Whether you're a budding entrepreneur or just interested in the startup world, you've probably heard of the reality TV show Shark Tank.
For those of you who need a refresher, here's the premise: Each episode features four promising entrepreneurs from all walks of life who pitch their various businesses to a panel of five, cutthroat "sharks" -- self-made multimillionaire and billionaire investors who've achieved enormous success in their respective industries.
Each entrepreneur offers up a certain amount of equity in their business in exchange for an investment. Some contestants get bids from the sharks, while others walk away with nothing. For this particular article, I wanted to learn about what happens after an entrepreneur gets a deal on Shark Tank. How does appearing on the show affect brand awareness, site traffic, and sales?
To answer these questions and more, I spoke with recent Shark Tank contestant Christina Conrad, who secured a deal on-air with real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran for $80,000 in exchange for 20% equity in her company.
Conrad is Founder and CEO of Boobypack, a company that sells the one and only "fanny pack for your rack." Like the name and tagline would suggest, the Boobypack is a sports bra/athletic top that has zipper-enclosed, water-resistant pockets underneath the arms that hold and protect your valuables during concerts, music festivals, the gym, sports games, and traveling.
After making a few Boobypacks for friends and getting rave reviews, Conrad launched a Kickstarter campaign in early 2013. She ended up doubling her fundraising goal of $15,000 in 30 days, prompting to her quit her day job at Time, Inc. and begin working on the project full-time. When the website launched later that year, she made $10,000 in sales the first day. Then, in February 2014, Conrad showcased the Boobypack on Katie Couric's show, "Katie," and won a $10,000 prize for female entrepreneurship.
A year later, in February 2015, Conrad pitched her ideas to the sharks. As soon as she was able to promote the episode (two weeks before the actual air date), Boobypack's traffic and sales started to climb. But before we dive into the specifics of Shark Tank's impact on her business, I wanted to understand what motivated Conrad to apply to begin with.
Why Shark Tank?
Previous Shark Tank contestants estimate that ABC gets flooded with more than 50,000 applications every season. Only 100 or so of these applicants are chosen and filmed. And then, even after an entrepreneur has filmed their pitch, they're not guaranteed a spot on an episode.
So how did Conrad decide to be on the show? Turns out, it wasn't exactly her idea. "I decided to send in my application after my aunts and uncles badgered me about it for months," she told me. "They are obsessed with the show and were convinced I'd do well on it."
Conrad was skeptical. "I thought I would get torn to shreds. Even though I'm happy with what I've accomplished with Boobypack, it's still a small company -- and while I'm scrappy and determined, I'm still inexperienced."
She had a point: Entrepreneurs who go on Shark Tank unprepared can actually find the publicity hurts their business in some ways. Mike Hartwick, Founder and CEO of Surfset Fitness, said being on the show propelled his brand so quickly that it took his team six months to handle the regular demand they have now. "The exposure is good and bad," he said. "When that many people see your product, it invites a lot of business you're probably not set up to deliver on."
As a first-time CEO and the lone employee at her company -- a "one-woman show," as she calls it -- Conrad was in a prime position to face similar challenges if she saw a major spike in demand. So how exactly did her appearance on Shark Tank affect her business?
The Effect on Business
When up to ten million people watch you pitch your business on TV, conventional wisdom says you're probably going to see some sort of effect on your business. Viewers curious about your company are probably checking you out online, following you on social media, and maybe even buying your products. (True story: I bought a smiley-faced cleaning utensil called a Scrub Daddy from Home Depot within a week of seeing their follow-up Shark Tank episode.)
So I asked Conrad about the results she's seen since her episodeaired.
"We saw an insane spike [in web traffic] throughout that first weekend, and it's still ongoing," she told me. "Daily traffic now is 10X what it was before the show."
But has that web traffic translated to sales? A resounding yes.
"We sold $2,000 of product within the first two minutes of my pitch airing," Conrad told me. "By the end of the show, I was hugging all my family members as we watched the numbers climb. And since then, sales have kept up. Our baseline so far is about 5X what it was before the show. A lot of people have asked me to tell them exact numbers but my advisor, Barbara, says I should only tell people exact figures if they're interested in investing!"
When I asked her how she was handling the spike in demand, she admitted it was a lot of work, and she ends up being glued to her computer most of the day. But she says she couldn't be happier.
"I've set Boobypack up so that it's possible for it to be a one-woman gig for a while. I use Shipwire in LA to warehouse and ship Boobypacks. Their system is linked up with Shopify, my ecommerce platform, so fulfillment is streamlined and automated. I use Revfluence to get Instagram celebrities to come to me so I don't have to spend my days searching and seeding. There are so many companies out there that simplify things for small business owners -- and HubSpot readers should know about them. Sprucemail, AdRoll, Jirafe, BounceExchange, and QuickBooks are ones I use daily. Without them, I would never have been able to handle and capitalize on the increased traffic from Shark Tank."
