Seven months after filming an episode for season six of ABC’s hit television show “Shark Tank,” I finally received the email I had been waiting for: my episode had an air date, and it was only 18 days away!
My immediate thoughts were relief and terror, in that order. Relief because it was the end of an almost yearlong waiting game since producers had first contacted me with an invitation to appear on the show, and terror because I suddenly realized that I had absolutely no idea what my business—or my life—would be like in 30 days’ time.
Moments after receiving the email, I shared the “Shark Tank” news, along with my feelings of excitement and uncertainty, with a friend, Colin McGuire. After a short congratulations, he said something that resonated with me: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help over the next few weeks. Entrepreneurship is a team sport. There are lots of people who want you to succeed and will be happy to help if you ask them.”
The words “Entrepreneurship is a team sport” stuck in my mind like the hook of a popular song. The more I thought about it, the more it rang true. Every entrepreneur is, at least in part, a product of the support system he or she has built. The appearance of my company, ZinePak, on “Shark Tank” was the culmination of years spent building a business. But, how many countless thousands of people helped shape the journey along the way?
From my professors at the University of Central Arkansas who served as a sounding board when I had the idea for ZinePak to family members and industry professionals who offered feedback on early iterations of my product before I launched the company, it was easy to pinpoint the handful of people whose contributions were major. But countless others helped in myriad ways, large and small, often without even knowing: authors whose books I read, conference speakers who inspired me, fellow entrepreneurs who suggested certain systems or processes.
The two-and-a-half weeks leading up to our “Shark Tank” episode airing were a bit of a blur. True to my friend’s mantra, I asked for help a lot. I worked nearly around the clock with a web development company to help launch a new website, and with HubSpot, our CRM/CMS partner, to make sure our site wouldn’t crash with an influx of potentially hundreds of thousands of hits during and after our TV airing. I reached out to at least a dozen reporters, asking each to help me spread the news. In true “team sport” fashion, all of our partners went above and beyond. WeWork and TriNet even partnered to help organize a viewing party in NYC for 150 of our clients, family members and friends.
Appearing in the Tank was an exhilarating, although somewhat intimidating, experience. In addition to be grilled by five savvy professionals who’ve questioned hundreds of entrepreneurs in this fashion, there was the constant thought of, “Not only will this be airing on national TV in front of eight million people, but I have no idea and no control over how it’s going to be edited.” The several months between our filming and the airing were more nerve-racking than the initial filming because of the anticipation that built up. We were the 26th episode of the season, meaning we had watched, analyzed, and second-guessed at least 100 other entrepreneurs’ Season Six pitches while waiting for our own.
In the end, my co-founder and I were both very pleased with the edit of our “Shark Tank” episode. Not only was it representative of the hour-long negotiation with the Sharks, but it also painted our company in a positive light. Our prep work proved sufficient for all the what-ifs (our website didn’t crash, we didn’t run out of stock on our major products at retail, etc.), and we spent the night celebrating with the employees, friends, family and clients who all helped us get to this point in our business: the team in this crazy “team sport.”
Had I taken time before filming “Shark Tank” to think about all the people I was “representing” in the Tank, I would have been infinitely more nervous. The outpouring of love and support after our episode aired has been incredible: literally hundreds of people, ranging from childhood summer camp counselors to grad school professors, casual acquaintances from my WeWork Empire co-working space to ZinePak clients, have taken the time to reach out to congratulate me and say they were pleased with how I represented X—my hometown, my college, my industry, etc.
My No. 1 takeaway from appearing on the show is the overwhelming support—and power—that I have in my corner. All of the people who were excited by ZinePak’s appearance on TV were excited because they believe in us. They want the people to succeed as much or more as they want the company to succeed. Although I’ve always known lots of people were rooting for ZinePak, it was wonderful to have such a powerful reminder.
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to feel the weight and pressures of what’s happening in your business and forget to ask for help. We’re problem-solvers. We like to fix things. And we like to do it by ourselves. I know I’ve made these mistakes, and I’m willing to wager lots of other startup founders have, too. But, in the future I’m going to be much quicker about asking for help, whether I need advice, an introduction, or just moral support. National TV or not, a helping hand is much closer than you may realize. After all, entrepreneurship is a team sport—and this entrepreneur is in it to win it!
Brittany Hodak is the co-founder of ZinePak. She has been named to Advertising Age’s 40 Under 40 list, Inc.’s 35 Under 35 list, and Billboard’s 30 Under 30 list. She won a prestigious Stevie Award for Young Female Entrepreneur of the Year, was a finalist in Entrepreneur magazine’s 2014 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year competition, and has been recognized at the United Nations as one of the Top 100 Young Entrepreneurs in America two years in a row. In 2014, ZinePak was named Empact’s “Most Disruptive Company” at the United Nations ceremony for its role in redefining physical music.
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