Mike Fox '12 Dives Into the 'Shark Tank'

What’s it like standing in front of a bunch of sharks? Mike Fox ’12 has firsthand experience. Last month, Fox and Pat Hughes, the founders of Hyde Sportswear, appeared on “Shark Tank,” the popular ABC show where up-and-coming entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to a wealthy panel of investors, aka the sharks.

Fox, a Milwaukee native and finance major at St. Thomas, and Hughes attempted to sell the sharks on their Wingman Life Jacket, a personal flotation device that is lighter and thinner than a traditional life vest with an over-the-shoulder ripcord and a CO2 cylinder located on the back of the vest. The idea for the Wingman came after Hughes was in a triathlon where a fellow athlete drowned during the swimming part of the competition.

On “Shark Tank,” Fox and Hughes were looking for $200,000 in exchange for 12.5 percent of their company. Only one shark – Kevin O’Leary – made an offer: $200,000 for 50 percent of the business. Not wanting to give up that much equity in their company, Fox and Hughes walked away without a deal.

We recently caught up with the two entrepreneurs to talk about their “Shark Tank” experience.

How did you get on “Shark Tank”?

Fox: We originally received an email from a casting director on the show asking us if we had interest in applying. We set up a call with them and then went through the application process – it gets more intense as you go on. Then we were lucky enough to get on the show.

We’ve been working on our business for awhile. We had done a Kickstarter and three other business competitions that we won, so we had been making a name for ourselves in the entrepreneurship community.

How did the actual filming compare with what we saw on TV?

Fox: We can’t talk too much about what happened behind the scenes. They have four companies go in a 45-minute window, so we were in there pitching for much longer than you see. It’s interesting how it gets edited down.

Hughes: The time spent talking to the sharks is a lot longer than what gets edited down for TV. Not only is it shortened, but the order of the conversation changes. That’s something we were anxious about, because we know how the discussions went when we were there. The question becomes how will it get edited and what will they make it look like. Overall, it was a very fair representation of how the discussion went.

Is there a lot of pressure to decide on the spot if you’re going to take the deal a shark offers you?

Fox: You literally have to decide right on the spot. They offer the deal up, and then you could accept right away. Most people don’t because they try to negotiate a little bit. There isn’t much time. You could ramble and buy yourself some time, but the discussion flows naturally and there is no interruption. It’s just you talking to the sharks. You either negotiate a different offer, accept or decline.

How did you feel about walking away from Kevin O’Leary’s offer?

Hughes: We were grateful to get an offer, but it was certainly a lot more than we were looking to give up. We threw out the two counteroffers to see if there was interest, and there wasn’t. I felt totally fine saying no and walking out of there. At the end of the day, you’re not just going out there looking for any deal; you’re looking for the right deal. That wasn’t the right deal for us, so we confidently walked out of there with our heads held high.

Fox: Sometimes the best deal is the one you walk away from.

Has anything come from your appearance on the show?

Fox: We’ve received interest from potential investors. We’re going through all the emails right now. There’s been a lot of interest and excitement. We’ve seen a huge spike in sales as well. We’re really starting to experience the ‘Shark Tank’ effect.

What was your biggest takeaway from being on the show?

Fox: I would highly recommend going through the application process and giving it a shot. It’s a phenomenal stage for entrepreneurs to look up to those five sharks there in the room, who have all started businesses and know how to be successful. Pitching yourself to them is a great learning opportunity.