We interviewed Ben Zvaifler, CEO at PupBox. On Season 8 of Shark Tank, Ben accepted a $250,000 offer from Robert Herjavec. PupBox is a startup that changes the way people raise puppies by delivering toys, treats, accessories and training information to new puppy parents every month.
Talked about: How entrepreneurs can get on the show, what the sharks are like off-camera, working with Robert Herjavec, the “Shark Tank Effect”, and starting a subscription box company.
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LawTrades: So let’s start with the obvious. What was it like to be on Shark Tank? Any tips you can share for entrepreneurs looking to make it on the show?
Ben: It was one of those things that is terrifying leading up to it, and then really fun after it’s over. Pitching the sharks is intimidating in and of itself, but when you factor in all of the bright lights, cameras, producers chattering in the background, it really takes your nerves to the next level. On top of everything that was going on, I totally messed up our walk through with the producers the day before, so I was pretty nervous. But once the big doors opened and Ariel and I hit our spot and started the pitch everything else faded away. We had a really great conversation with the Sharks, it was very casual and the sharks were yelling at each other throughout the whole thing. It was a total worldwind, but it was really fun.
As far as tips for entrepreneurs looking to get on the show, if you make to the second phase of the application process my best piece of advice would be to make a really engaging video. The video is used to capture the producers attention. At the end of the day the producers are looking for entrepreneurs and companies that play well for TV. It is really important that your video shows that you are a dynamic and interesting entrepreneur. It also helps if you promise to bring puppies on set!
LawTrades: We’re glad you made it out alive! And congrats on getting Robert Herjavec as an investor. What is it like working with him off-camera?
Ben: Working with team Herjavec has been great. The value of an investor like Robert, or any Shark for that matter, is their hands on approach. For example we didn’t focus any of our customer acquisition efforts around PR prior to Shark Tank. It simply wasn’t part of our growth plan. But since the show, Robert and his team have opened a ton of new doors and made intros to the right people in the media. With their help we are planning more media appearances and writeups in 2017 that will really help us scale.
LawTrades: That’s a pretty good value add. So although the pitch was edited to about 10-15 minutes, how long did your pitch really last?
Ben: The pitch lasted almost an hour. We knew it would be cut down to about 12 minutes or so, but seeing what they decided to keep vs. what they decided to cut was pretty strange. They kept a lot of the Sharks arguing and yelling at each other about the deal. That sort of thing definitely makes for good TV, but unfortunately they cut a lot of our story, the major differentiators of our business, and our metrics. They also chop the pitch up to make it more dramatic. When it aired Cuban went “Out” first. Ariel and I looked at each other when we watched it and were like, that’s not what happened. When we were pitching we had already received an offer from all of the other Sharks, and Laurie was trying to come in on Damon’s offer before Cuban went out. When he went out he also said to us,
We thought that was a funny line and we were hoping it would make it in, but it didn’t play into the storyline they created for airing I guess.
LawTrades: That’s hilarious. Would’ve loved to see that. According to Google, nearly 8 million people watch Shark Tank every week. What was the “Shark Tank Effect” like? Did Pupbox gain a lot of subscribers?
Ben: We definitely saw a huge boost in traffic and acquired several hundred new subscribers from the show. It was also really good timing for us because we aired the weekend before Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Shark Tank helped us maximize all of the buying and gifting taking place around the holidays.
I think prior to the airing though I was personally a bit too caught up in the “Shark Tank Effect”. We did a lot to prep for the airing to maximize the value of the traffic, leads, etc. and we expected it to totally transform the business. In hindsight though it has become very clear that any big event like Shark Tank is an awesome opportunity, but at the end of the day it doesn’t replace a solid growth strategy. Testing new acquisition channels, measuring results, and systemizing the channels that work will always trump a one time pop in sales. In a way, Shark Tank helped us get back to these basics and say,
LawTrades: How did you come to the valuation of your company when pitching to the Sharks?
Ben: This was a tough one. Coming out of 500 Startups we definitely had a valuation in mind that was much higher than the one we used on the show. When we were moving through the long application process we did our homework and watched a ton of Shark Tank episodes. There were two mistakes that almost always got entrepreneurs laughed out of The Tank. The first was not knowing your metrics, and the second was coming in with an inflated valuation. We wanted to work with a Shark, we wanted to get a deal on air, and we definitely did NOT want to get laughed out of the tank. So we bit the bullet and decided to go with the same valuation we received from 500 Startups (about $2.5 Million). It was lower than what we wanted, but because we had already raised a little money at that valuation we knew we could defend it. From there it was just a negotiation and we were happy with the outcome.
LawTrades: Glad to hear it all worked out. We know Shark Tank likes to keep their contestants a secret until the show airs. You guys filmed in the summer but the episode aired in November. How difficult was it keeping the deal a secret?
Ben: It was pretty tough, and it was weird too. People would ask what we do, we would tell them we have a sweet puppy company, and 9 out of 10 times they would say “oh wow, have you considered going on Shark Tank?” Keeping it from family and friends was the hardest part, but after a couple of months we just kind of forgot about it. There is always so much stuff going on, and we didn’t know if, or when we would air. They only give you about 3 weeks notice once you have an air date, so it is kind of out of sight out of mind. They say that only about 70% of the companies who film ever air, so we were really paranoid about telling people about it and then never making it to the big screen. It was pretty anticlimactic though when I told my mom we were going to be on Shark Tank, her response was,
LawTrades: What resources would you recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to launch a subscription box company?
Ben: The best resource to tap into is other entrepreneurs who have done it before. The founders who I learned the most from were the ones who tried and failed. I think that we learn a lot from our failures, and it is sometimes easier for an entrepreneur to point to something and say “oh ya, I definitely could have done that better,” or “my biggest mistake was….” Besides learning from other entrepreneurs I would really just recommend jumping in head first. Learn by doing. You will pick it up faster and will understand your business better by trying and testing what works and what doesn’t. Every business is different, you can read 1000 articles about growth hacking a subscription business, but until you give some of the tactics a try you won’t know if they will work for you or not.
LawTrades: We were in the same batch at 500 Startups. How did pitching the Sharks compare to pitching Silicon Valley Investors during 500?
Ben: The two experiences could not have been more different. In 500 we learned a lot about pitching. What to do and say, how to take charge of a meeting and drive your “story” forward. I like to think I got pretty good at it after getting rejected by a few dozen VCs in the Valley. Well, everything we learned and practiced totally got thrown out the window when we pitched the Sharks. I mean, we started our Q&A and the Sharks literally started yelling over one another. They were launching questions at us without any rhyme or reason. I think we were asked about the price by 3 or 4 different Sharks throughout the pitch. Not to mention they each had their own personal puppy, and we had Maggie who wanted nothing more than to play with the furbabies. It was a total shit show, and it was hilarious. I don’t think the Sharks were trying to rattle us, they are just really casual, they are competitive with one another and they have fun with it. When we walked out of the Tank I turned to Ariel and asked what happened, she just shrugged and shook her head.
LawTrades: Think we’ll end it here Ben. Thanks for your time!
Ben: You got it.
PupBox is changing the way people raise their puppies. They deliver all of the toys, treats, accessories and training information a new puppy parent needs on a monthly basis. Puppyhood is hard, PupBox makes it easier. Check them out here: https://pupbox.com/