The 10 Secrets to the Perfect Shark Tank Pitch
By Vanessa Van Edwards
Science of People
What’s the secret to the perfect Shark Tank pitch? At the Science of People, we decided to find out.
495 entrepreneurs have pitched in the Shark Tank—253 of these teams got deals and 242 did not. What’s the difference?
We analyzed each and every one of the 495 pitches looking for patterns. We found there were distinct—and learnable differences between successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs. This report outlines exactly what we can learn from the ‘yes’ deals and what we want to avoid from the ‘no’ deals to make our own pitches more effective.
What do the sharks look for in a pitch? How about in an entrepreneur? It turns out the success of your deal on Shark Tank isn’t just about your idea.
We found that there are indicators of success for entrepreneurs who are more likely to get a ‘yes’ from the sharks. As a viewer, it’s fun to watch for these cues. As a pitcher, it’s essential to know how to use these cues.
We discovered pitch deal makers that drastically increased an entrepreneurs success rate. We also found a deal breaker—a simple flub that destroyed an entrepreneur’s chance of getting a yes. We put these into 10 specific tactics successful entrepreneurs can use to get their own yes. Successful pitches were more effective in 10 ways:
We break down exactly how each successful pitch showcased these characteristics and how you can use them too.
If you’re like me, you watch Shark Tank and try to guess which entrepreneurs are going to land a deal. Sometimes you are shocked to see who gets turned down and other times you feel like you knew from the moment they walked through the door.
When I first started watching Shark Tank, I couldn’t help but notice that there were very similar products, but some got deals and others didn’t. Here are some examples:
- ZipZ (S6, Ep. 11) and Copa Di Vino (S2, Ep. 1) both pitched companies that produce single-serving cups of wine. ZipZ’s founder made one of the biggest deals in Shark Tank history with Kevin O’Leary. Copa Di Vino pitched in the tank twice and never got a deal.
- Magic Moments (S5, Ep. 9) and Groove Book (S5, Ep. 13) are both services that turn your social media pictures into printed photos. Groove Book got multiple offers and made a deal with Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary—and was recently acquired by Shutterfly for 14.5 million! Magic Moments got no offers.
- Rufflebutts (S5, Ep. 5) and Squeeky Knees (S5, Ep. 19) are both children’s clothing companies that were pitched by parents. Rufflebutts got offers from multiple sharks and made a deal with Lori. Squeeky Knees got no offers.
- Wicked Good Cupcakes (S4, Ep. 22) and Blondie’s Cookies (S3, Ep. 11) are both baked goods companies run by women. Wicked Good Cupcakes got a deal, Blondie’s Cookies didn’t.
These products were all strikingly similar, but had very different results. This all boils down to the pitch. How does each entrepreneur frame their product for the sharks? We examined each pitch to find the patterns.
Our findings surprised us and busted some common myths about the tank.
Myth #1: Never Step Out of the Tank
Kevin O’Leary is famous for warning entrepreneurs not to step out of the pitch session to call a loved one or discuss a deal. He often says, “Bad things happen when you leave the Shark Tank.” We found that O’Leary is wrong.
- 43 of the 253 total ‘yes’ deals stepped out of the tank (17%)
- Only 13 of the 242 total ‘no’ deals stepped out (5%)
Bottom Line: More successful pitchers stepped out of the tank—don’t be afraid to ask for more time.
Myth #2: Don’t Cry!
Most people think that crying makes you look weak or underprepared. Corcoran once told a sniffling female entrepreneur: “You got to give up this crying stuff, the minute a woman cries you are giving up your power.” However, crying didn’t seem to break a deal. A total of 29 entrepreneurs have cried in the tank. Surprisingly, more successful entrepreneurs have cried than unsuccessful ones.
- 19 out of 253 total successful entrepreneurs cried (8%)
- 10 out of 242 unsuccessful entrepreneurs cried (4%)
Bottom Line: While it is certainly not recommended, crying won’t kill your deal.
