What Are Advisory Shares Shark Tank: Insights from the Equity Stake Reality Show‍

Casey Fenton

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Do you remember that unforgettable episode of Shark Tank when Aaron Krause stepped into the spotlight, armed with a bright yellow sponge named Scrub Daddy? The room's atmosphere was thick with anticipation. As Krause demonstrated the scrub's impressive abilities, one particular shark, Lori Greiner, couldn't hide her intrigue. The ensuing negotiation was a whirlwind of numbers, projections, and hopes, ultimately culminating in one of the most successful partnerships in the show's history.

Yet, it's not just the groundbreaking products or the hefty financial figures that make these deals so fascinating. At the heart of many such negotiations is a crucial element that often goes unnoticed by the casual viewer: advisory shares. These equity pieces play a pivotal role in sealing the deal between entrepreneurs and investors. In this article, we're about to dive deep into the world of advisory shares, drawing insights from this equity stake reality show and helping you grasp why they matter so much in the startup universe.

Understanding Advisory Shares

You've been there—racking your brain, seeking expert advice, and plotting your startup's next big move. But what if you could leverage seasoned industry professionals to elevate your company's trajectory? Enter advisory shares.

Advisory shares are a type of equity given to individuals—often seasoned professionals—in exchange for their expertise, guidance, and connections. Instead of a salary, these advisors receive a small portion of your company's stock. These shares essentially ensure that the advisor is invested in your company's success. The more prosperous your business becomes, the more valuable its stake becomes.

What is Shark Tank and Why Is It A Popular Platform for Startups?

Shark Tank is more than just a reality TV show—it's an institution. Launched in 2009, the show has since become a beacon for ambitious entrepreneurs looking for their big break. At its core, Shark Tank offers a platform where entrepreneurs pitch their innovative ideas and products to a panel of experienced and deep-pocketed investors, colloquially known as the 'Sharks'. But why has this show, in particular, gained such prominence in the entrepreneurial ecosystem?

1. Instant Validation

If a Shark expresses interest or, better yet, invests in a business, it's a powerful validation of the product or idea's potential. Such validation from high-caliber investors can significantly enhance the credibility of the startup, making other potential investors, customers, and partners take notice.

2. Educational Experience

Watching the show is akin to taking a masterclass in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs not only receive feedback on their pitches but also get schooled on what makes a business investment-worthy. This educative nature attracts both seasoned business individuals and novices alike.

3. Diverse Audience Reach

With a vast and varied viewership, Shark Tank provides startups with an opportunity to reach different demographic segments. An appearance on the show often results in what's termed the "Shark Tank Effect", where businesses see a dramatic spike in sales and website visits immediately after their episode airs.

4. Engaging Storytelling

It's not just about the numbers. Entrepreneurs often share the moving stories behind their businesses, making the pitches emotionally compelling. This narrative approach resonates with viewers, making them more likely to support the startups, either as consumers or as advocates.

5. Collaboration Beyond Capital

The Sharks, with their industry insights and expansive networks, bring much more to the table than just capital. Entrepreneurs are often on the lookout for strategic partners, not just investors. A partnership with a Shark often means access to invaluable industry contacts, mentoring, and operational guidance.

Importance of Advisory Shares in Startup Growth

The modern startup ecosystem thrives on innovation, agility, and partnerships. While funding remains a critical factor for growth, it's the strategic alliances and mentorships that often pave the way for a startup's long-term success. This is where advisory shares come into play. But what makes them so instrumental in this dynamic environment?

1. Bridging Knowledge Gaps

Startups, especially in their nascent stages, might have expertise in their specific product or service area but might lack broader industry knowledge or business acumen. Advisors, compensated through advisory shares, fill these gaps by bringing in-depth knowledge, experience, and strategic insights.

2. Risk Mitigation

Startups are inherently risky ventures. By having industry veterans on board as advisors, startups can navigate potential pitfalls, make informed decisions, and better assess market dynamics, significantly reducing business risks.

3. Tangible and Intangible Resources

Advisors often possess not just knowledge but also tangible resources. This could range from laboratory spaces for biotech startups to software platforms for tech companies. Additionally, intangible resources, like credibility and reputation, can provide startups with a significant competitive edge.

4. Flexibility in Compensation

Cash flow is a common concern for startups. Offering advisory shares allows startups to conserve cash while still attracting top-tier talent and expertise. It’s a win-win, as advisors get a stake in a potentially high-growth venture without an immediate cash outlay from the startup.

