Throughout my career as a magician and performer, I have been given many unique opportunities to appear live on TV and through other media channels. Perhaps the most unique and memorable television opportunity I was ever given, however, came in early 2012 when I stood face to face with the judges on Shark Tank.
Flashback to the finale of Shark Tank’s second season – my wife and I were impressed by the show’s driving idea, its judges, and its contestants. Realizing that there was an opportunity in this interesting competition, I began searching on my computer for how I could apply to be on the show.
Needless to say, the most important part of any Shark Tank contestant’s “performance” is their idea for a business. Although it surprised me (as my entire career is built on performing), I had the idea but needed to figure out how to put it all together. My goal was to raise $1.5 million from the Sharks in exchange for 20% of my new company, which would be a showroom for Rick Smith Jr., Inc. in Las Vegas.
My first attempt at raising the eyebrows of Shark Tank’s producers came through a simple email. I told them that I was hoping to be an entrepreneur on their show and that I thought I had something that the TV audience would want to see. To my slight surprise, I waited for a reply for almost six months before the email came.
In this email, they told me that I had to draft up a 2.5 minute pitch which I would have to present to one of Shark Tank’s producers. After I had developed it on my own, two producers were assigned to me to help condense the pitch to the length that the show required.
After all of this was finished, I returned home and back to the email form of communication with those in charge; fortunately, this time I also spoke on the phone every other day with the producers of the show. After a little waiting, they told me that I had been chosen to come to Los Angeles to present in front of even more important producers of the show.
Were it not for my good friend and Angel Investor Dominic Visconsi, I may not have been able to pursue this opportunity. Thankful as ever to have him, I called him and told him what we had a chance to take part in – he instantly told us that he would connect us to some of his closest friends who were VC investors (much like the Sharks on Shark Tank). Coming together in assistance of my cause, they created what I like to call “Cleveland Shark Tank.” They drilled us in every way possible to improve our pitches, which helped an incredible amount in preparing for the show. We had even prepared solid answers for some of the more predictable questions that the Sharks might ask us!
I will not lie, going on national television is incredible. Quite honestly, contrary to popular belief, it really isn’t that stressful for the most part. This was not true for me in this scenario. Unfortunately, a couple of factors contributed to this. When they finally accepted me as a possible contestant, they agreed to fly me down but only by myself because they told us that as a show about entrepreneurs they couldn’t do they rest. It was my own responsibility to fly down my equipment and all of the other performers in the pitch (including my wife). In sum, it appeared that I would be spending around $12,000 to simply have a shot at being on the show.
After getting everyone excited about the upcoming opportunity, I had to tell them that I wasn’t going to be able to go to Los Angeles because it was too much money. Again, Dominic Visconsi stepped up in full support of my dreams- he simply looked at me and said, “ Book your travel…. Shop your illusion…” Confused, I look at him and say I just can’t afford that kind of risky move with my money. He told me right then and there that he would bear that financial risk because he believed in me. In awe of this, I ask him how I might ever repay him – he tells me to just continue doing what I’m doing. Mr. Visconsi single-handedly changed my life when he decided that my cause was worth it, and for that I will be forever thankful.
Once we made it to Los Angeles, I was no longer stressed about the money and getting there, so I was finally able to focus on the show. We were not guaranteed a spot, so my team and I would have to have a stellar performance to make it past this round.
We entered into a soundstage with around 8 tables. Seated at the tables were producers with computers in front of them. Our moment to present in front of the big shots at Shark Tank had come.
After answering some intro questions (where are you from, what are you selling, etc.), I was surprised by one of the producer’s questions.
“Is that what a magician wears?”
I was wearing a nice black dress shirt, dark jeans. “Yes,” I told her, as it is true that not all magicians wear a hat and cape.
We performed our full act as if the Sharks were watching the show, and they asked us questions before telling us that only 20 of the 50 people brought to LA would be presenting in front of the Sharks. Do you think you have what it takes?
I told them I did. And knew that it was true.
We went back to the hotel, and were given a call that evening telling us that we were selected for the show! We went over all kinds of scenarios with our segment producer in the lobby that night, and at the end of the session we were told to be ready at 8 am the next day for call time. The show day was upon us, and we were ready to go.