The sudden spike in demand and sales is definitely the norm with Shark Tank businesses. Tracy Noonan, who founded Wicked Good Cupcakes and partnered with venture capitalist Kevin O'Leary after her appearance on the show, called Shark Tank a "million-dollar commercial." Turns out, one million doesn't even do it justice. Phoenix-based entrepreneur TJ Hale, who produces the "Shark Tank Podcast," told Business Insiderthat many veterans agree being on the show is worth "somewhere between $4 and $5 million in marketing exposure."
It's no secret that that exposure is a major incentive for entrepreneurs to apply for a spot on the show -- but is it the main reason? Or is getting a bid on Shark Tank really the "holy grail" because you have the chance to add a strategic investor?
I asked Conrad her opinion. "I think the two go hand in hand," she answered. "It's the kind of airtime a startup like mine would never be able to afford, but it's also an extremely respected show with some heavy hitter investors. The entire time you're on set filming, the producers make it very clear that entrepreneurs who are only seeking publicity will not do well in the tank. However, no one there can say that the thought of millions of viewers seeing your product isn't an appealing one."
With the help of her new partnership with Corcoran, Conrad will get the best of both worlds: exposure and a hefty investment. But it'll be interesting to see whether the spike in web traffic and sales is sustainable over the coming weeks and months.
But on the off chance these major spikes are ephemeral, there's something to be said about how being on the show helps young businesses garner more brand awareness. Scrub Daddy, the cleaning utensil I mentioned early that appeared in Season Four (and whose CEO Aaron Krause received a bid from "Queen of QVC" Lori Greiner), has been called the most successful product in Shark Tank history. Krause says the credibility his product got from Shark Tank is "incredible. It's brand recognition. People associate us with [the show], and you get to be a quasi-celebrity."
Krause explains that, in addition to initial exposure when the show airs, ABC play re-runs all the time. "If you do well, they'll give you a follow-up episode, where they talk about your deal and how you've been doing. After the show, Walmart came to us -- we didn't go to Walmart. I couldn't even get into supermarkets before."
Conrad calls being on the show "an amazing stamp of approval." For example, a blog post she published on Boobypack's website, which Conrad called "CC's Shark Tank Survival Guide," was picked up by Fortune Magazine the same day it was originally published. "I think our product interests people, but I know a lot of people will pay attention to it now mostly because we got a deal on Shark Tank," says Conrad. "And I'm perfectly OK with that."
In addition to credibility, the exposure has also helped brands open up to new audiences. Noonan of Wicked Good Cupcakes recounts, "[Shark Tank] exposed us to a huge market that we wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise."
Conrad has been thinking about these potential new markets since being on the show, too. "After airing, I've realized how many different markets there are for Boobypack," she told me. "Our target audience is still active, music-loving women with a sense of humor. But after Shark Tank, I'm going to make much more of an effort to get Boobypacks in from of moms, travelers, and athletes as well as festival-going twenty-somethings."
You can start to see the transition in the material posted on Boobypack's Instagram account, @boobypack. In 2013, Conrad featured women wearing Boobypacks mostly at concerts and music festivals. This year, she's started posting more and more pictures showing Boobypacks in a wider breadth of contexts, like on hikes or in tennis matches.
"My favorite part has definitely been the outpouring of supportive emails I've received," Conrad told me. "I've had people reach out to me with really smart marketing ideas, from selling Boobypacks on cruise ships -- since you always have to have your room key with you -- to marketing them to people with diabetes, as it's a perfect vessel for insulin pumps.
"And I've had people reach out to just say congratulations and that they're rooting for me. These emails have put a smile on my face for the past few weeks."
When I asked her whether she'll begin expanding her team in the coming months, she said, "Yes, definitely. The first person I hire is going to be someone to help me out with customer service, as that's taking up a big chunk of my time now. It will be hard but necessary when it comes time to hand over the reins. I'm a bit addicted to emailing and chatting with customers at the moment."
And I'm confident that that focus on and dedication to customer service as a CEO will play a big role in Conrad's success going forward.
There is, of course, a difficult road ahead of Conrad as she continues her marketing efforts and building her young business. And while having a self-made billionaire on her side will certainly give her a leg up in growing her brand (and her career), it'll be up to her to take Boobypack from a one-woman show to a multi-million dollar company.
Originally published Mar 13, 2015 6:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017