Learn from the rich

Invent It, Sell It, Bank It! Make Your Million-Dollar Idea into a Reality

Invent It, Sell It, Bank It! Make Your Million-Dollar Idea into a Reality





The alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. I hate early mornings. I’m a night owl, and if given my choice I go to sleep at 1 or 2 a.m. I drag myself out of bed, throw on jeans and a T-shirt—my get-to-the-set uniform—and still bleary-eyed manage to get myself to the Sony Pictures Studios lot, where Shark Tank is shot. It’s the same set where The Voice is filmed. I’m the first shark to arrive at hair and makeup at 6:30 a.m. because I take the longest to get camera-ready—I have more hair than any of the other sharks!

By 8:00 a.m. I’m dressed and made-up and downing my second huge cup of coffee, which I never drink except for when I’m shooting Shark Tank. It’s going to be a long day, and I need to be sure that I’m completely alert. The other sharks trickle in. It’s always good to see them and we joke around for a few minutes, but most of us are also on our phones, checking in with our respective businesses during the few moments of free time that we can squeeze in before shooting starts.

It’s showtime. We settle in to our respective shiny red leather armchairs. We know nothing about what lies ahead. All we can see is a bare set, empty but for the colorful Persian-style carpet on the floor. Then the stagehands rush on with the props the first contestant will need to conduct his or her pitch. Loud, invigorating music is playing to pump us up and get everyone in a good mood to start the day. The stagehands disappear, and the director starts counting down. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Quiet on the set! The large automatic doors in front of us swing open, and the first entrepreneur walks down the long hallway toward us, past the swimming sharks and into the tank.

There are about thirty seconds between the time new contestants walk through the double doors into the tank and the time they start their pitch. They stand on the carpet silently for a few seconds, facing the sharks, and then start their pitch. It’s a nerve-wracking time for the entrepreneurs. They know this is their big moment. For the sharks, it represents a moment of anticipation.

I particularly notice which entrepreneurs make eye contact with me and which don’t, as they stand there nervously. We see about eight or nine pitches per day. Last I heard, around 35,000 people applied to audition for a spot on Season Five. Each one who makes it onto the show is so hopeful, so eager to get a deal—not just for the influx of cash but also for the partnership, mentoring, and connections that any one of the five sharks can offer. As they talk, we furiously scribble down the financials, the retail history, and the valuations, to keep track of all the information coming at us.

In the shadows, I know Dan, my husband, who is also the VP of my company, is sitting there writing everything down, too. All the sharks have someone on set who will typically take notes. We see many entrepreneurs a day, and though the TV audience sees only approximately twelve minutes of the pitch, the pitches can run anywhere from half an hour to two hours (that’s unusually long, but it has happened). Because things go so fast and get so heated, I like reminders so I can recall in more detail everything that went on. I love reading the funny things the entrepreneurs or my fellow sharks have said. It’s so interesting, and often hilarious, to look back a few weeks later when I’m reviewing my notes, and then to see it air on TV, when it comes to life all over again.

I work hard to make sure I give each pitch my full attention, especially the ones that show up last, when we are all exhausted. I concentrate, trying to ignore everything that might distract me—like the fact that it’s often freezing because the air-conditioning is so strong. Nothing matters except the people standing there, pitching their hearts out in the hope that one of us will believe their idea is worth our investment of time, effort, and money.

It’s a shame that viewers at home can’t actually feel the crackle of energy that surges through the room when an inventor strikes a deal. It’s so exciting to know that one of them will be on his or her way to a bigger journey! On the flip side, the entrepreneurs’ disappointment is crushing when they leave the tank empty-handed. But for most of them, I think the disappointment is just temporary, for the true entrepreneurs live on and see promise in another day. That’s their nature. I know the shark in me must be honest, not just because that’s what’s best for my business but also because that’s what’s best for the inventor’s business, too.

Dropping out or voicing concerns and criticism about the business or product being pitched is actually the kindest thing I could do. I’m doing someone a disservice if, out of pity or sympathy, I let an inventor get by with a product I truly think will never make it. I feel it’s wiser to go back to the proverbial drawing board and try to create something new, something different, something better.