Myth #3: Opposites Attract
We like to think that opposites attract, but actually the more similar an entrepreneur was to a shark, the more likely they were to get a deal. Some sharks would actually say something like “I see myself in you” or “You remind me of myself.” When you hear this—it’s a positive sign!
Now that we have busted some myths, let’s look at the patterns we can learn from.
Note: We only see a small portion of an entire pitch on Shark Tank. So what we end up seeing in an episode is heavily edited. Obviously, we were only able to code what is actually shown on screen. Even though we were not able to see the entire pitch, we were still able to glean fascinating patterns—especially because every pitch shows the entrepreneur’s grand entrance and the first 30-seconds of their pitch. We relied heavily upon that area since it was shown in almost every pitch.
10 Pitch Tips You Can Use From Shark Tank:
We found that the sharks were looking for specific cues from an entrepreneur to know if they wanted to take a bite out of the deal. Here’s what they were looking for:
- Sharks invested in 22 people ‘when they saw themselves’
- 9% of ‘yes’ deals had this shark attraction, while only 2% of ‘no’ deals did
Bottom Line: Appeal to the person you are pitching by showcasing your similarities.
Many Shark Tank watchers believe that the charisma of an entrepreneur matters more than anything else. While charisma is essential, the actual deal breaker is:
No matter how charismatic an entrepreneur was, if they didn’t know their math, had fuzzy numbers or asked for an unreasonable equity split then the deal was almost twice as likely to fail.
- 64% of ‘no’ deals had some kind of math problem.
- Only 32% of ‘yes’ deals had some kind of math problem.
Bottom Line: Know your numbers!
Math problems were such a deal breaker that we could only use pitches that didn’t have math problems for the rest of the data to see any patterns. If you don’t make it past this first tip, nothing else seems to matter!
One thing that we analyzed was each entrepreneur’s grand entrance—you know, that long walk down the aquarium-paneled hallway and their greeting to the sharks once they stepped on the carpet. We watched the entrepreneurs body language and found that the most important thing an entrepreneur could do was:
Nod & Smile
The entrepreneurs who smiled broadly and then nodded at the sharks before starting their pitch were much more likely to have a successful interaction. In fact, the smile and nod almost doubled the chances of getting a ‘yes’ no matter the combination. This is because a smile and nod is a very polite way of nonverbally signaling friend not foe. We like to work with friendly, agreeable people. This was an easy and immediate way an entrepreneur could show off warmth.
- 14% of ‘yes’ deals had the nod, while only 7% of ‘no’ deals had the nod.
- 45% of successful entrepreneurs smiled while walking in, only 21% of unsuccessful entrepreneurs did.
- The few entrepreneurs who both smiled and nodded were 9% more likely to get a deal.
Shark Robert Herjavec said that starting strong is incredibly important:
“If you don’t get our attention, if you don’t sell us on you at the beginning, it doesn’t really matter what happens afterwards. I don’t think there’s ever been an investment where we’re like, ‘Man, hate that person. Really boring person. Well let’s give them money.’ That’s the first thing we look at.”
Check out these photos of Lani Lazzari from Simple Sugars in Season 4, Episode 20 who nods and smiles right as she walks into the tank. Cuban is seen smiling back…and he was her investor in the end:
Bottom Line: Boost your first impression with a hello, smile and nod.
Special Note: We also rated entrepreneurs on their smiling throughout the entire pitch on a 1 to 5 scale. We did this based on frequency and broadness of smiles. For example, fake smiles got a lower rating. Smiling throughout the pitch was only moderately helpful. ‘Yes’ deals had an average rating of 2.15 for their smile, while ‘no’ deals had an average rating of 1.75 for their smile—not a big enough difference to matter much, but still interesting!
