Shark Tank: Secrets To Success – Interview with Michael Parrish DuDell

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Episode Summary

Michael Parrish DuDell is an entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and the bestselling author of Shark Tank Jump Start Your Business, the official book from ABC’s hit show Shark Tank. Michael was given a 30-day deadline to finish the book and was on the set of Shark Tank frequently getting to know the investors. Listen in for some key Shark Tank insights and get a behind-the-scenes look at how to pitch the Sharks.

Shark Tank: Secrets To Success – Interview with Michael Parrish DuDell


BTSP | Shark Tank

Shark Tank, Jump Start Your Business

Hi and welcome to The Successful Pitch Podcast. Today’s guest is Michael Parrish DuDell. He’s an entrepreneur, a speaker, and the author of Shark Tank, Jump Start your Business. He’s been called one of the top 3 most popular Amazon authors for a reason. He’s also a Millennial generation expert. He’s been on a lot of media from CNBC to CNN to New York Times. He’s worked with Seth Godin. He was involved with GE’s relaunch of Ecomagination. He has a very interesting background. I can’t wait to dive in. Michael, welcome to the show.

Thanks so much for having me.

I’m sure a lot of people would love to talk about Shark Tank the whole time, and we will definitely get there. But I am always curious to see, how did you become a Millennial generation expert?

It helps that I’m a Millennial myself. There are a lot of people out there that talk about the generation and that maybe speak on the generation, but in fact don’t have that firsthand experience of being part of the generation. We know a lot about Millennials, but one of the things that we know, numerous studies suggest, is that Millennials learn best from other Millennials and that Millennials prefer to be around Millennials. It just sort of helps that I’m of that generation.

That’s the short answer to a much longer answer, which is that in 2007, I became the Senior Editor of a site that’s now been sold and changed a lot. Back in 2007, when digital media was first becoming a force to be reckoned with, the conversation that we were having was a conversation with Millennials for Millennials. That led to a lot of different kinds of work, to speaking, to writing, to consulting.

It was quite on accident that over the years, I turned into this Millennial expert and positioned right in the future of work in the small business space. There’s actually a lot of overlapping between some of the things we talk about in the book, some of the topics that I generally speak about and this idea of the next generation who’s going to be carrying the torch and taking over the future of business and entrepreneurship.

I don’t think a lot of people realize that the Millennials are even bigger than the Baby Boomers. The Baby Boomers have all this reputation of being so huge and changing everything, but there’s more Millennials, am I right?

Yeah, that’s exactly right. As it turns out, Millennials are the largest generation in the history of the world. It was the Baby Boomers, but we have beat them. We’re about 80 million members strong. That means a lot. That means that we have an overwhelming ability to make purchasing decisions that affect numerous businesses. That means that when it comes to voting and when it comes to a lot of other activities that majority makes a difference, we’re going to be leading the way.

The conversation around Millennials and how Millennials grow and evolve into leaders and into adults, I think that’s a fascinating conversation. I’m really honored to be a part of it.

I love it. Can you tell us about how you came across Seth Godin and what you did with him on the Domino Project?

BTSP | Shark Tank

Michael was chosen by Seth Godin to work on The Domino Project with him.

Seth Godin is one of my all-time favorite people. I worked for him, as you just said, in 2011 as part of the Domino Project, which is a publishing company that was started with Seth, by Seth, and powered by

It’s funny how we met. My literary agent is the same literary agent as someone named Josh Kaufman who wrote the book, Personal MBA. It’s also Seth’s literary agent. Gosh, I guess it would’ve been 2009, maybe. I was 25, I pitched a book to her. She said, “Listen, there’s no way I can sell this book, but I think you’re interesting. Stay in touch.”

I did, and over the course of the years, we got to know each other very casually as acquaintances, and this opportunity happened. I saw her on Facebook page that Seth was looking for somebody. I applied just like the thousand other people that did, and the rest is history.

Do you have any sense, Michael, what it was about your application or your interview that made him pick you out of all the people that wanted to work for him?

