Imagine coming up with one simple great idea, and finally getting it off the ground. Then imagine facing a lineup of millionaire entrepreneurs on national television and delivering a short and compelling two-minute pitch, or risk walking away with your tail tucked between your legs. After appearing on the TV show Shark Tank, Sara Margulis and her husband Josh (of the highly successful app Honeyfund), landed an investment from Kevin O’Leary for their online crowd gifting site for all of life’s occasions called Plumfund.
I recently interviewed Sara for the LEADx Podcast, where she opened up about her time on Shark Tank and gave her greatest advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Swimming with the sharks
When Sara Margulis and her husband walked towards Kevin O’Leary (ironically nicknamed “Mr. Wonderful”), and the rest of the Shark Tank cast, they weren’t entirely sure what to expect.
“You don’t meet the Sharks at all before you go in,” she recalls, “They’ve never heard of you unless they’ve used the site which, in our case, a couple of the Sharks had actually given gifts on Honeyfund before. You walk in and you give your two-minute rehearsed pitch and then the questions start flying. Oh, boy. Do they really fly.”
Sara and her husband Josh already had a great product. Their app Honeyfund had been conceived a few years prior, and at this point had already gained traction. Aimed at couples sourcing funds from family and friends for their honeymoon, it was inspired by their own experience with wedding planning; “We had everything we needed for our wedding and for our home but we didn’t really have a lot left over for the honeymoon, so we started Honeyfund to make our dream honeymoon happen.” After they received the necessary funds for their dream vacation to Fiji, they knew they had something special.
While their app was already generating buzz, that didn’t stop the nerves once they stepped onto the Shark Tank stage. But Sara came prepared. “My pre-work before I went in was, ‘I’m going to pick a Shark that I feel comfortable talking to, and if I get overwhelmed at all, I’ll just focus on that person,’ and that person for me was Barbara Corcoran.” Their pitch session lasted an hour, which they considered lucky, as some pitches can take upwards of three hours.
“We got an offer from Robert first. It was a terrible offer. I think I rolled my eyes on public television. Then we had Barbara who countered, which was great because I felt like my person is here and she’s supporting us. She complimented us. Meanwhile Mark Cuban was rolling his eyes at some of the things we were saying. Then Kevin comes out with this really incredible offer. It was no equity and it was basically a loan for the amount that we were looking for with a three times pay back and then he goes away. We thought, ‘Wow.’ We’d watched several episodes of the show at that point. Even Mark Cuban said on the episode, ‘I can’t believe Kevin offered that good of a deal. I’ve never heard of that before.’ My husband was incredulous.”
The value of honesty
The couple accepted the deal, and were taken under the wing of Kevin O’Leary, which of course came with some brutal but necessary honesty. But as Sara sees it: “If you can’t take criticism from anyone, much less someone who has your best interest at heart, you really should second guess becoming an entrepreneur at all.” This was one of Sara’s greatest lessons, and one all entrepreneurs of aspiring business-owners should accept as gospel. If someone offers constructive criticism, even painfully honest criticisms, but they are genuinely invested in helping you succeed, then it may be time to pay attention.
According to Sara the real key to successful and sustained entrepreneurship is all on the inside. This came to light when she spoke at Inc.’s Women Summit, where the founder of Spanx, Sara Blakely, discussed her ritual of ‘pre-work.’ ‘Pre-work’ refers to working on inner strength and self-esteem, acknowledging that you need to feel fortified before venturing into the dog-eat-dog world of entrepreneurship. Sara recommends first identifying your own strengths, and acknowledging that failure is a consistent and important part of attaining your goals.
“I would say that if there’s one thing someone who’s thinking about going into entrepreneurship should do, it’s to really do that inner work,” she advises, “Do that daily practice of reminding yourself that failure is important on the path to success. Because you’re going to get beat up. Entrepreneurs get beat up every single day. We get beat up by external forces. We get beat up by our failures. We get beat up by the things that our parents and our friends tell us and we get beat up mostly by our own selves.”