Taste our sauce! Try our hat! Touch our fabric! Play our game! Another aspect we calculated was the amount of pitches that involved some kind of product interaction or entrepreneur and shark contact. We hypothesized that interaction would prove important because it got the sharks physically involved in the pitch. When you can touch an idea or taste a product, it becomes far more powerful. Some entrepreneurs even created an interaction when they didn’t have a tangible product by asking a shark to participate in the pitch or guess an answer. We calculated all of these differences:
- 81% of successful deals had some kind of interaction
- The top three kinds of interaction were examining the product (55%), consuming the product (21%) or participating in the pitch (13%)
Bottom Line: Involve people in your pitch.
Here is an example of how Kisstixx in Season 3, Episode 7 gave an interactive pitch. These entrepreneurs had O’Leary and Corcoran participate in their lip balm demo creating a humor moment as well:
Bottom Line: Get your investors to kiss. No, I am totally joking. Don’t do that. But do try to make your pitch interactive.
Every shark loves a good story! Most of the successful pitches had some kind of story—either the entrepreneur’s personal story or the story of how the product was invented. Stories captivate our imagination. Research has found that as we listen to a story our brain actually syncs up with the storyteller. So if an entrepreneur tells a story about eating ice cream, the sharks’ brains light up as if they are eating ice cream. It’s a way that we bond with people. And successful pitchers wanted the sharks to feel bonded to their ideas so they would invest!
- 58% of successful deals had a story
Kevin O’Leary was asked about the secrets to a successful Shark Tank pitch. His #1 tip? Tell a great story:
“Each pitch must tell a story about money: the lack of it, the need for it and how it can be made. As a born marketer and salesman, I tell my employees all the time: if you cannot tell the story and put your prospective customer into the narrative of our financial products, you will fail. Good TV is no different from good storytelling…Oh and you better be able to get your story out in less than 90 seconds, or you can pack your bags because my money’s already looking somewhere else.”
Bottom Line: Share your story!
The perfect example of this is the Bottle Breacher pitch in Season 6, Episode 8. He came with a military background and family story behind the idea…the Sharks ate it up!
As we mentioned above, making yourself relatable can give you a helpful edge with a shark. The easiest way to do this was using your story to be captivating #4 and pointing out similarities with a shark. Some entrepreneurs actually said, “Like you Damon…” or “I did the same thing as you Mark…” This helped! Sharks like investing in people like them.
Mark Cuban called 16-year-old founder Benjamin Stern “Mini Me” when he pitched his bottle-less bath company Nohbo in Season 7, Episode 19. Cuban gave him $100,000 in exchange for 25% equity.
- 9% of ‘yes’ deals had a shark who said they ‘saw themselves’ in the entrepreneur
- When you look at deals broken down by gender we see this:
- Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran have invested in exactly the same number of women: 31. However, Corcoran has a higher percentage—more of her deals are with women.
- Lori Greiner, despite saying she is the queen of investing in women actually invested in less women deals than Barbara. Additionally, the majority of her deals were with men.
Bottom Line: Make you and your pitch relevant.
Our Shark Tank research was covered in Entrepreneur! Watch the story here:
The other aspect we wanted to examine was something called the Pique Technique. This is a principle in psychology that says humans prefer anything out of the ordinary. A team of clever researchers in the 1990s hired an actor to beg for money on the street. He had three different versions of his ask:
- “Can you spare any change?” 44% effective
- “Can you spare a quarter?” 64% effective
- “Can you spare 37 cents?” 75% effective
We wondered if this would work in the Tank. If an entrepreneur adds a unique request or does something bizarre in their pitch—does it catch the shark’s attention? First of all, many entrepreneurs tried something unique (I am sure at the push of the producers—the Pique Technique makes great television).
- 270 out of 495 deals used some kind of Pique Technique
- 63% successful pitches used the Pique Technique
The Cycloramic pitch in Season 5, Episode 16 had an inventor that created an app that used the vibrations of a phone to make it spin on its own in 360 degrees and capture a panorama:
Bottom Line: Try something different to capture attention in your pitch!
We wanted to know if successful entrepreneurs used confidence cues more. We typically signal confidence as humans with our posture and stance. So first, we rated each entrepreneur on their ‘power stance’ on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 was given to very low power posers—entrepreneurs who crossed their arms or stood in bad posture. 5 was given to entrepreneurs who took up a lot of space and who had a relaxed, upright posture.
