Congrats…you lost.

Congrats…you lost.

Spring is here (isn’t it?) and it’s that time of year when the entrepreneurial “pitch” competitions sprout. These events, many of them based on the hit TV show Shark Tank, give entrepreneurs the opportunity to show their stuff in front of judges who hold a good bit of power over the futures of those doing the pitching.

My business (and life) partner, Ms. Michele and I had the opportunity to participate in a pitch competition six years ago. Our “product” was, and still is, a comedy-based variety show called The Tomfoolery Fun Club. At the time of the competition in 2016, we had staged approximately a dozen shows and, we felt, gaining a foothold on the biz. At that point, we had staged some relatively successful events and thought we’d go ahead and win this competition!

The directions for the competition called for a one-minute presentation to be accompanied by one PowerPoint slide. We prepared a seamless presentation which was engaging, entertaining and lively! The accompanying slide was embedded with a video which matched our verbiage. We had prepared impeccably and were, without a doubt, ready to win the competition, collect the prize money and be off to the races!

On the day of the competition, everything went according to plan. We delivered our pitch without a flaw and exited the stage to “high fives” from the audience! This one, as they say, was “in the bag”. When it came time to announce the top ten finishers, all of whom would be invited back for the afternoon session to present a lengthier pitch, we sat patiently and waited for our names to be called. Slowly the top ten finishers were announced and, one-by-one, the names were called. We didn’t hear our names, so we thought that they were merely leaving the best for last. Maybe you can see where this is going? We didn’t win, we didn’t finish in the top ten and yes, we were not happy about it. At the time, we were shocked that we didn’t make it past the first round. Six years later, I’m STILL shocked, but not deflated. People of more fragile egos might have been broken, but we persevered. Our business has grown over the years and we’re still producing high-quality events for many to enjoy. Many noteworthy not-for-profit organizations have taken advantage of our production to stage some quite profitable fundraising events. I’m not sure the same can be said for many of those who did, in fact, finish in the top ten of the competition that year. That’s a shame.

This memory would have most likely remained locked in the Tomfoolery archives had we not been invited to join a local radio show this past week. We were asked about our experience in that competition and asked what advice we might offer to someone entering the competition this year. It goes without saying that stellar preparation and practice are required prior to taking the stage. Golf great Ben Hogan once said, “perfect practice makes perfect”, and his track record verified that statement. Beyond adequate rehearsal, we offer these tips for anyone entering such a competition:

Expect to win: Yes, we expected to win the competition. If we didn’t expect to win, I doubt that we would have bothered to enter. In my years of business and athletic experience, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone who was surprised when they won at anything. Many have been surprised to have lost, but those who consistently win at any game, competition or contest usually anticipate the outcome being in their favor. If you don’t think you can and will win, stay home.

Reject rejection: Unless the judges in the competition can predict the future, absolutely DO NOT give them the power to rule YOUR future. Judges may have some extensive business experience and have perhaps even attained some significant victories of their own, but no one knows your idea like you. Perhaps you might need a little help to better explain your idea to them (and others), but it’s yours and no one can take it from you. Remember, Tomfoolery was sent home from our competition with a pocket full of nothing, but six years and 100 shows later, we’re still at it.

Do it for love: If getting rich is your goal, maybe keep it on the down low. Judges love those who love their idea but are somewhat humble about it too. Realistically, there may be a period where your business idea doesn’t produce any money at all. Tomfoolery went a couple of years without making a dime. Since those early, lean years, however, we’ve literally made HUNDREDS of dollars! Like I said…do it for love!

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Tom Byelick

A lengthy career in sales coupled with years of raising children has led me to interact with numerous personality types. It is the nuances in these personality types that lead me to ask questions and inquire about beliefs / attitudes which, I find, leads to even more questions. Sometimes the obvious can lead to be the most entertaining!

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