No. I don’t. That’s a really good question. I think Seth, over the years, has really been able to fine-tune through. It wasn’t a traditional, “Submit your resume.” It was an essay question-based Google form that really required a lot of examination and a lot of personality in order to stand out.

BTSP | Shark Tank

Seth Godin has cultivated his ability to lead and he has a good sense of the kind of people that he works really well with.

Like anybody who has cultivated their ability to lead and to manage and to run businesses, I think he probably has a good sense of the kind of people that he works really well with and he can see that through that sort of thing. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I knew somebody that knew him.

But, yeah, I think he just sort of knew. It wasn’t just like you submitted and you get accepted. There was a whole interview process. It was a process. I think there were close to a thousand people that applied, about 13 of us were brought in for a group interview. Of the 13, I believe 6 were chosen to work on the project.

Wow. There’s so many similarities there, Michael, to pitching to get funded, to pitching to get on Shark Tank, the same kind of numbers. What you said, two things: one, a warm introduction is always a great way to get in front of an investor. Number two, showing some personality. That’s what people respond to, whether you’re pitching to get hired, pitching to get funded, pitching to get on Shark Tank, would you agree with that?

Absolutely. Listen, there’s a million people that have a million different ideas and it all comes down to differentiation. The way you differentiate yourself is by leading with your personality, by leading with that competitive advantage, which for a lot of people, it’s who they are.

Nice. Differentiate with your personality. That’s part of who your personal brand is. How did you get from the Seth Godin connection, and you’ve mentioned Amazon, to getting selected to write the book for the Shark Tank show? I’m sure that was equally competitive.

Yeah. There’s a little bit of a gap between those years. In 2011, I worked for Seth. Then I went over to work as the editor of right as GE was relaunching that property. It was a really great culmination of all the things that I’d done in my career. I’d worked in the environmental movement in the editorial capacity. I’d worked in the business sector. I’d had this conversation with Millennials. This combined it all.

Ecomagination was all about talking about the solutions to some of the rather large challenges we’re facing from an environmental standpoint through the lens of business and how business can make a difference. I’m a big believer that business, probably even more than any other entity, is the one thing that can make a tremendous difference in this world. I was very proud to sort of help lead that up.

BTSP | Shark Tank

I’m a big believer that business, probably even more than any other entity, is the one thing that can make a tremendous difference in this world.

From there, I started my own firm, consulting and doing a lot of trainings and workshops all about things like media, content, Millennials, that sort of world. Through that actually, it was a very random story, the same literary agent who I’d known, who connected me with Seth, she and I had met a few days before, I’d been looking for a book project. Randomly, she got a call from the editor at Hyperion, which has since been sold now. It’s part of Disney.

They said, “Listen, we’re writing this book for Shark Tank. We’re looking for an up-and-coming entrepreneur and author who’s familiar with the brand, who has experience in branded content to come in and write the book. It wouldn’t be ghostwritten. Name is on the cover, work with the sharks. Do you have anyone that’s interested?” There was a caveat. The caveat was that the entire book, from start to finish, had to be completed in 30 days.

Oh my gosh.

Right. If anybody who’s out there who’s listening to this, and is a writer or has written, they know that 30 days is an incredibly short amount of time to write a book. If you’re doing the numbers on a 60,000 word book equals about 1950 words a day, every day, without a break. There was a few writers submitted. I don’t know how many different agencies submitted.

Basically, they’d give us these assignments and we turned it in about 2 weeks later. They chose me. I went off to Florida to lock myself in a room and write a book in 30 days. Now we just finished the second one, so it did well.

Fantastic. What’s the second one called?

BTSP | Shark Tank

Shark Tank; Secrets to Success

The second one is Shark Tank; Secrets to Success. The first one is Shark Tank, Jump Start Your Business. The first one is very much a 101, how do you start tapping into some of the knowledge of the sharks and entrepreneurs.

The second book picked up where the last one left off. I traveled around the country and met with nine of some the most successful entrepreneurs from the show, and told their story. From childhood all the way to where they are now, how they built their business, the trials and tribulations, and how, ultimately, they succeeded as entrepreneurs.

