Shark Tank's Lori Greiner on Surviving the Turbulent Waters (and Sharks) of Entrepreneurship
I had the opportunity to sit with Lori after a panel discussion at Staples in New York City, where they debuted the selection of Shark Tank products that will be featured in select stores. Lori shared with me the experience of working with the entrepreneurs she's invested in and tips on what it takes to survive the turbulent waters of entrepreneurship.
There are no shortcuts for the entrepreneurs that Lori invests in; that is evidently apparent. While there may be an initial boost in brand awareness due to their appearance on the show, that can be very short lived - serving only as a spark that ignites a very long wick that leads to success. It's how the entrepreneurs continue to fan the flame, through not just hustle - but smart hustle - that eventually leads them to the success they desire. Jeff Simon, inventor and co-founder of Drop Stop, one of the companies that Lori invested in during Season 4, summed it up perfectly: "What happens immediately after the show isn't sustainable unless you get to work."
And go to work they do - with the help of their new mentor who has dedicated herself to helping them maneuver the entrepreneurial road without hitting too many potholes and speed bumps.
So what does Lori look for in companies that come before her in the Shark Tank? There are four questions that she asks of every product:
- Is this something that the market wants or needs?
- Does this product appeal to a mass audience?
- Can this product be made at a competitive price?
- Is the product unique - or just another 'me too'?
If the product hits the mark on all four questions, it's then all about the entrepreneur.
Smart Hustle Magazine: You claim to know immediately if a product is a 'Zero or a Hero'. Can you also intuitively tell if an entrepreneur has got 'it' or not when they are standing in front of you and what specifically are you looking for?
Greiner: I think so! I try to because I think they are intricately important. I think there is no great product without also having a great entrepreneur behind it, because if one is bad the other isn’t going to work well for me. As for what I'm looking for in the entrepreneur, I look to see if that person is driven, passionate, motivated, ethical, honest, has good integrity, organized. Do they have their stuff down? Do they appear to be hard working. All of these are important to make a good partner.
Here is some more great [edited] advice from our one-on-one discussion with Lori:
Smart Hustle Magazine: How do you define 'Smart Hustle'?
Greiner: Moving as fast as you can... but wisely.
Smart Hustle Magazine: You think that one of the most costly mistakes entrepreneurs make when starting out is overspending and believe that they should instead stay 'mean and lean'. This includes hiring a bunch of employees they don't need. This contrasts what fellow Shark Tank investor, Mark Cuban, has as one of his 12 startup rules, 'Pay up for people in your core competencies. Get the best. Outside the core competencies, hire people that fit your culture but aren't as expensive to pay'. Where is the line for an entrepreneur to take the leap and bring people in?
Greiner: It's interesting because Mark and I don't see eye to eye on that one. I respect and understand his point, but we come from different worlds. He comes from the tech space and I think there you do need a lot of other people to help you. I come more from the product space. In the product space when you are and entrepreneur or inventor creating something tangible to bring to the market, you can do a lot of these things yourself - stay lean and mean - and not hire on a big staff.
When starting out, if you can not have a big entourage of people, but outsource that's smart. Take Staples for example. Here you can get an IT department, a business loan, all of your supplies at a discount, the LinkedIn support group – all for little or no money – that’s the smartest thing you can do! Because now you are running your business and learning all the different facets. If you are going to be a good leader you must understand all aspects of your business. If you don’t learn them you can’t direct the people underneath you to be good or be strong. You really have to educate yourself. I love that grassroots, grounds up – learn it all. That’s where I come from. I had to wear every hat, even ones I didn’t like. It made me smart and it made me understand how to drive the business, get answers and make decisions.
Smart Hustle Magazine: Which company that you have invested in has demonstrated the best 'Smart Hustle'?
Greiner: Well, they are all really great – they are all my family and I love them all equally. They all have great attributes. Some have gotten very far very fast. Scrub Daddy has done 50 million in sales in 3 years and are the most successful product in Shark Tank history. He [Aaron Krause] is a hustler. He hustles, he thinks, he’s always moving. We’ve created, collectively through the team, many ‘scrub babies’ – Sponge daddy, lemon scented, colors – a number of sku’s.
The Hustler is the entrepreneur that is constantly thinking and driving and coming up with more and growing the business larger and they never sleep. They are so energized and excited – it’s their life breath – and they just keep going. I have a lot of those.
Smart Hustle Magazine: What would you tell entrepreneurs is the one big 'No-No' when pitching to an investor?
Greiner: Being rude and not listening. It happens sometimes in the "Shark Tank" that the entrepreneur comes in and they just don’t listen to what we are saying. Then it can go from bad to worse and all of a sudden the Shark gets angry because they are not being heard. That tells you that the person isn’t going to be a good partner. If you are in there, doing the pitch of your life on network TV, you should be doing the very best job that you can and being as respectful, yet passionate about your company, as you can be. If you are oblivious to the fact that you aren’t hearing anyone and listening to what they are saying, and having it be a two way street back and forth, you are showing that you won’t make a good partner.
Smart Hustle Magazine: Where do you see the biggest opportunity for today's entrepreneur?
Greiner: Opportunity is everywhere for today's entrepreneur. It’s never been better in anybody’s lifetime. I do think, though, that the Internet is a huge opportunity in one way: it doesn't cost you anything to utilize it. You can sell things through the internet with no expense to yourself. You can take orders as long as you know that you will fulfill them. It’s just – it doesn't cost anything! You can test market things and talk to people and you can interact in ways that you could never have imagined 20 years ago.
As an added bonus, we asked Lori what one question she expected, but no one asked. She told us that in her question prep, someone was going to ask her what spirit animal she was - but they never did. We are happy to tell you that Lori's spirit animal is the Owl. "Why the owl?", I asked.
"Owl's soar and are wise, fast, have a strong periphery and can multi-task. And they are cool"