Our coworking space is home to Shark Tank alumni PetPlate. This Sunday Shark Tank aired a follow-up episode with PetPlate, highlighting their success since appearing on the show in 2017. Here’s a glimpse of what it was like when Shark Tank came to film at Workville. The filming took place during a busy Monday afternoon. Per Shark Tank’s request, filming was done discretely; we didn’t disclose the who, what, or why of the crew. The comradery displayed by Workville’s members was incredible – members pretended not to notice that a film and lighting crew had taken over our coworking space. They gamely made do with changes to their routine, including a makeshift coffee, fruit water, and microwave station during lunchtime and tiptoeing around scenes filmed in the cafes and lounge spaces.
The experience led us to ask Worvkille’s community, what are the similarities and differences between Shark Tank versus “Real Life” fundraising?
SHARK TANK VERSUS REAL LIFE
1. THE PITCH
To begin, let’s review the importance of the pitch. On Shark Tank, the pitch is a make or break experience, which makes for great TV. The pitch must deliver information concisely and with a clear market differentiation. Renaldo Webb, Founder & CEO of PetPlate cites the biggest lesson learned from Shark Tank is “how important it is to communicate your business metrics to investors clearly. While I thought my Shark Tank appearance went well, I could have better highlighted the strengths of the business to secure a deal.”
Based on the pitch, the judges either choose “in” or “out”. If the judge is in, there is an equity ask in return for their expertise and help. In a twist of events, if more than one shark wants in, the entrepreneur has a choice of judges to bring onboard. The entrepreneur will weigh a few factors, including the fairness of each judge’s equity ask, which judge has expertise that best aligns with their goals, and which judge has the most chemistry with their company. In real life, startups may pitch and accept funding to several investors at once.
Shark Tank’s portrayal of the pitch process is relatively accurate, but the timeline is, of course, a made for TV fairytale. The idea that an entire deal is dependent on the founder’s pitch skills is also made for TV. In real life, an investor does his due diligence on a company, which could take weeks, months, or even a year to determine the growth potential, investment needs, partnerships and workload to take a company to the next level. For a company in fundraising mode, the investors due diligence is a practice in patience, but it also provides a fair chance to prove the company’s value.
Statistically speaking, +30% of fundraising happens in the first quarter, with a relatively even spread across the rest of the quarters. Crowdfunding sees a spike in February to late May. Once the funding is approved, things do move at a Shark Tank type pace. At Workville we see the domino effect firsthand. Our growth stage members receive funding, hire more employees, move into a larger workspace, implement new processes and increase revenue channels almost immediately.
2. DEAL OR NO DEAL
The equity ask is one of the greatest conundrums for any entrepreneur. Shark Tank investors are similar to Angel Investors; investing around 1 million in early-stage startups and offering mentorship. Their equity asks can be as great as 50%. Entrepreneurs who aim low with the equity ask may end up conceding to a royalty deal. This is right up Kevin O’Leary’s alley; he’s the Shark known for leveraging a low equity offer by making a long-term royalty deal. For him, it’s win-win, low equity offsets the risk behind any investment with the benefit of a long-term payout for his mentorship. Buyer beware though – low equity in favor of long-term royalties is like paying off student loans with an interest rate that grows, forever.
Does accepting equity always mean giving up governing control of the company?
When a startup moves from early stage to growth stage, they may seek investments from Venture Capitalists, defined as wealthy individuals and professionally managed investment banking funds. The minimum investment is usually $1 million because the startup has already proved it’s high-profit potential. The percentage equity ownership is similar to what Shark Tank judges ask, between 25 – 55 percent and comes with a measure of strategic planning and control. Overall, it’s normal for investors, shareholders, and anyone who contributes money to the company to have voting rights. This serves as a check and balance.
Some founders, however, value autonomy above all else in which case retaining governance or majority voting control is key in negotiating. WeWork is the most trending example of this. WeWork’s CEO & Co-Founder, Adam Neumann, owns less than 50 percent of the company but was granted a Class B multi-share structure, which means he has 10 votes per share currently totaling 65% of the overall share vote. In a recent NY Magazine article, “Why do Shareholders agree to give up voting rights”, they detail the pros and cons of multi-share structures that grant founders majority voting rights. Their summary of the WeWork example is simple: “When a founder has a company that investors are excited about, he or she gets to set terms about how investors will get into the deal. It’s a seller’s market.” Investors are excited about Adam Neumann’s vision to bring coworking mass-market and to scale WeWork into commercial real estate’s largest vertical. As of January 2019 WeWork has over 500 locations and hit a record as the largest New York City office tenant. With a $45 billion valuation from SoftBank, WeWork creates market excitement that keeps its founder in the driver’s seat as the key decision maker.
3. FUNDRAISING IS GOOD FOR PR
Appearing on Shark Tank, with or without a deal, can increase a company’s exposure exponentially. In the case of PetPlate, they received an additional 50,000 orders for their freshly cooked, vet-designed meal subscription service, which helped them from a small startup to a scaling company. They quickly grew from a few subscriptions in the New York area to shipping hundreds of boxes each week throughout the country. In 2018 they raised an additional $8 million in funding. PetPlate is now expanding into cat food as they continue to take a bite out of the $94 billion global pet food market.
Pitching to an investor without the benefit of Shark Tank’s 5 million viewership may not attract the same overnight fame, but is nonetheless valuable PR. It’s an opportunity to raise brand awareness to the investor community. If funding is received, headlines are to follow in popular newsletters like TechNY Daily and publications like TechCrunch. Privately owned companies, Workville falls under this category, tend to stay under the radar. This is a different strategy altogether. The choice to neither disclose funding nor attract high profile investors means skirting PR opportunities, but it also allows founders to maintain steadfast focus to their priorities.
There is no right or wrong way to market a company. For some, the fundraising route is a great way to make a splash and gain exposure while for others, focusing on the product so that marketing and profits follow organically is the right path. It’s nice to have options.
When it comes to determining the best practices for fundraising, our members recommend doing what’s best for your 5-year plan. Stay agile within in the plan, but use it as a reference to determine what type of equity and governance is best for the company’s growth. Our members also recommending taking a page from PetPlate’s founder Renaldo Webb, find the silver lining in every opportunity.