- Successful entrepreneurs had an average 98 rating for their power stance.
- Unsuccessful entrepreneurs had an average rating of 83 for their power stance.
This didn’t make or break entrepreneurs, but it certainly helped entrepreneurs get the ‘yes’.
High Power Example: Ryan the Cowboy from ‘Lose 12 Inches in 12 Workouts’ (S4, Ep. 19), Nate from ‘The Mission Belt’ (S4, Ep. 22), and Josh and Diane from ‘The Red Dress Boutique’ (S6, Ep. 5):
Low Power Example: Legal Grind (S1, Ep. 13), TriMi Tank (S3, Ep. 12), Fort Magic (S5, Ep. 25):
Bottom Line: Stand strong, stand calm.
Humans also signal their self-assurance with their vocal power. We rated entrepreneur’s vocal power on a 1 to 5 scale. Entrepreneurs who got a 1 had higher-pitched, monotone or squeaky voices—showing high anxiety. Entrepreneurs who got a 5 had a relaxed, consistent vocal tone without cracks or breaks.
- Successful entrepreneurs had an average 23 rating for their vocal power rating.
- Unsuccessful entrepreneurs had an average rating of 93 for their power stance.
Vocal power is one of the hardest techniques we recommend in this report. We encourage our students to use breath to keep their voice nice and steady. We noticed that when entrepreneurs got especially nervous in the tank, they ran out of air and their voice cracked. Before going into a pitch, practice it nice and slow with choreographed pauses—these pauses give you a chance to take a deep breath and slow down.
Bottom Line: Speak slow, speak low.
These are great examples of a high vocal power pitches:
- I Want to Draw A Cat for You (S3, Ep. 2)
- BeatBox Beverages (S6, Ep. 6)
- Scrub Daddy (S4, Ep. 7)
If you want to check out some great examples of some low vocal power pitch, look at:
- Ionic Ear (S1, Ep. 1)
- The Sullivan Generator (S3, Ep. 11)
- Sticky Note Holder (S1, Ep. 2)
You will probably not be surprised to learn that using humor pays off for entrepreneurs. We counted what we call ‘humor moments’ during each pitch. These were moments where either the entrepreneur told a joke, the group laughed or people smiled. Not all of these moments had flat out belly laughter—we counted the lighter moments where humor was attempted and got some response. These humor moments were more frequent in the successful pitches:
- Successful pitches had an average of 2.15 humor moments
- Unsuccessful pitches had an average of 1.93 humor moments
This is a great example of humor moments during:
- Broccoli Wad in Season 2, Episode 4 had celebrity spokesperson Vinny Pastore from the Sopranos who shared a flirtatious exchange with Corcoran. She eventually cut a deal with Vinny instead of the original founder of the idea. Corcoran had already stepped out but came back in after the deal was rearranged and a couple laughs were exchanged.
Bottom Line: Bring in the humor to lighten the mood and boost your pitch.
The last thing we took note of was if an entrepreneur told a hero’s journey. The hero’s journey is a concept coined by American scholar Joseph Campbell. Campbell argued that we are drawn to a hero’s struggle, call to adventure and success. Our most famous characters, novels and movies follow the hero’s journey—think of Odysseus or Nancy Drew. Many entrepreneurs in the Tank also have this success story:
Step #1: Call to adventure to start a business
Step #2: Struggle to make ends meet, get the business off the ground
Step #3: Success point or breakthrough
We wondered if sharks would find this journey appealing and be drawn to invest in these entrepreneurs. We were right:
- 21% of successful entrepreneurs told a hero’s journey tale in their pitch
- Only 5% of unsuccessful entrepreneurs did
Mr. Todd of Mr. Todd’s Pie Factory in Season 1, Episode 1 is a great example of a hero’s journey. You can also check out Aldo Orta Jewelry (S2, Ep. 9), Mee Ma’s Louisiana Gumbo Brick (S4, Ep. 23) and the Tom + Chee (S4, Ep. 26) pitches.
