The many entrepreneurs who are convinced the best kind of business exposure is free exposure can count Ryan Frankel and Kunal Sarda among the true believers.
The two new business owners headed for a gratis appearance on network television to tout their enterprise to heavy-handed investors in hopes of winning an infusion of fresh capital. According to the New York Times’ Mark Cohen, reporting in a story published June 12, what happened instead is that the appearance on ABC’s “Shark Tank” became an 8-minute commercial for their technology start-up, VerbalizeIt. And within three days of the May airing, they had added 20,000 customers to their fold, while daily revenue tripled.
Frankel, 29, and Sarda, 31, got the investment they sought, controversially turning down a bid from Mark Cuban, the renowned Dallas Mavericks owner and one of the three investor “sharks” on the show, in favor of the offer from rival “shark” Kevin O’Leary, a Canadian financier. While the blogosphere was abuzz about the duo’s snub of Cuban, who bloggers felt would bring specialized know-how to a fledgling startup offering around-the-clock, real-time translating by human translators, Frankel and Serda eventually turned down O’Leary as well, according to Cohen. Nonetheless,  the exposure proved priceless, and the advice they gained during the taping was invaluable.
“You look at where we were then and where we are now, and we’re almost an entirely different company,” Mr. Frankel told Cohen. “And a lot of that has to do with the feedback we got on ‘Shark Tank.’ ”
Frankel said the criticism and advice he and Sarda received during the taping of the show helped them reshape their business. The former classmates at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School told Cohen that once they reworked their business model, they accepted an even more lucrative offer from mentors in the Boulder, Colorado startup accelerator program they are completing.
“The segment was only eight minutes, but we were in there shooting for 50 minutes,” he said. “It was just like any intense investor meeting.”
Or like any investor meeting with an audience of millions. And the availability of, and access to, that audience is not lost on most of the entrepreneurs who appear on the show, many of whom arrive on the set having no intention of selling a piece of their business to the “sharks.”
“They say ‘yes’ on the show because it makes for a better story,” Rob Merlino, author of SharkTankBlog, told Cohen. “But they were always in it strictly for the exposure.”
Cohen, Mark. “A Small Company’s Reality Is Altered by ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’“; New York Times. 6/13/13.