In October, 2017, Andrew Bentley, founder and CEO of the dad apparel company Father Figure, walked onto the Shark Tank set at Sound Stage 25, a massive space on the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City,California. He was looking for investment in his company, $80,000 for 15 percent equity, and pitching an idea for a high-end menswear line specifically for fathers to Lori Greiner, Mark Cuban, Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary, and a massive TV audience….
As a person who’s interested in entrepreneurship, I’ve been a fan of Shark Tank for many years. So it had always crossed my mind when I was getting ready to leave my job at Google and start my business Father Figure, a clothing a lifestyle brand to support and inspire dads, but I wasn’t planning on applying the first year. I wanted to be a stay-at-home dad and didn’t think the company was ready. Then I got an email in February for one of the executive producers on Shark Tank, who had seen my Kickstarter campaign. He thought I’d be a really good fit for the show, and I thought if I’m ever going to apply, having the backing of an executive producer is the way to go.
The process was rigorous. Shark Tank get something like 50,000 applications every year, film a couple hundred, and air about half of those. I didn’t think I was going to make it, and they called me and sounded disappointed and were like, “We’re sorry…you made the show!” So my heart dropped and then immediately soared. I called my wife and then we cleared my calendar. I had three weeks to prepare.
I worked on preparation for 10 to 12 hours a day for the next three weeks. I find solace and comfort in the preparation process. I had over 100 questions the Sharks could ask from past episodes and had mock panels with friends, having them role-play different Sharks, for 45 minutes to an hour. It was stressful for me sweating in front of my friends drinking wine, laughing, and grilling me. My wife played Mr. Wonderful.
Public speaking doesn’t usually make me nervous, but I was very nervous on the show. You can’t really prepare for what it’s like in The Tank. You’re mentally holding onto so many different things. You’re obviously thinking about the business and whether your numbers are correct, and articulating your understanding of the marketplace and how you fit in it. You’re trying to be personable for television, because you’re representing yourself and your business. Then you want to be good television because they don’t put everyone they film on TV. Finally, you’re thinking about the investors who have no idea who you are before you walk out there, and that’s a major disadvantage. Normally in a meeting like that, the parties know each other or have something they agree about.
I wanted to have two dads of color join me on set with their babies. One is a stay-at-home dad of four kids, and the other was on paternity leave with his daughter — they’re loving, involved dads and I admire both of them. When we were rehearsing, we wanted to do a dad fashion show. One of the babies was wrapped in a swaddle prototype — brand new, just launched, straight from the factory, and pooped in it. Thankfully I had another on hand. It was funny, we were having this very serious rehearsal we had to interrupt to be dads.
I envisioned success. That’s one of the preparation strategies used in that moment, I just imagined closing a deal and entertained no alternatives. Then I didn’t close a deal. When it was over, I just felt this emptiness.
Now that I’m several months away from the show airing, I think it could’ve really been a blessing in disguise. Part of the reason I left my job to be an entrepreneur because I want and need agency and autonomy in my professional life because of my personal life. The center of my world is family. I’m at my best when I’m in tune with my family. Entering into an investor relationship with someone you don’t know really well has it’s risks. It might have worked out if I got a deal, but I there are no guarantees.
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And, at the end of the day, I got a lot of really great exposure and learned a lot. It was like a mini MBA. I’m better off for going through the process. I also got an opportunity to go on TV and talk about my love for my son and how having him changed my life while standing along two other dads of color who are nurturing their kids. There is no doubt in my mind that doing that was worthwhile.
— As told to Lauren Vinopal