Better to set your sights on the next product, something that really will work and allow you to reach the goals that inspire most inventors to start on their entrepreneurial journey—to strike out on their own, to build a career, to support a family, to leave a legacy. In short, to achieve the American Dream. I live that dream every day, and more than anything, I want to help others achieve it, too.

For years, fans of my show and products on QVC, followers on my website and social media networks, and Shark Tank supporters have been urging me to write a book. Many of them represent a fraction of the countless imaginative, creative individuals in this country who believe they have an idea that could be the next bendable straw, Q-tip, or George Foreman grill—a product so useful and practical that people might one day take its existence for granted. They usually want to know two things: how I got to where I am, and how they can get there, too.

t’s great to mentor up-and-coming inventors and share what I have learned over the last seventeen years about launching products and building a business from scratch, but when I think about what I did to bring that first invention to market, and all the products that followed, I realize that the answer to those two questions is quite simple: I worked hard. Really hard. That’s what you have to do and how you become a successful inventor or entrepreneur: you work harder for it than you’ve ever worked at anything in your life.

Seventeen years ago, when I created my first product, an earring organizer, it was not because I wanted to run a multimillion-dollar conglomerate. I simply had a problem that I wanted to solve. But once I was sure I’d created the perfect solution, nothing was going to keep me from getting it onto the market so that I could help other women solve the problem, too.

Whenever I hit a roadblock, I found a way around it. If I couldn’t get around it, I went under it. If going under didn’t work, I’d go over. I did whatever it took. In return, I accomplished my goal: I got my product prototyped, marketed, sold, manufactured, and on retailers’ shelves in about four months. That is a difficult feat, but I was determined to make the holiday selling season. I wouldn’t recommend trying to rush a product out in four months. Give yourself more time.

I’m ready to teach you what I know about everything from concept to creation, manufacturing to marketing, pitching, patents, and more, but you have to be willing to put in the long hours, the nights, the weekends, and most important, your heart and soul. I can show you the road, but those fundamentals—drive, determination, and red-hot passion —must be your fuel. Do you have that fire within you? Good! For anyone not scared off by that cornerstone piece of advice, read on. I’ve got plenty more, all of it in step-by-methodical-step, all of it self-taught, including this: while the work required to become a successful inventor is greater than you could ever imagine, it’s more rewarding, too. The only regret you will ever have is that you didn’t get started sooner.

Invent It, Sell It, Bank It! will tell you secrets about bringing products to market that you won’t hear anywhere else. It includes checklists and tangible specifics you can use as your guide. It is a book about how you can make millions with your idea. You’ll also find out how I did the same. I probably started out just like you. I had no experience running a business. I didn’t have a ton of resources. I didn’t know people in high places. I had a college degree, but I did not attend business school.

In fact, I never even took a business class, my interests leaning more in a literary, cinematic, and artistic direction. Truly, I had no idea what I was doing. All I had was a great idea and the determination of twenty people put together to bring it to life. A brilliant idea doesn’t guarantee a successful invention. Rather, it’s a magical combination of a brilliant idea, plus amazing willpower, tenacity, and a willingness to make mistakes. Mistakes are good—and essential. They teach you to be better and smarter. But we’ll get to that later.

I say I’m just like you, but inventors starting out today have many advantages that I didn’t have. When I got started in 1996, there was no Internet where I could access information. There were no forums where I could network with other entrepreneurs. No Kickstarter or Indiegogo. There was definitely no Shark Tank. There were few resources available to help an inventor with no connections and a limited amount of capital. It was tough! So if I could turn my dream into reality, I know you can, too. You just have to want your dream as badly as I wanted mine.

It was 2008 when I got the call to come in and meet with Mark Burnett for a new show that he, ABC, and Sony were developing, called Shark Tank. The meeting went great and I was so excited to be chosen for the show. But then the most horrible thing happened: my mother, whom I loved very much, died suddenly right at the same time as shooting, and I had to withdraw. It was a difficult time. The producers kept in touch with me, and three years later, I appeared in Season Three as a guest shark, and then I became a permanent shark in Season Four.

