“Shark Tank” is a fun show. It’s entertaining, it makes everyone plenty of money and there’s a lot you and I can learn from it.
Obviously, it’s TV, and not everything is exactly as it appears. Not every deal made on the show actually goes through. We only see the highlights (or lowlights) of every pitch. And, until Mark Cuban made them change, ABC got a cut of every company shown regardless of the outcome.
What we also don’t see is the years of work entrepreneurs put into their companies, and the thousands of applicants who never see the stage. With all that experience, there’s definitely a few lessons you and I can take away from “Shark Tank.”
I’ve used a handful of these practical quips at our startup Text Request, with my own side hustle (Kenneth Burke Media), and I’m confident they can add value to your side hustle, too.
1. You’ve got to be able to sell it.
Whatever your dream, side hustle or project, you’ve got to be able to sell it! That includes emotionally as much as physically.
It’s important that you’re able to get people to believe in what you’re doing, particularly if you’re looking for investors or partners. You also have to actually make money.
If “Shark Tank” teaches us anything, it’s that the value of your side hustle is in how many people are willing to pay for it (and how much they’re willing to pay).
You need to learn how to convey your dream and conviction so that others want to be a part of it. And you need to learn how to get people to take out their wallets.
2. Don’t get cocky.
How many starry-eyed entrepreneurs have waltzed onto the show acting like their simple idea was a miracle straight from heaven, only to be embarrassed by the sharks?
It’s critical that you be passionate about your side hustle (we’ll get to that later), but first and foremost you’re running a business. Your ideas mean nothing if you can’t back them up.
When you let emotion trump data (sales, traffic, market research, etc.) everyone loses. “Feeling” usually doesn’t create good business decisions.
Instead, data needs to direct your passion. Stay in love with your goals, and let data tell you what does or doesn’t work.
3. Be patient, but be fierce.
Most startups and entrepreneurs who make in on the show are good. Like, really good.
Only one out of every 222 applicants makes it on the show (that’s 0.4 percent). And if you watch, you’ll notice that a lot of these businesses have been around for years.
Their founders and execs have kept their heads down and have been grinding away for years before getting any kind of recognition. If you want your side hustle to succeed, you’ve got to do the same thing!
Be patient. Greatness takes time to blossom. It takes time to get the right people and procedures in place.
But be fierce, too, because you’re not going anywhere if you don’t actually hustle.
4. Mass market isn’t for everyone.
You do not have to go mass market for your side hustle to be successful. But one topic the Sharks bring up over and over is scaling to the masses, so clearly there’s a lesson here.
You don’t have to reach the general public to be successful, but if you’re trying to create a billion-dollar company, then yeah, you need millions of customers.
To do this, the Sharks often hark on a few factors, including manufacturing, fulfillment and distribution, hiring and managing employees, finding that many ideal customers and ensuring profit margins aren’t eaten up in the process.
Your side hustle might fit best in a niche. But if you want to go mass market, these are the things to focus on.
5. You’ve got to know your targets.
Whatever the size of your side hustle, or whatever your dreams are for it, you’re going to have to learn your targets inside and out.
You need to know all the wants, needs and behaviors of your viewers, customers and users. There’s no way around it! Otherwise, how can you know what they’ll find valuable? How can you know how to sell to them, or even what they’ll buy?
It won’t go well for you to just, say, throw money at marketing and advertising. You’ve got to know what’s going to be a good fit for whom.
6. You don’t have to jump at every opportunity.
Some opportunities only come once in a lifetime. But most opportunities show up again and again.
Often on “Shark Tank,” entrepreneurs take the first offer given, even if it means giving up most of their company to work with someone unfamiliar with their industry. That doesn’t make sense! But the contestant saw an opportunity and jumped at it, even though it probably wasn’t a good decision.
If you’re doing the right things with your side hustle (like following the data and learning your targets), opportunities are going to keep coming to you.
You probably won’t have one shining opportunity from a billionaire, but lots of little opportunities from people who care about your vision. Some of these opportunities will be worth pursuing.
As the person in control of your future, it’s your job to determine which opportunities fit with your mission and goals. If the opportunity is a good fit, take it. If not, drop it.
7. Don’t be greedy.
You need to learn what’s a good opportunity and what’s not. You also need to learn what’s reasonable and what’s petty.
Don’t nickel and dime over a few bucks or a small difference in ownership. Instead of showing that you’re a good negotiator, this kind of attitude shows you’re insufferable to work with.
That doesn’t make customers want to buy from you, and it sure doesn’t make people want to invest in you either. Just ask the hundreds of entrepreneurs who’ve lost deals while trying to haggle with a Shark.
You’ll go farther if you’re enjoyable to work with. So instead of trying to get more, focus on what will be reasonable, and on what will be a good fit with your mission.
8. Think like a shark.
There are several patterns you can pick up on when watching “Shark Tank,” and one that I frequently notice is how the Sharks collectively think.
They keep a cool head during discussions. They stay several steps ahead (in their thought processes and compared to those pitching). And they act like they’re in control. These are great characteristics.
When you’re a step ahead, you win. When you’re in control, you decide your future. Who wouldn’t want that?
9. Know what you’re good at.
Occasionally, a contender on the show will try to be everything to everyone. They’re founder and CEO. It comes with the package, right?
This mindset is particularly common in the startup community, and truthfully is a large reason why 90 percent of startups fail. You can’t be everything to everyone.
Instead, you need to learn where your strengths are and where they aren’t. Hire to your weaknesses. When you can focus on your strengths and others can focus on their strengths, everyone brings more value to the table.
This enables your side hustle to become something bigger than yourself, which is a pretty awesome experience, especially since it tends to come with a nice check.
10. Your targets must need what you provide.
Side hustles, startups and ideas focused on what’s trendy or cool virtually always fail.
It takes time to notice a trend, and then more time to capitalize on it. By then, the trend has often passed. On the other hand, if what you offer doesn’t meet a need, why would anyone buy it?
The number one reason startups fail, accounting for over 40 percent of failures, is because their great idea or product doesn’t meet a need or solve a problem. They focus on “innovative” technology or a trend. It’s cool stuff, but no one needs it.
History tells us we’re not likely to buy things we don’t in some way need. And since you need people to buy something, it’s important that your product or service meets a need.
11. You need to care.
Starting and keeping up with a side hustle is not easy. You’ve probably realized this. That’s why “hustle” is in the name, after all.
You’re going to ride a roller coaster of emotions and challenges. You’re going to be really tired and get discouraged. There will be plenty of great times, but it’s the hard times that will make you want to quit.
In these moments, the one thing every successful entrepreneur agrees will get you through is how much you care about what you’re doing. Call it passion, perseverance or whatever you want. The people who turn their side hustle into a living dream all care strongly about what they’re doing.
Your care, conviction and belief in your side hustle will give you the determination to keep going when times aren’t easy. It will help you to get more people on board with your vision, too.
“Shark Tank” is entertainment first, but there are so many great entrepreneurs (and billions of dollars) represented on each episode that it’s difficult not to learn something.
Keep working hard and implement these 11 lessons into your side hustle, and you’ll be able to take your dreams to the next level before you know it.