5. Building a Culture of Excellence

The involvement of seasoned professionals signals to other potential employees, partners, and investors that the startup values excellence and is poised for growth. This can foster a culture that attracts further talent and investment.

6. Scalability and Future Planning

As startups grow and scale, their challenges evolve. Having advisors with experience in scaling businesses can be invaluable. They've been there, navigated those waters, and their insights can significantly streamline a startup's growth trajectory.

How Shark Tank Works

Following our exploration of the importance of advisory shares in fostering startup growth, one might wonder how these shares come into play in a high-stakes environment like Shark Tank. The show isn't just about entertainment; it provides an in-depth look into the complex dance of business negotiations and valuations. Let's break down the process.

1. Pitching the Business

Every journey on Shark Tank begins with the pitch. Entrepreneurs are granted a limited time to present their ideas, products, or services. This is their golden moment—a chance to make a lasting impression on the Sharks. The pitch isn't just about showcasing the product but also about displaying the passion, vision, and drive behind it. Entrepreneurs need to persuade the Sharks that they're not only investing in a viable business but also in dedicated and capable individuals.

2. Evaluating Potential Value

Once the pitch wraps up, the Sharks shift into analytical mode. Their primary aim is to assess the potential value of the startup's advisory shares. This isn't just about current profitability or sales; it delves deeper. The Sharks consider factors like the scalability of the business model, market trends, competitive landscape, and the potential for disruption. It's here they weigh the future growth potential against the present valuation, often probing with hard-hitting questions to gauge the entrepreneur's understanding of their business dynamics.

3. Negotiating and Finalizing

Arguably the most thrilling part of the show, this phase witnesses intense negotiations. Entrepreneurs and Sharks haggle over equity stakes, valuations, and, of course, advisory shares. The give-and-take isn't solely about numbers. It's a complex interplay of valuation, vision alignment, potential partnerships, and strategic growth avenues. Sometimes, the Sharks envision a role for themselves beyond just investors – as mentors or strategic partners. This is where advisory shares can emerge as a vital tool in sealing the deal, ensuring both parties have skin in the game and are aligned toward the startup's success.

Factors to Consider When Offering Advisory Shares

Transitioning from the high-energy environment of Shark Tank, where equity negotiations often happen on the fly, the real-world allocation of advisory shares requires a more meticulous approach. Advisory shares aren't just stock offerings; they represent a symbiotic relationship between startups and their advisors. But what are the nuances startups should consider before distributing these shares?

1. Advisor’s Role and Contribution

Before any equity is exchanged, it's essential to outline the role and expectations of the advisor clearly. Are they coming on board for strategic guidance, industry connections, operational expertise, or all of the above? The more integral their role, the more shares they might command. It’s a delicate balance of understanding the value they bring versus the equity they take.

2. Vesting Period

While it’s tempting to seal a partnership with an advisor quickly, startups must protect their long-term interests. Implementing a vesting period, typically spanning a few years, ensures that advisors remain committed to the company's growth. It prevents scenarios where advisors receive shares and then reduces their involvement or contribution.

3. Dilution Over Time

As startups grow and raise more capital, there’s potential for dilution of shares. Entrepreneurs should forecast potential funding rounds and their implications on equity distribution. While initial advisory shares might seem minimal, future dilution can impact an advisor's stake and motivation.

4. Exit Strategy

Startups and their advisors should be on the same page regarding an exit strategy. Whether it's aiming for an acquisition, a merger, or going public, clarity on these potential outcomes can influence the advisory shares' allocation. Advisors might perceive different exit strategies with varying risk profiles, influencing their equity expectations.

5. Legal and Contractual Implications

Advisory shares aren't just a handshake deal; they come with legal ramifications. It’s essential to draft clear agreements outlining the terms of the equity allocation, roles, responsibilities, and any clauses pertaining to termination or change of roles. Consulting with legal professionals ensures that all parties are protected and the agreement stands firm.

By taking a methodical approach to advisory share allocation, startups can foster strong, beneficial relationships with their advisors. It ensures that this equity tool serves its primary purpose: driving mutual growth and success.

Tips from 'Sharks' on the Show

Over the years, Shark Tank has not only been a platform for entrepreneurs to secure investments but also a treasure trove of business advice from seasoned investors. Let's delve into some valuable tips from the Sharks that can particularly enlighten entrepreneurs on the intricacies of equity and partnership dynamics.

