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I'm a consultant and advisor  for social enterprises - using business to change the world.

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Lessons from Shark Tank

If you’re a social entrepreneur who are looking to eventually take on investment, Shark Tank / Dragons’ Den can save you time, money and heartbreak.

There’s this weird hidden assumption that, because we’re doing something good for the world, we’ll get more advantageous investment terms.

The problem is, adding in the social component make the deal more complex, and often harder to evaluate. This does not work in your favour.

Fortunately, there is a way to learn from hundreds of entrepreneurs that have come before you. Seeing where they have failed, and why they have succeeded can help you design your pitch in a clear, engaging and persuasive way.

Best of all, it’s free. There is no reason not to watch it.

“Uh, I’ve got a reason Isaac; we’re a social enterprise, investors don’t need us to compete in the market. It’s different for us.”

Wrong. You’re not exempt from any of the questions that get thrown at normal startups.

 

Sharks want to understand who your customer is: Why they would be attracted to your product? Where will they buy it? How much will they pay? How many potential customers are out there?

Then they want to know why YOU are the person to run this. Did you invent something? Do you have a patent? Exclusive rights? What was the journey that led you here?

 

Now the numbers: How much does it cost? What does it sell for? Wholesale price and retail price? How many have you sold? How much profit has that made? How many will you sell in the coming year?

Finally, the future: Where do you want to go next? What will investment do for you? Is there another product/industry you’re looking to break into?

 

Exactly which of those questions do you think you’re immune to? These are the perfect questions to ask a company looking to grow, irrespective of your legal structure or profit motivation. These are some of the best investors in the world, they know what they’re doing.

When you watch a lot of episodes in a short space of time, you see the patterns emerge in their questions. I see three clusters start to appear.

1. The sharks want to understand what business you’re in, and gauge if it’s a good business to be in. They also want to see why you’re the right person to take their investment.

2. The sharks want to see that you know the important numbers. They want to be reassured that there are good margins, as this keeps their investment alive.

3. Finally, the sharks are deciding whether or not they can participate. They ask about the entrepreneurs vision for the future, and think about what they would do if they were an investor (mentoring, networking, scaling etc)

 

Once you pass all three rounds, then we hit valuation; how much is the company worth, and how much do I want to own? Keep in mind, this question is a bit of a luxury. Don’t stress about it yet, focus first on building a business that can survive the earlier questions.

 

Your social impact is important, just not more important than the questions above. The show has social enterprises on occasionally, and the shark’s assessment is perfect: I love the story, I want to help, I can’t justify it if there’s an issue with the business model.

 

Learn from the questions they ask. Copy what impresses them. Avoid the traps that sink entrepreneurs, and give yourself the best chance of success. 

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