Shark Tank, my all-time favorite competitivereality show, starts a new cycle tonight on ABC, so you know what I'm doing every Friday night for the next five weeks. The premise, which uber-producer Mark Burnett based on Great Britain's Dragons' Den, has average Joes like you and me pitching our business ideas, in hopes of receiving seed money and expertise from a panel of five self-made million/billionaires.
The business, service and product pitches range from the sublime to the sub-par, and it's always fun to see which ones soar and which ones sink. Among some of the more memorable products have been a golf club with a hollow shaft in which an urgent golfer can relieve himself, underwear with a built-in charcoal odor filter and gluten-free play dough, in addition to more ordinary fare. You wouldn't believe which ones got funding (hint: two of the previously mentioned three).
One of the coolest and kindest of the Sharks, and certainly the best dressed, is Daymond John, the FUBU clothing magnate. He built his clothing line from one little tie-top hat into a multimillion dollar, international sensation, with his For Us, By Us label even being referenced by President Obama. He's heavily involved in charity work, and in mentoring and inspiring other entrepreneurs.
I had to ask him what it would take to be a successful entrepreneur in 2010, or if it's even possible. He quickly came up with the following ten tips:
1. Learn the business you want to be in, from the bottom up. Intern, go to school or work at a company that is in the same business.
2. If you have partners, be very clear on every person's role and duties in the company.
3. Legally and properly set up your company with trademarks, patents, and partnership contracts.
4. Have a clear mission statement and a time line, and review it annually.
5. Develop a master team of advisers whom you respect.
6. Test your product with strangers and people who have no vested interest, or don't want to hurt your feelings.
7. Be clear about what margins you must make to be successful.
8. Make sure you pay yourself and others who work for you. Many discount the labor factor, then when they finally make enough money to grow, they realize they left out this major line item.
9. Know what your competitor is doing, and the major challenges that are occurring in your business.
10. Network with others in your field.
Those contestants making pitches would do well to run down this list and make sure everything is covered. Sometimes the Sharks have passed on a really great idea merely because the originator forgot to get a patent, or didn't have a clue where their product's market was headed.
But then again, if you covered everything on this checklist, you might not need a Shark Tank investment--you could already be incredibly successful.