1. "Know Your Numbers" - Kevin O'Leary

Often referred to as "Mr. Wonderful", Kevin has consistently emphasized the importance of being well-versed in your business metrics. Whether it's your profit margins, customer acquisition costs, or inventory turnover rates, knowing these numbers instills confidence in potential investors and ensures you're not caught off-guard during negotiations.

2. "Valuation is not just about today; it’s about tomorrow." - Mark Cuban

Mark often stresses the need for entrepreneurs to be realistic about their company's valuation. While it's essential to value the hard work put into the business so far, future potential and scalability play a significant role in determining equity stakes and advisory shares.

3. "Passion is an important part of entrepreneurship, but it's not everything." - Lori Greiner

While Lori loves seeing passionate entrepreneurs, she emphasizes that passion alone isn't sufficient. An effective business model, a clear understanding of the target market, and a sound strategy are crucial components that complement passion.

4. "Partnerships go beyond money; it's about the right fit." - Daymond John

Daymond often highlights the importance of ensuring that an investor or advisor aligns with the entrepreneur's vision and values. While capital is crucial, the right guidance, mentorship, and strategic alliance can prove invaluable in the long run.

5. "Always be prepared for the unexpected." - Barbara Corcoran

Barbara's wisdom underscores the unpredictable nature of business. While offering advisory shares or negotiating equity stakes, it's essential to account for unforeseen challenges and opportunities, ensuring that agreements are both flexible and robust.

While Shark Tank offers a glimpse into the world of high-stakes negotiations and business pitches, these invaluable pieces of advice from the Sharks serve as a timeless guide for entrepreneurs navigating the complex waters of equity and partnerships.

Alternatives to Advisory Shares

While Shark Tank and many startup scenarios often spotlight the allure of advisory shares, they aren't the only tool in the entrepreneur's arsenal. Depending on the growth stage, objectives, and specific needs of a startup, other equity and compensation structures can be more fitting. Understanding these alternatives can equip founders with more flexibility and precision in their negotiations and partnership formations.

1. Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

RSUs are company shares that are promised to an employee or advisor but aren't delivered until a specified vesting period passes. Unlike advisory shares, which might be allocated immediately, RSUs represent a future promise and often come with particular conditions, such as performance metrics or time-based vesting.

2. Stock Options

A popular tool among startups, stock options provide the holder with the right, but not the obligation, to purchase company shares at a predetermined price. They can be lucrative if the company's stock price rises significantly, but they also carry the risk of becoming worthless if the company's valuation doesn't increase beyond the set price.

3. Phantom Stock

Phantom stocks are a promise to pay a bonus equal to the value of a certain number of shares. It provides the holder with the financial benefits of stock ownership without giving them any company stock. This can be an attractive tool when startups want to provide financial incentives without diluting ownership.

4. Profit Interests

Particularly common in LLCs, profit interests represent a claim on the company's future profits without bestowing any underlying capital interest in the company. For advisors or employees who contribute to a startup's growth, this can be a direct way to share in the financial upside.

5. Cash Compensation

While equity tools are essential in the startup world, sometimes the old-fashioned method of straightforward cash compensation can be the most effective. Especially for short-term engagements or when the startup wants to retain maximum equity, cash compensation, possibly combined with performance bonuses, can be an ideal approach.

Each equity and compensation mechanism has its unique attributes, advantages, and considerations. For startups, the key is to align these tools with their growth trajectory, financial strategy, and the value they anticipate from their advisors and partners. As the saying goes, it's about using the right tool for the right job.

Did our mini-spotlight on RSUs catch your interest? Book a demo with Upstock today to see them in action in over a dozen of startups and early-stage companies we cater to. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Casey Fenton

Founder, Upstock & Couchsurfing, AI and Equity Innovator

Casey Fenton, the founder of Upstock & Couchsurfing and an AI and equity innovator, has revolutionized how we perceive and implement equity in the workplace. His foresight in creating platforms that not only connect people but also align their interests towards communal and corporate prosperity has established him as a pivotal figure in technology and community building. Casey speaks worldwide on topics including ownership mindset, worker equity, With Upstock and Couchsurfing, he has demonstrated an unparalleled expertise in harnessing technology for the betterment of community interaction and organizational benefits.

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