Fascinating. I know that you were actually on the set a lot, is that correct?

Yeah. I wasn’t on a lot but I was on a few times and got to be there during the filming of the fifth season, some of those episodes. That was really cool.

What did you see is the biggest challenge people have when they make a pitch?

In that context, the biggest challenge, and perhaps it is the biggest challenge in general but definitely in that context, it’s the nerves. It’s the fear of being in the spotlight. It’s a very high stakes situation. If you’re not used to being in front of the camera, that makes it even more terrifying. It’s getting out there and really being afraid that, A, you’re going to be eaten alive by the sharks. B, maybe that camera thing is scary and the world could possibly see it and you could mess up and all of that.

I think that gets in the way most of the time. I think if you’ve made it all the way to the show, you have all the answers, you’ve done the research into what they’re going to ask and you know about your business, hopefully. I think, most of the time, it’s the fear that stands in the way.

Well, let’s talk about that, because it’s a high stakes game whether you’re on Shark Tank or in front of an Angel group or a VC to deal with nerves. Do the people on Shark Tank, the producers require them to practice a lot before they start rolling the cameras, to try and make sure they don’t make a total fool of themselves?

Yeah. They do get a practice round the day before. They’ve been up there. Never in front of the sharks, they don’t get a chance to do it in front of the sharks. What you see on television is the real deal. They have practiced it. Over the course of the few months, usually, before they get there, via remote, they’re working with the producers and folks from the show to really nail down their pitch and make it something that is really enticing to the sharks. There is a good amount of coaching before they get up there.

I’ve also read and heard that they have to stand there in front of the sharks for a few minutes while they set the lights and the sharks automatically start judging them, of how comfortable are they in their skin before they even open their mouth.

Yeah. It’s pretty funny. It’s the nature of television. You have to get the shots and that there has to be some sort of production quality on top of all of that. There are some little things like that that maybe make it a less organic experience than one might think.

I’ve read a lot, even from the sharks, about how long they’re standing up there. I’ve read some people say, “Oh, they were up there for 5 minutes,” and some people say, “Oh, 10 seconds.” When I was there, I would say, the average was about 30 to 45 seconds. Which is an awkward amount of time but it’s a part of the process, and they know it’s going to happen.

I just think that’s so valuable for our listeners because whether you’re on Shark Tank or in front of an Angel group, the minute you enter the building, leave your home even, you are on. You’ve got to have your game face on. You can’t just say, “I’m going to turn it on when I start speaking.” You can’t wait until you open your mouth. People start looking at you, how comfortable you are, how confident you are just from the moment you walk into the room.

Absolutely. It’s crucial that you’re prepared and ready to go from the second you leave the house, honestly.

The other question I have for you is, I’m constantly telling clients, “Don’t get defensive.” When you get a question from an investor or a shark, don’t get defensive. Because the minute you get defensive, you’re not coachable and they don’t want to work with you.

Exactly. Look, when somebody is deciding whether to invest in a company, they’re not just looking at what the business does. They’re not just looking at the product or service. They’re looking at the person and they’re looking at the potential. Depending on the investor and their strategy and what’s worked for them, they’re probably putting weight on one of those categories more than the other.

If you look at the sharks on television, I can tell you right now, Barbara Corcoran, it’s all about the person. She said this in the book and she says it time and time again. She will happily take a business that she doesn’t think can make it, a product that’s not going anywhere, turn it around. As long as the person is someone that she feels she can invest in. The person is honest, the person has integrity, the person’s fun, and that she wants to spend considerable time and energy with.

You look at someone like Lori and, yes, she cares about the person, but she’s a product investor. She really is looking at the potential of that product and how that product fits in the portfolio of what she does and of her other investments.

It depends on the investor. The best piece of advice is to do as much research. Whether you’re on Shark Tank or pitching at some sort of pitch competition, or even just having a meeting with an Angel, to do as much research into who this person is and into how they like to be approached, spoken to, and position your product that way.