Bottom Line: Take people on your journey.
The Top Deals of All Time:
What happens after an entrepreneur gets the deal? We looked at ten of the best businesses to come out of Shark Tank based on an analysis by Forbes. We wanted to know if the best businesses long-term used similar strategies during their pitch as we’ve outlined in this report. Here’s the list of the highest earning businesses facilitated by Shark Tank deals:
The top ten businesses all pitched in Seasons 3-6, with the oldest idea pitched in 2012. Here’s how they ranked on our tips:
- Credibility – 70% had no math problems
We know from our research that entrepreneurs with math problems in their pitch are far less likely to get the deal. This shows that the most successful businesses after Shark Tank had clear and accurate math in their pitches.
- Agreeableness – 50% smiles
Entrepreneurs who smiled during their pitch make up half of the most successful businesses. We know that when entrepreneurs smile upon entrance to the Tank, they are more likely to get the deal.
- Interactive – 70% had some kind of interaction
81% of all successful deals had some kind of interaction and the top businesses were no exception. The majority of these pitches included some kind of interaction with the sharks.
- Captivating – 30% told a captivating story
We found that most successful pitches included some kind of story—an experience or personal anecdote told by the entrepreneur. 30% of the best businesses told a captivating story in their pitch.
- Relevant – 90% had gender relevance
A huge majority of the top businesses saw gender relevance in their pitch meaning the entrepreneur and the shark who made the deal were the same gender.
- Entertaining – 70% used a pique technique
The Pique Technique is when an entrepreneur includes something bizarre, unusual or unique in their pitch. We found that when an entrepreneur included some sort of ‘oddity,’ he or she was more likely to get the deal. And no exception for the top businesses—most used the Pique Technique in their original pitch.
- Confident – 90% had an above average power stance
To gain trust and respect from the sharks, you gotta’ look the part! Almost every top business had a strong power stance during their pitch. Remember, to get the deal, stand strong.
- Powerful – 80% had an above average vocal power
Entrepreneurs with a low, calm voice tone were more likely to get deals than their high, nervous voice tone counterparts. The same is true for our top businesses—80% had above average vocal power.
- Funny – 40% had above average funny moments
Incorporating humor in a pitch can definitely play to the entrepreneur’s advantage. A little under half of the top businesses made sharks laugh during their initial pitch.
- Inspirational – 20% had a hero’s journey
Entrepreneurs who shared their story of idea to failure to growth often sparked the ears (and wallets) of the sharks. 20% of the top businesses shared their own hero’s journey during their pitch.
It’s Not Just the Idea:
You are just as important as your idea. If you show up confident and powerful with an inspiring, entertaining story and make the people laugh and relate to you, then you are much more likely to succeed. Veteran shark Barbara Corcoran believes in the power of the entrepreneur:
“I always pick the jockey over the horse. Every successful investment I’ve made so far has a great entrepreneur pushing it. If the idea or model is wrong, I can fix it, but if the entrepreneur is a clunker, I lose money.”
Daymond John also believes in the power of the pitch:
“I will always say it: You are never going to come up with anything new in the world. You’re gonna only come up with a new form of delivery or a new angle. We invest in people, no matter what.”
Whether you are pitching a new business or sharing your elevator pitch, use the 10 pitch techniques we learned from Shark Tank to hook people in.
Our Shark Tank research has been featured by:
*Be sure to read more about our coverage in these links!
Vanessa Van Edwards is a behavioral investigator and published author. She figures out the science of what makes people tick at her human behavior research lab, the Science of People. As a geeky, modern-day Dale Carnegie, her innovative work has been featured on NPR, Business Week and CNN.
José Piña is one of our Science of People researchers and a certified Body Language Trainer. He likes the idea of combining solid research with modern examples to give you fresh, up to date tips and skills. All experiments are executed with the ambition to find out how and why do humans function and how the results can benefit you.
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