Started From The Bottom: What It's Really Like To Work At A ‘Shark Tank' Company
In a young, coastal region of San Diego sits a small, unassuming showroom that shares building space with a Yogurtland, parking with a dress shop and rests about a block from the Pacific Ocean.
Tower Paddle Boards found its popularity through ABC's “Shark Tank.” The company's distinctive break from big surf company strategies, development of the “every man's” stand-up paddle board and focus on customer-first policy made it a stand out from the start.
Five weeks prior to his pitch, Tower Founder and CEO Stephan Aarstol was asked to appear on the show. In March of 2012, that pitch and Tower's subsequent funding was released on national television.
While explaining to potential investors how important stand-up paddle boarding (SUPing) would be in the coming wave of watersports entertainment, he detailed the high quality of Tower boards and cited that about an hour of SUPing is equal in activity to a full eight hours of surfing.
While surfing took considerable time and effort to build skill, paddle boarding could be introduced and mastered in 20 minutes. By the end of the episode, Aarstol accepted Mark Cuban's offer of $150K for a 30 percent stake in Tower.
In the wake of the massive amount of publicity the show provided, Tower's press grew tenfold. Publications from Forbes to Entrepreneur wanted a piece of the traffic. What started out as a modest paddle boarding company had become a known brand, and I'm now a part of that company.
While this all sounds glamorous, there are a few things fans and entrepreneurs alike should know about carrying the label of a “Shark Tank” company.
Anyone who's familiar with Tower’s “Shark Tank” episode knows that Stephan lost his words in the beginning. He's the first to acknowledge that gaffe. In a society where public speaking is scarier to most people than the thought of death, it was a veritable cringe moment.
No one would want to be stuck in front of a bunch of multi-millionaires without visual cues to help remind them what the hell they're trying to say.
Though, in all reality, it happens. This kind of moment is ubiquitous in business; it's just atypical for a snafu to be nationally televised.
So now that we've got that settled, the truth is that Stephan is one of the best leaders I've ever known.
He's generous, kind, loves his kid and has managed to stay grounded despite the fact that he's a successful serial entrepreneur. He's incredibly on top of things and can dream up plans and bring them to fruition in a way that most could never imagine.
The most important thing I've learned thus far is that being employed with a “Shark Tank” company means working for someone innovative whom you can learn from.
Forward thinking is the absolute key to success.
It's not enough to have a neat product and it may not even be enough to have a product that no one else has. The key to success on “Shark Tank,” as well as in any entrepreneurial initiative, is to develop a comprehensive plan for the future while staying flexible.
You don't need to be a seasoned vet within your chosen industry to do good business. There's a reason that prominent companies consult outside experts in a chosen field: Business is the art of getting something to sell and specialized expertise is just one component of that.
Never let anyone tell you that a goal is too lofty. Instead, sit down, brainstorm and be strategic in your methodology. By developing the paddleboard that everyone could use, Stephan broke the mold. You'll get there.
Mark Cuban is not my BFF, and he most likely will not be yours either. Sorry.
Can I call up Mark Cuban on a whim and ask him how his day was? Negative. Cuban gives Stephan his opinion on our larger decisions and has helped a lot with the continued success of the company.
He's a very accomplished, well-connected businessman and has obviously contributed a lot to Tower, but he's not in here every day starting up the coffeemaker.
There's a lot of stress and pressure involved and it bonds you.
When you're a small team dealing with the consistent stream of publicity that comes with “Shark Tank,” there is going to be stress.
While working a block from the beach doesn't hurt in the way of decompression, as a whole, we handle issues as a solid team.
Our company culture couldn't be better: We're productive, legitimately enjoy one another as people and acknowledge each other for our individual talents and strengths. As my colleague Allison says, “We're all a bunch of weirdos and it's awesome.”
On a different note, since Cuban invested in us, we've been named one of the show's Top 10 Success Stories by Entrepreneur, featured by People as one of “Shark Tank's Biggest Winners” and just a few weeks ago, we were named #1 Fastest-Growing Private Company in San Diego — all of which likely would not have been possible so early in the company's lifespan if not for “Shark Tank.”
We're not town celebrities, but we do get to attend some pretty cool events.
Sometimes people will recognize Stephan from the show, or they're locals and are therefore familiar with Tower. Other than that, we just sell great paddle boards and that's how we like it.
When Stephan is invited to events and can't make it, we go in his place and that's a lot of fun. This month, for example, we're headed to Wired magazine's Wired Café, a party for celebrity Comic-Con attendees.
If pitching your own company is a personal goal, take this insight to heart. Don't carry yourself too seriously and know that if it's something you're truly passionate about, you'll get there with or without “Shark Tank.”
Photo credit: ABC/Shark Tank
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