Stephan Aarstol is a savvy MBA-holding businessman who’s taken the laid-back surfing industry by storm with his company Tower Paddle Boards. Unfortunately, while in the tank Stephan experienced every contestant’s worst fear: forgetting his lines. Regardless of the stumble, he managed to secure a deal with Mark Cuban, and learn some invaluable business lessons along the way. Here’s what Stephan had to say about his Shark Tank experience (be sure to click to the next page to keep reading!):
What inspired you to apply for Shark Tank?
The producers actually emailed me out of the blue. Being in LA and in the entertainment business, I think the producers knew stand up paddle boarding (SUP) was the hot new thing. They started searching around for SUP companies and as we’re a little different than the crowd (We sell direct on the web only, while the other 100 brands sell thru a traditional 3-4 tier retail distribution channel), and at the top of the search engines, we stood out. Also, I was an MBA taking a tech-centric approach to the laid back surf industry, where many of the founders are not really business guys. I think the Shark Tank producers like the idea of me walking onto set with a bikini babe in tow that the Sharks would kind of instantly roll their eyes at, and then I’d slowly reveal the technical underpinnings of our business model and my hardcore business experience. If you’re watched many pitches you’ll know they like a twist, so they bit.
Can you describe your application process in three words (or less)?
Before entering the Shark Tank, how did you prepare for your presentation?
They assigned me two producers who helped refine the 2-3 minute initial pitch and also grilled me with Q&A to see how I could react on my feet. Once you get to the studio, there is a dressed rehearsal where you pitch a room full of producers and many people get cut there. Keep in mind, the more entertaining your pitch is the better chances you have of pitching and eventually airing. Making it entertaining was challenging for me, as was just remembering it. I still had a hard time remembering it just an hour before the live pitch. As most pitches in the tank take 40 minutes to over an hour, obviously your Q&A performance is 90%+ of the conversation. Unfortunately, I froze during my initial 2-3 minute canned pitch so I dug a big hole that I had to get out of during the Q&A.
Was there a particular Shark you were hoping to make a deal with? Why?
I learned that Mark Cuban was the guest shark only 48 hours before the live pitch. Once I heard Cuban was in the mix, he was the obvious choice. I valued his investment at roughly 3x the other Sharks because his investment would come with a quasi-celebrity endorsement. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t take a deal from any of the other Sharks, but it would have to be a much better deal if Cuban was in the mix.
I knew that Robert Herjavec was a surfer so I figured it was a given that he would be interested at some level. I was kind of shocked when he went out claiming my valuation was “not cool”. I was feeling kind of loose when he went out and I said something to the effect of, “Robert, I know you’re a surfer, so I tell you what… I’m going to offer you a ‘mulligan’ if you want to get back in”. This was my idea of making the Q&A more entertaining, but it got cut on the edit floor.
I also really wanted to get Daymond John in the deal somehow because my plan from inception has been to establish Tower as an authentic, leading SUP board brand and then extend that brand into a surfwear line on steroids. The SUP market is part surfing, part exploration, and part exercise. Add to that a wide age range appeal, and you’ve got a brand that is part QuickSilver, part North Face, part Under Armor, and part Tommy Bahama. Unfortunately, I think Daymond thought I was crazy from the start, and even referred to me as a “Magician who was starting to believe his own tricks” as he went out. Now that I’ve taken the company to $1.5M in sales within a year and really done exactly what I said I would, maybe Daymond has a little more faith and , who knows, maybe we work together down the road.