How to Get on ‘Shark Tank’

The show's casting director shares insider tips for getting picked — and winning a deal if you do.
Shark Tank Contestants
Contestants on 'Shark Tank' are expected to treat their time in front of the 'Sharks' as a legitimate business meeting. (Photo: Cbarrentine2/Wikimedia Commons)

Every season, “Shark Tank” gets an average of 40,000 applications from entrepreneurs hoping to present their product or service on the hit ABC series. Only 150 to 200 are selected to appear before investors Kevin O’Leary, Robert Herjavec, Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John.

How do you become one of them? Supervising casting producer Scott Salyers, who has been with the show since its premiere in 2009, told us everything you need to do — and never do — to be chosen and get your chance at a deal.

Apply online if that’s easiest

Most people apply online at — there’s no need to show up at a casting call, said Salyers, though that may be an option depending where you live.

“We also do open casting calls. We average four to six open calls per season. We pick a mix of big cities and smaller places that are big with small businesses and entrepreneurs. We’ve already been to San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami and Dallas [this season] and we’re going to do New York, North Carolina and Chicago for sure and maybe a few more,” he said.

“We also do casting events at colleges like Harvard, Columbia or UCLA and we’ll go to trade shows — there’s a magic trade show and trade shows for toys, fancy food, outdoor/housewares, places where we can find the best businesses and companies for the show,” he said.

There’s no quota or cut­-off at this point.

“I want to say yes to everybody, if I think they have a shot. I’m not trying to eliminate people. As long as you explain your business I’ll move you forward.”

Show passion in your pitch

Applying to the show entails filling out an application and, if you’re picked to move forward in the process, submitting a video that will be shown to executives at ABC, Sony and Mark Burnett Productions.

“Many people make the mistake of just rattling off numbers. Great, but are you passionate about your company? Why did you create it and why is it important to you? Why do you care about it? That’s what makes a good pitch: people who care, when we feel that this is your life, your passion, your joy. Those are the people we put on the show,” Salyers said. “When people are real and share those things with us, it will resonate with us and the viewers.”

Sell yourself as well as your business

“A lot of times the Sharks invest in the jockey just as much as they do in the horse. If you get the right jockey with the right horse they’re going to invest. So don’t just explain your business. You have to explain why you’re the right person to run that business.”

Be transparent — and patient

If you have debt, be transparent about it. “Don’t try to hide anything. A lot of companies have debt. Don’t deny that but explain how you’re going to get out of it.”

Once you’ve submitted your video, hunker down for a wait.

“We’re the headhunters for the Sharks,” Salyers says.

“By the time people get in front of the Sharks, we know everything there is to know about their company and their business. That process can last anywhere from four weeks to 10 months.”

At this stage, pitchers get eliminated for several reasons. “They don’t pass the background check. Their patent doesn’t work. They’re not exciting,” said Salyers, noting that lack of excitement is a definite deal breaker.

Know what you’re offering, and asking

“I don’t need to know your numbers in the beginning, but by the time you get to the Sharks, you’d better know your numbers, what your projections are and what your customer acquisition cost is. The show is not new. If you’re not prepared for what the Sharks are going to ask, that’s your own fault.”

Also know the size of investment you’re asking for — and be realistic. “If you have a drawing on a piece of paper for an invention, don’t come in saying ‘I need a million dollars for 1 percent.’ Telling them you need to ask for $50,000 to make a prototype, that makes more sense. Convince us you know what you’re talking about.”

By the time budding entrepreneurs get in front of the Sharks, “We want them to be prepared so it’s a legitimate business meeting,” Salyers said. “I think that’s why the show works. We don’t create the drama. The drama’s inherent. These people need money for their business or the business will fold. You can’t get more dramatic than that.”

Brace for the moment of truth

“Shark Tank” viewers know that some people crash and burn in the spotlight.

“The pressure gets to them,” said Salyers. “Sometimes they get in front of those five Sharks and the moment is too big for them, they can’t find the words to express it.” Conversely, “I think that people do spectacularly when they are honest and real with the Sharks, when they know their company and convince them how they can make money. That’s what’s going to do it.”

Salyers admits he’s not an expert in predicting how an entrepreneur will fare. “Many times I see a pitch and think it’s really great and they’re going to get a deal and they bomb. Other times I’m like, ‘That’s the worst thing in the world. Why would anyone buy this?’ And we put them on and the Sharks make millions with them. So I’ve given up predicting who is going to do well and not do well. What’s important to me is that the people are real.”

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