning!
Business Insider / FMQB / The Mouth / RadioInfo
Perhaps the biggest post-show win was being on the cover–my mug–on the main page of hulu.com! The first thing you saw that next day on Hulu was me and Brian…tens of millions of people around the world…all seeing ME! Wow!
Haters Gon’ Hate
Surprisingly, there weren’t that many haters. Mostly just trolls on the Shark Tank facebook page. I actually was sad at this comment below…racism still exists.
Radio Fires Back
The consensus in “the industry” was that “radio” got dissed. Many radio trade magazines quoted Mark Cuban and Mr. Wonderful’s comments about radio “sucking” and being a bad investment. During the taping I fired back and defended radio, but those rebuttals didn’t make the cut. I felt bad that “radio” took the brunt of the abuse on the show and my “defense” of our industry wasn’t aired. On Friday, October 18th, I woke up to “An Open Letter to Mark Cuban,” front and center on all the radio industry websites. Sun Broadcast Group CEO Jay Bailey checked Mark Cuban publicly. It was great. You can read the letter HERE. A week later, I was still in the spotlight. This Shark Tank thing was really working out!
Aaaaaaaaaand…boom goes the dynamite (R Dub gets deal!)
Besides getting a ton of new station affiliates the week after Shark Tank, a record deal (Slow Jams compilation) with Wal-Mart and Universal Records, and a ton of new connections–I got my deal…my 75k! That following Monday I received a call from a law firm that saw Shark Tank, looked into my show, and decided to present me with the money I asked the Sharks for. This scenario was even better: instead of having to give up any equity, I was given the $75,000 in exchange for an annual sponsorship on Sunday Night Slow Jams. Strictly advertising.
“We believe in radio. It’s worked for us before and we have no doubt that with R Dub!’s national exposure, it will work for us again—this time, in a whole new dynamic—bigger and better than ever.”
-Steven Thompson, Jackson & Associates
And then there was Wal-Mart!
Days later I was blessed with the opportunity to sign a deal with Thump Records and Universal Music that would put my new Sunday Night Slow Jams CD in every Wal-Mart in America and walmart.com. Overnight, Sunday Night Slow Jams became available in every city in America. Truly a dream come true!
I’d like to thank…
The entire staff at Shark Tank, ABC and Mark Burnett Productions, especially Heather Holden, Kate Ryu and Chris Shelcroft. Those guys/gals are awesome. Producer Clay Newbill and everybody at Shark Tank…they were all so nice! Thank you for giving me one of the most incredible experiences ever! Thanks to Paul Miller who helped me with my pitch, advised me, helped coordinate Brian’s appearance and even went with me. What a good guy! And how could I forget BRIAN!!! Brian McKnight–thank you! Seems like yesterday I was buying your CDs as a sophomore in high school. Now we’re friends? Wow! Thank you for your kindness sir. Thanks to the staff at Benztown: Dave Denes, Masa Patterson, Chris Johansing, Lisa Dollinger and the whole crew. And of course all my friends, family and listeners! Too many to name…but thank you so much for all your support! It means the world.