Early on, the casting agent shared with me one of the reasons the show’s creators had sought me out. She said I was a unicorn; there just wasn’t anyone else out there like me. I had never thought about it. Many inventors can point to one phenomenally successful product, but it’s rarer for someone to bring a large number of inventions to market. I’ve developed over four hundred successful products, and I have a hundred and twenty patents.

People are always asking me if I’m proud of that, and I am. But what gives me the greatest pleasure is having created so many products that make people happy and make their lives easier. Had I stopped after witnessing the success of my first invention, I would have been proud of that, too. It’s not about the number of inventions you bring to market. Margaret Mitchell published only one novel, but it was Gone with the Wind! There is great satisfaction in developing one fantastic product and watching the world fall in love with it. And it only takes the successful launch of one brilliant idea to make you a millionaire. But whether you create one great thing or many, the steps to get you there are the same.

Why didn’t I stop at one invention? For the same reason many entrepreneurs keep churning away even after their business takes off— the sheer joy of it. Besides, once you’ve brought one successful product to market, you know everything you need to bring another successful product to market. If anything, success only makes you want to work harder. When you are as obsessed and determined as most inventors who have built thriving, lucrative businesses, work doesn’t feel like work. It feels like freedom. Inventors and entrepreneurs constitute a special club, a collection of creative spirits and mavericks who simply can’t or won’t conform to the established boundaries and limitations of the traditional workplace.

We are the kind of people who must forge our own paths, not follow one already laid out for us. Like everyone else, we want to make money, but we want to earn it doing something that we love and that we can call our own. We choose to whittle our lives down to the bare essentials —family, food, sleep—because we know that every hour of effort we put in will come directly back to us and to the people we love. It may seem to outsiders like a Spartan life, all work and no play, but it isn’t, because when you’re doing what you love, work is play.

They will never understand what a powerful thrill it is to hold in your hands something you dreamed up in your head. That said, my philosophy is that life’s a party and you’ve got to have fun every day. I believe that there’s always room for good food, wine, and laughter, whether it’s just Dan and me going over numbers together late at night or my whole team gathered for last-minute preparations for a show. Even when you’re working, you should be having a good time!

One more thing that sets me apart from many other inventors and entrepreneurs is that I preach extreme DIY. My expertise doesn’t come from the sheer number of products I can list; it’s a result of being directly involved in every facet of their creation. There is nothing you cannot learn yourself. Who can you trust better than yourself to get things done right? No one will ever care as much as you do about your business.

You don’t know about manufacturing? Neither did I, but now I could run a factory if I needed to. You aren’t a lawyer and don’t know a thing about patents? I’m not either, but now I’m educated to the point that I help write my patents, and I’ve been called as a guest speaker for the U.S. Patent and Trade Office in Washington, D.C. There was a time when I didn’t know anything about what it took to bring a product to market, but I figured it out.

The stories you’ll read in this book will reveal the lengths to which I was willing to go to ensure my products’ success, and that it would offer both value and pleasure to anyone who bought them. As my business grew larger, I would eventually have to delegate some responsibilities, but in those early days I insisted on being there for every step. What I didn’t know, I’d learn. If I wasn’t an expert, I’d become one. No detail was too small, and my efforts paid off. Because in the end, all you’ve got is what you’re willing to bring, so you’d better bring it all!

As in all things, natural creative talent will get you only so far. If you want to see your invention on shelves, in stores, on television, and most important, in people’s hands and homes, you have to develop skills to support your talent. To become a successful inventor, it’s not enough to have a great idea for a product. You have to design it and manufacture it. You have to protect your design from being copied or stolen. You have to package your product and pitch it. You have to find someone willing to sell it. All of those steps require skills and finesse that you can often only learn on the job.

Lucky for you, I already have. In Invent It, Sell it, Bank It! you will learn about the ins and outs of great product design, from concept to creation; the nuts and bolts of manufacturing, patenting, packaging, pricing, and shipping; the art of the pitch, the trick to inexpensive yet effective marketing, the rules and regulations that must be followed, and the key to lining up multiple retail sources.