Yes. I’m so glad you said that, Michael. It’s all about the due diligence that you do on the investor as much as they’re going to do on you.

Absolutely. We’re getting into business with these people, so there is this idea that when somebody’s approaching somebody for money, the power dynamic is, “I’m asking you for something.” That’s totally wrong. You have to approach it as you’re giving somebody an opportunity to be a part of something that’s going to make them money. This is an equal partnership.

When I think about pitching, I don’t like the idea of this subservient mindset where, “I really hope they give me a deal.” It’s 50-50. If you’ve done your job right, you’re walking in with a business that has the potential to make these people a lot of money. You’re offering them an opportunity.

That leads right into this fear of missing out that happens. I’ve had Charles Michael Yim on the podcast and he got all five sharks, pre-revenue, to put money in because they liked him and his idea so much. They had this fear of missing out, “I want in. I want in.” Do you see that often?

BTSP | Shark Tank

Charles Michael Yim got all five sharks, pre-revenue, to put money in because they liked him and his idea so much.

Yeah. I think that’s a valuable tactic, not just in pitching but across the board in business. We’re taking risks all day. Nobody knows what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. We can make some assumptions about things based on previous situations. But at the end of the day, there’s no proof that this formula or this plan is going to work.

When you can position it in the right way and you can get people interested in what the potential could be, you can certainly help them with the idea that if they miss out, this is going to be a once in a lifetime thing.

When you did the second book, the Shark Tank; Secrets to Success, did you have more than 30 days to do the second one, I hope?

Yeah, I had about 90 days, but that required a lot of flying and a lot of interviews. That was all packed into those 90 days. It was a very intense process.

Equally intense.

Equally intense. Absolutely.

Anything with the word shark in it is intense. That’s just a given, I guess.

Yeah, and I think it works for the show because I was put under a very tight timeline and very tough rules and regulations around writing this book, and doing it and turning it on deadline. I think that makes sense for the nature of the show because really, the show is all about being an entrepreneur.

When you’re an entrepreneur, the one thing that all entrepreneurial people have in common is that they get it done no matter what. A professional shows up, a professional does the work, and a professional doesn’t miss deadlines. The books are very much an embodiment of that philosophy and an embodiment of the brand.

Now, can you tell us a story from Secrets to Success? I always love storytelling. I think that’s the best way to communicate your message. If you’re talking about someone’s childhood all the way through, it’s always the why behind the why this particular idea to make their business, right?

Yeah. There’s so many great stories in there. I talked to some incredible founders. Anyone that’s gone through the process of starting a business probably has started more than one and always has a lot of great stories.

BTSP | Shark Tank

Their parents gave them an air popper to make popcorn. They never had any idea that 20 years from that day, they would be back in the popcorn business.

One that sticks out immediately is I spent some time with the two cofounders, the brother and sister pair that put together the company Pipsnacks, which is famous for Pipcorn, which is the little mini-popcorn. One of the stories I really love from their experience is that when they were a kid actually, I think they’re two years apart, and they wanted to make some extra money. I think they were like maybe, 8 and 10. Their parents gave them, they had an air popper to make popcorn. They never had any idea that 20 years from that day, they would be back in the popcorn business.

As kids, they would make their own popcorn and they would go out on the street and they would sell it. I just thought that’s always really neat because when you see something like that, again, at that time, as a kid, you have no idea you’re going to, one day, build a multi-million dollar popcorn company. But you see that the seeds are planted early. I just thought that was a really fascinating part of their adventure. There’s a lot of great stories like that in the book, so you got to check it out.

No pun intended, the seeds were planted early, right?

I know, I was avoiding that.

BTSP | Shark Tank

Even when you watch on Shark Tank people are like, “We like the grand idea that you have there. But what’s the real performance? Tell me the numbers.”

No, I love it. The popcorn seed. The kernel, the idea planted in their childhood developed into something really, really wonderful. What is next for you, Michael? Are you going to be going on a speaking toward to promote Secrets to Success with the Shark Tank or write another book?

