1-on-1: Shark Tank entrepreneur Kevin Harrington on the perfect pitch

If the phrase, “But, wait! There’s more!” makes you instantly think of the Ginsu Knife, you’re already acquainted with Kevin Harrington’s work. A pioneer in the infomercial industry, Harrington has helped make products like the Food Saver and Tony Little’s Ab Isolator into household names. In the past 26 years, he’s launched more than 500 products, with cumulative sales of more than $4 billion worldwide.

In 2009, the savvy investor came out from behind the camera for ABC’s Shark Tank. In 2010 he teamed up other super-successful entrepreneurs and motivational experts for a 20-city tour called Empower 180. At the one-day events, attendees have the chance to pitch Harrington their product ideas and learn from some of today’s top business leaders.

Harrington is also a co-founder of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (formerly the Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization) and the Electronic Retailing Association, two networking groups that provide resources and support to entrepreneurs around the globe. Here, Harrington shares advice on overcoming fear, choosing the right partners and mentors, and believing in yourself.

SUCCESS: Pitching an idea to a group of strangers can be intimidating—especially on a show like Shark Tank. How can people push past that fear and offer a killer presentation?

Kevin Harrington: I was a little intimidated the first time I went to the Shark Tank set. There was a crew of 175 people, including Mark Burnett and all the top Sony and ABC execs. It was a million-dollar production. I shoot low-budget infomercials, and this was huge. But then I thought, “I’ve been a shark for 25 years. This is what I do.” My confidence came back when I zeroed in on the entrepreneur walking down the hall. I focused on what he was pitching. I put blinders on, and at the end of the day it didn’t matter how many cameras or people were on the set. I positioned myself as understanding that none of the others have my same experience. I’m the product guy, I’m the expert. So my advice to the person making a pitch is to forget about the people and the cameras, and believe in yourself and in your product. Don’t worry about the millions of viewers. At that moment, all you have to do is talk to us and convince us. Do it just like you’re talking to your banker—with your excitement and your belief in yourself. My advice to any salesperson is to prepare yourself by doing your pitch in front of a camera or a mirror. Do your presentation for your spouse or your kids. Practice. Don’t go in cold.

Infomercials take a message from one person to thousands. They make the pitch scalable. How can entrepreneurs make their businesses scalable?

KH: I always say, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” In 1990, I had a library of infomercials that had run their course in the United States. That’s when I thought, “In the movie business, they take films outside the U.S. Why can’t I do that with infomercials?” We did, and the business grew to $500 million on a global basis in a couple of years. You can’t just sit and do it the way you’ve always done it. Get motivated to see what you can add to what you do currently to expand your markets.

In your book Act Now!, you note that infomercials can boost the sales of other similar products in stores—not just the brand you’re selling. How do you differentiate your product or incentivize customers to buy your brand and not a substitute?

KH: We stress that we are the original; we are the brand. A good example is the Snuggie. They got it across every spectrum they could right away—collegiate, child, pet—they didn’t let knockoffs come in. When they went to the retailers, they said, “We’re going to give you the original, but if you sell other brands, we can take our brand out of your store.” And by the end of 2009, they sold more than 20 million units. It’s all about the quality of the relationship, the quality of the product and the continuity of the brand.

How has the Internet impacted your business model?

KH: It’s a double-edge sword. We get knocked off quicker, but we also use the Internet to drive massive amounts of sales because we can get into places we couldn’t get in before. It has also given us a platform for new ways to launch products, with webcasted shopping channels, and to develop relationships.

You’ve worked with a number of different people through the years. How do you choose the right people or companies with which to partner?

KH: Picking the right people to work with is important. I believe you find those people by networking, being on boards, getting involved with associations and being on committees. It’s amazing how many times I’ve started working with people because I’ve spent time with them in a different environment.

What advice can you give to entrepreneurs and business leaders who may be facing challenges in their businesses?

KH: Go to people who have been there before, and seek advice on what they’ve done. Develop great relationships with your bankers and accountants; get mentors who can advise you. I utilize people outside my company. I’m not afraid to pick up the phone to have someone help me work through issues. A lot of times you have to get out there and network with the people who can help you in times of challenge.

Anything else?

KH: I love this quote from Paul J. Meyer: “Whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon must inevitably come to pass.” When I understood that, I began waking up every morning and saying that quote, and I believe “It’s going to happen.” That’s how I overcome my fear, and that’s how I live my life. It doesn’t mean you’ll get it every time. Sometimes you have to reboot or hit the reset button and start over. But eventually, believing it and acting upon it make it happen.


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