I’m excited to share everything I know and to give you an honest and straightforward overview of what it takes to get a product to market. It’s not always an easy road. Like everyone else I’ve had my fair share of hard knocks in life. I think that’s good. Struggles and setbacks make you stronger and better. And most of the time what you think is the worst thing that could happen to you turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Every time something goes wrong, you will learn from it and become better able to cope with the next challenge or obstacle that comes your way.

To all budding entrepreneurs I say this: you can make almost anything happen if you try hard enough. When you run your own business, you’re taking a different journey than the average person. You’re embarking on a 24/7 commitment. You never really shut the door. You’ll take vacations, but things will come up and you have to be available. You need to support your team. You’ll need a lot of energy to succeed in this business. You have to dream bigger. You have to reach further. I am living proof that, with enough fire and willpower, you can make anything happen. Failure is not an option; it’s a state of mind.

This book outlines the invention process in linear fashion—first you do this, then you do that. But realize that when you’re bringing a product to market, you’re doing everything at once. When I launched my first invention, I ran around like a nut. It was summer and I wanted my product out for the holiday season, which meant I had to make a miracle happen. I had every fire going at the same time. While my prototype was being made, I was calling stores and pitching my idea.

Once the prototype was done, I continued to make calls while at the same time conducting market research. Next thing I knew, I was flying around the country making my pitch, visiting stores from Chicago to Minneapolis to Texas to California, ultimately traveling to nineteen cities in twenty-one days! At the same time, I continued to call other stores, working on tooling, designing my packaging, and selecting a factory.

I worked my butt off, and thankfully I made a miracle happen. And I’ve continued to work that way ever since. The thing is, that’s the way most people who achieve success in this business do things. I hope that my story will be inspiring, and that getting a peek into my thought process will be helpful when it’s time for you to start making your own rapid-fire decisions.

Invent It, Sell It, Bank It! will reveal how I mastered strategic and technical skills, but it may also explain why I have become known as “the warm-blooded shark” on Shark Tank. I don’t think being kind or compassionate makes me any less competitive in the business world. I see no point in tearing people down to get ahead, and I have also found that you can never go wrong if you try to be nice.

That’s why I do my best to be respectful to all the entrepreneurs who come into the tank— even the ones whose businesses in my opinion don’t show much promise. When I look at them, I see myself. I know what it is like to have one shot that could make or break everything. I’ve been in their shoes. I remember the people who let me down nicely, and those who treated me brutally.

It brings to mind something my grandfather always told me: people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. I’m far from perfect, but I always try to remember his words. I’ve never believed I had to be cutthroat or cruel to get ahead in business. However, never mistake my kindness for weakness.

It’s a paradox: you are responsible for your own destiny, but you can’t get there alone. No matter how sure you are that you know what’s best for your product, no matter how high your standards, it’s important to be kind to people and to make them feel a part of a team. Take the time to invest in people, not just your product. The height or longevity of any success you achieve will correlate with how well you nurture your relationships with the people who cross your path along the way. You can be kind and compassionate and still be a shark. You’ll be amazed at how far that combination will get you, especially when you’re armed with all the information you need to bring your dream to reality.

How do I know this is true? Every move I make on Shark Tank, and every negotiation I engage in with the contestants or even with the other sharks, is informed by years of lessons learned the hard way. Shark Tank is merely an extension of what I’ve been doing throughout my career. While I did spend the majority of time creating, patenting, and manufacturing my own products, I always enjoyed helping others along the way.

And with this book, I have the opportunity to reach even more, and to offer my take on the ins and outs of the inventor’s world in more depth and detail than ever before. Finally, with Invent It, Sell It, Bank It! I can share everything I’ve learned over the past seventeen years of inventing products and running a business with anyone who’s seen me in the tank, my other habitat, QVC, or in retail stores.

But of course this book isn’t just for fans of these shows. Anyone with a creative spirit, tremendous drive, and a terrific idea can use it to invent his or her own way to wealth and success. My number one rule has always been to make great products that help people. I hope this book helps you.

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