Yeah. That’s a great question. I’m all around speaking. Speaking is probably the biggest part of my business right now. I’m on the road, sometimes every week, sometimes every other week. I’m doing a lot of speaking, a lot of training around this idea of helping business and leaders figure out, what is the next generation? What are some of the ways that they can really move forward and enter the future of work in a way that’s going to work in the environment and that’s going to attract the best people, the best consumers, the best employees? A part of that is telling the story of Shark Tank and the story of the entrepreneurs that I spoke with.

One of the key factors that investors look for, whether they’re Barbara or anybody I think, is who’s on your team besides you? If people can learn from you how to assemble a great team to execute their vision, that really is a big, big factor to, not only whether they get funded, but whether you’re successful or not. Are there any tips that you have for the listeners on how to assemble a great team and not only get them but keep them?

You mentioned Barbara and I have to bring up that Barbara and I have a real disagreement on this one subject. We’ve talked about it two or three times. This one issue is the role of self-awareness in an entrepreneur’s life. I happen to believe that the more self-aware you are, the more successful you are. Barbara believes the exact opposite. She believes that good entrepreneurs lack self-awareness because they have to be crazy to continue to go forward. If they’re crazy then they’re not self-aware.

We’ve debated a little bit about this. She hasn’t convinced me and I haven’t convinced her, but I happen to believe that that is where self-awareness is probably the most important. Because when you’re building a team, a lot of people want to work with their friends or their family, and that’s great.

However, the key to a good team is understanding your strengths and your weaknesses and building a team around that. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met cofounders that really, honestly, have the same skill set. I’m a little unsure when I meet these people, why they partnered together, because they’re both bringing the same thing to the table.

For me, a good team is, like Seth, what we talked about with Seth, knowing who you work with. But also understanding the depth of experience required, the various facets you need to pull from. That starts with knowing what you bring to the table and what you do not, because we all have a lot of strengths but we also have those weaknesses.

We’ve talked about two of the judges, Lori and Barbara. Let’s just touch base on your impressions of Mark Cuban.

Mark Cuban, I will say, is the busiest guy I’ve ever met. That’s what I always say. When I need to get interviews with Mark, I have to walk back and forth to the bathroom with him, follow him to the lunch table. He’s a really, really passionate investor. He’s always engaged. He’s always involved. He has a lot of strong opinions. Whether you agree with the opinions or not, I think that’s really admirable for somebody whose business is so diversified and he’s in so many different areas.

Of course, there’s Kevin, Mr. Wonderful. How did he come up with Mr. Wonderful, do you think?

Actually, I did know that story at one point and I don’t remember it now. It was when he was doing Dragons’ Den, the Shark Tank Canadian version. In Canada, he was on that show for I think almost first five or six years. He’s not on it anymore. Somebody in the Tank called him that and it stuck there and that he continued to use it and it works for him.

BTSP | Shark Tank

Dragons’ Den

I think one of the things about Kevin is, he’s one of my favorite sharks. He’s just like you see on TV in that he is a very disciplined, firm businessman. But every time, and I’ve spent time with him, he’s a super nice guy. I’m not trying to get after his money, so that’s another piece of it. But he’s the first one to follow me back on social. He’s the first one to email me. I think he’s a really good guy.

Frankly, I feel more comfortable when I understand an investor’s motivation and it’s not hidden under pretense and guise. We know who Kevin is, we know what matters to him. I think there’s something admirable, even if it’s not popular, being able to say the hard truth and being able to be that person so that people know what they’re getting in bed with.

Yes. Some people, you have to have a great story, a great pitch, but part of that pitch has to be, you have to know your numbers. If Shark Tank has taught us anything, I think it’s you can’t just have a great idea. You have to know your numbers.

Yeah. Obviously. If you’re in business, you have to know your numbers. You have to understand where you’re heading and where you came from.

The issue of valuation, how much your company’s worth, especially if it’s pre-revenue, and your growth projections, that seems to be the biggest thing that trips people up on TV and in real life, actually.

