by Ryan Nix
Today at a special #VCPopUp event, Brandon Andrews, casting director of the hit reality show Shark Tank spoke about his experiences as a serial entrepreneur, the current climate of venture capital and how business owners can stand out from the crowd, regardless of their location and background.
“I’ve traveled the country from top to bottom, through big cities and small towns and I can say unequivocally that that spark of innovation and grit needed to grow a business exists in every community, culture, gender and zip code,” says Andrews.
Having experienced childhood homelessness, Andrews feels inspired to “build the ladders of opportunity for everyone, because looking back, I grew up around guys my age who were full of potential and could be where I am now, but they didn’t have the right network or opportunities.”
Andrews focused on the walled garden of venture capital, and how until recently only accredited investors with either an income of $200,000 or a net worth exceeding $1 million were allowed to invest in private equity, venture capital or hedge funds. “For a lot of people, especially those in historically-oppressed and marginalized minority groups, people trying to start a business there typically didn’t have accredited investors in their network,” says Andrews. This high accreditation standard concentrated investing power in the hands of a small, elite group, throttling the types of startups that were funded.
However, the field of investment has become far more democratized in recent years thanks in large part to the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act of 2012. “The JOBS Act authorized crowdfunding, so now, not only can you crowdfund with a rewards-based campaign like on kickstarter, startups now can offer equity in their businesses to people who may want to invest,” says Andrews. “If you’re a person who doesn’t have a lot of accredited investors in your circle, now you can go out to your friends, family and coworkers who can become shareholders in your company.”
Andrews also offered advice for the many entrepreneurs in attendance. “It’s vital that you build a relationship with your customers, and do what they tell you to do. Also, early on, don’t let perfect get in the way of good. Things probably won’t be perfect at the start, but you can’t let that stop you,” says Andrews.
Andrews also spoke at length about his experiences casting entrepreneurs for Shark Tank. “Obviously the sharks are business people, but I’m pretty much the only producer on the show with an entrepreneurial background, so I think I bring that perspective to the show’s production,” says Andrews. He also gave advice for potential contestants on the show. “If you ever run into a shark on the street, don’t pitch your idea to them there, because that disqualifies you from ever pitching on Shark Tank. The whole point is that the investors don’t know what’s being pitched until it walks in the door.”
Andrews closed out with some final advice for entrepreneurs, listing questions that every potential business owner needs to answer. “First, what problem are you solving? What is the market opportunity, what will the product or service’s traction be, how much time have you put in and do you have a personal stake in the idea?” Andrews continues, “Finally, what we look for in every entrepreneur that auditions for Shark Tank is a passion for the project, and that extends to every entrepreneur. You have to care about what you’re doing, it’s often more important that an entrepreneur is uniquely passionate, instead of uniquely qualified.”
Speaking of passionate pitches, if you have a great plan for a startup but need seed money, Arkansas Money and Politics is sponsoring the Venture Center’s Pitch ‘N Pint event, happening on December 10. On that day, 25 entrepreneurs, 3 judges and a slew of investors will be looking to give $6,000 seed money prizes to worthwhile startups. Applications are open to everyone, but the deadline to apply is November 22.
Image courtesy of the Venture Center