How I Became the 1st Contestant on Shark Tank

How I Became the 1st Contestant on Shark Tank

Posted by Mr. Tod on Mar 8th 2020

Since August 9th, 2009, the day the show premiered, literally not a day goes by that someone doesn't ask me, "How did you get on Shark Tank?" I may be talking on the phone with a customer or vendor, walking down the street or speaking with a group of students - The question always comes up! In this, my first blog post, I'll take you on that unbelievable journey with me.

At the end of 2008 I was running a successful retail/wholesale pie shop in Somerset, New Jersey.  We had begun to receive quite a bit of local press about the quality of our pies and loyal customer base.  We were located in a dingy shopping center on a busy road but drew lots of traffic.  A local reporter once said, "Mr. Tod's Pie Factory is located in New Jersey's worst looking strip mall, but his pies make it shine!" During the holidays customers would form lines outside the bakery or even pitch a chair and sleep in the store's lobby.

My plan has always been to make Mr. Tod's a national brand. To build the type of brand equity associated with Coke, Pamper's, Google, Xerox, etc.  I knew that in order to make this a reality I would need some serious capital.  Remember,  this was 2008, so at that time things or products really weren't going "viral" as they can and do today, thus creating an enormous organic revenue stream, thereby reducing the need for outside capital. There was no Instagram or Tik Tok, and Twitter was in it's early stages.

So around October of that year I received an anonymous email from Mark Burnett Productions.  The email talked about this new reality show where entrepreneurs would be able to pitch to a panel of judges and get capital to grow their business.  I'm thinking, awwhhh man....Here's my shot!  It was created based up a popular show that aired in other countries called, Dragon's Den.  Excitedly, I called a few friends and shared the email.  Most of them, including some family members, wrote it off as a scam or said, "be careful".  But I didn't buy that.  I said, no, this is Mark Burnett, the dude who produces Survivor (which was a hit show on CBS at the time), it's gotta be legit. I'm going for it!

Getting through the first round involved answering 25 questions and submitting a video.  Of course there would be other parts like a background check, phone interviews, etc...but this was the first step in order to be even considered for the following rounds.  So I called by good friend Steve Kaiser and asked him to video tape me so I could explain why I should be a contestant. THEN WHAT I DID NEXT WAS THE DEAL SEALER IN MY OPINION.

I knew I had to find a way to separate myself from the other applicants. So the day I mailed my application via FedEx, I enclosed a few mini chocolate pecan pies and off to California my package went.  After that, my next communication from Mark Burnett Productions was an email that opened with, "Dear Mr. Tod, the chocolate pecan pie was awesome...and oh yeah, we received your application!"  

In my next post I'll take you through the interview process and share some thoughts on what I believe helped me get selected and become the first entrepreneur to pitch the sharks!


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