Yeah, because it’s impossible to account for. It really is impossible because there isn’t any way to judge a company’s success before they’ve been successful. There’s a lot of ways to make smarter guesses, but it’s all guessing.

If you’ve had successful exits, if you will, either going public or another company buying your company, both in real life and on TV, that really reinforces the shark’s confidence in investing you and maybe even gives you a little bump in your valuation, don’t you think?

Yeah. Listen, as many proof points as you can show that whatever you’re doing is working in the market, is going to help you ultimately. There’s no doubt about it. If you can come in with some great deals, some great partners, and some great proof, it helps strengthen your valuation and, ultimately, your position in the tank or in front of any investor.

The actual number, that’s always hard because it’s pretty difficult to know for sure how a business is going to do. That’s part of the risk involved.

What I’ve heard you say about pitching is deal with your nerves, make sure you’re practiced, know your numbers, do your due diligence on the investors, and finally, be likeable. Have a unique personality it makes it come through. There’s some really great tips here, Michael. I can’t thank you enough.

Let me clarify the last one really quick because I think this is the most important thing actually, on how to pitch anything at anytime, anywhere, and it’s just this. Ready? If someone says, “What’s the one thing?” The one thing is this, just be a human. I cannot tell you how many times, I’ve watched so many pitches in my life, that I see somebody who is charming, smart, magnanimous, great, stand up in front of a group of people and turn into the most boring person in the world. Turn into somebody who, honestly, I wouldn’t invest in, and I know the person. It is that fear. It is the nerves that kick in.

The fact is that you just have to remember, and I think this is the key in business, in general. You’re talking to a human, and you are a human. What you’re talking about is a business. Sure, fine. But, you have to lead by being someone that is relatable, and honest, and authentic, and transparent, and whatever that looks like for you, that’s how you lead. You got to go up there and show your personality.

I love it. That’s great, great advice. I couldn’t agree more. One of the things you said earlier was the more self-aware you are, the more successful you are. I agree with you 100%. Is there a book, besides your two wonderful books, that you would recommend people reading to become more self-aware?

BTSP | Shark Tank

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

A book on self-awareness? I don’t know if I have a book recommendation on self-awareness. What I can tell you is a great book recommendation as far as learning how to face the fear and how to improve your relationship with doing good work. One of my favorite books of all time is the War of Art by Steven Pressfield. This is a book I read four times a year. It’s all about this idea of moving beyond that voice in your head that says, “I can’t do this. I’m not fit to do this. There’s someone else that could do it better.” learning to recognize that voice, to manage that voice, and to move ahead in spite of that voice.

I think that’s a book that I really enjoy and that I think could help people as they move forward. As far as self-awareness, for me, it’s practice makes perfect. Every month, we try to get a little better. Every year, we try to get a little better. Really knowing yourself, I happen to think, is the best way to be a good leader and to run a good business.

We’ll put your two books, Shark Tank; Jump Start your Business and Shark Tank; Secrets to Success, as well as the one you just recommended, War of Art, in the show notes for everybody. This whole concept of practice, focus on your progress, let go of having to be a perfectionist, I think is really another great tip. Michael, how can people follow you? What’s your Twitter handle and all that good stuff?

People can find me on Twitter @notoriousMPD, those are my initials, Michael Parrish DuDell. You’ll see, if you go on Twitter, that I have not been active for almost a month, maybe even a little longer. I took a month break from social media, in that way. I’ll be back later in the summer with some more stuff on Twitter. Until then, you can find me on my website, and that is

Fantastic, Michael. Thanks, you’ve been a terrific guest. I can’t wait to see what else you’re going to do next, because these books are gold for everybody.

Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Links Mentioned

jRobinett Website
Selling Secrets For Funding
Michael Parrish DuDell Website
Michael Parrish DuDell Twitter
The Domino Project
Personal MBA
Shark Tank Jump Start Your Business by Michael Parrish DuDell.
Shark Tank Secrets to Success by Michael Parrish DuDell.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Michael Parrish DuDell Broadcast Reel

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