VerbalizeIt founder Ryan Frankel, WG’12, discusses the best ways to prepare for negotiations on the reality TV show Shark Tank.

About a year ago, my co-founder Kunal Sarda, WG’12, and I received the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pitch our business to seasoned investors on the popular ABC reality TV show Shark Tank, thanks to an application notification from the Wharton Venture Initiation Program. We knew that if we wanted the Sharks to fund VerbalizeIt, a language translation community that offers users real-time access to human translators, we would have one chance to deliver a succinct pitch and negotiate for seed funding in front of 7 million viewers.

We spent weeks (or, more accurately, months) preparing for our negotiation, and we are pleased to report that our hard work paid off. We generated a bidding war among the Sharks and successfully negotiated a funding offer. (Editor’s note: The episode aired Friday, May 17, but you can watch a recording of Shark Tank Episode 26 here).

Since the show, we’ve negotiated with several more investors. Below are the strategies that helped us raise $1.5 million in investment capital with the right mix of investors.

We asked questions to understand what was important to each investor. Before the negotiations, we researched their past investments and interests. We looked at past comments made by the Sharks and talked to people who have worked with them so we could understand what factors made a deal attractive. Our goal was to discern how we could be flexible on the terms that the Sharks cared about, while avoiding giving up too much of the things we strongly valued.

We determined the least we would accept and were prepared to walk away. Kunal and I are both confident that travelers and small business owners would be excited about our business, but it was tough to ascribe a value to a market that has never been served before. In the end, we tried to make conservative estimates of our growth potential and agreed on a baseline valuation for our company.

We tried not to focus solely on the money. In case we received competing offers, we evaluated the non-monetary assets each investor could add, such as areas of expertise, business contacts and specific skills. This was a crucial step because we ultimately had to choose between offers from two different Sharks within a matter of minutes. Even when time is less crunched, we have found it easier to rationally evaluate non-monetary factors before getting into the heat of the negotiation.

We learned to control our emotions. We knew it would be difficult to contain our emotions when the cameras started rolling, but we understood that failing to maintain our composure would cost us. The only effective approach for improving our emotional control was practice, practice and more practice. We called on many of our Wharton friends for mock negotiations, and while we’re still working on this aspect, we felt that the practice significantly improved our mental readiness for negotiation.

This article originally appeared in Wharton Magazine on May 20th, 2013

Shark Tank: 48 Hours Later

It’s Monday morning, just 48 hours after VerbalizeIt was featured on the season finale of the Emmy-nominated ABC television series, Shark Tank. 

 Over the last week, sleep has come at a premium and yet I’m invigorated. Why, you ask?

Is it because of the thousands of new customer sign-ups? Or because of the hundreds of photos submitted to our #FoundinTranslation campaign and the resulting donations to Children International? Sure, naturally I’m focused on building our highly disruptive business and helping people break through language barriers. But what really makes me proud is not the outcome from Shark Tank, but what being on the show symbolizes for our team.

In the same way that taking part in the TechStars start-up accelerator and the Wharton Venture Initiation Program forced the VerbalizeIt team to accelerate our successes and failures, the approach of the Shark Tank airdate gave us new urgency for completing some of the initiatives that we’ve had on our timeline for 2013. In meeting this new “deadline”, our team grew closer, our translator community scaled to more than 7,500 professionals and our business strengthened.

Much has been written about what goes on behind the scenes of Shark Tank: What is the application process like? How do the producers decide which companies can pitch? What determines which episodes actually air versus those relegated to the storage drawer?

But what isn’t often talked about is that the eight-minute Shark Tank segment is just the tip of the iceberg. For us, our pitch about the strengths of our human-powered translation app showcased just one small part of our multifaceted platform which offers translation solutions to business enterprises, developers and individuals across the globe.

Similarly, the episode featured only my co-founder and me, whereas the entire VerbalizeIt business has been built on the backs of a dedicated team of thousands of translators, community leaders, developers, business development professionals, mentors, and value-added investors.

The exposure of Shark Tank and the opportunity to present our business in front of such a diverse and experienced group of investors is wonderful. But what’s really rewarding is the opportunity to acknowledge the hard work going on behind the scenes that our customers only see in the use of our products and services.

It was a thrill to present in front of the Sharks and the viewing public, but it was an even greater honor to draw attention to the work that our community and our team put forth every day to provide hugely valuable translation services. Congratulations to the 7,537 of you who make every day a joy for our customers and for me.



P.S. You catch the full episode on Hulu and watch VerbalizeIt at the 30 minute mark. 

‘Twas the night before Shark Tank

Less than 24 hours from the big airing, our co-founder and CEO, Ryan Frankel, decided to write a sonnet about the night before Shark Tank.

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‘Twas the night before Shark Tank, when all through the house
Not a VerbalizeIt team member was sleeping, not even a spouse.
The translators were waiting by the phone with care,
In the hopes that Shark Tank soon would air.

Our translators were prepared for what might be said,
With visions of happy traveler phone calls in their heads.
Our new website, business platform and community ready to go
We all felt that it was time to start the show.

With months of hard work, sweat and tears behind us
How bad could it be, seven million viewers, what’s the fuss?
When out in social media arose such a roar,
It was our fans shouting, “We’re ready for the war!”

And why not be excited for the show?
After all, for travelers and global businesses, it’s VerbalizeIt you should know
When, all of a sudden what to my wondering eyes should come through?
A batch of emails from our proud crew.

With 5,000 translators in our community to-date
Job creation was the item on the slate
“Thank you for building this platform” was the reflection!
With VerbalizeIt, I’m honored to make a language connection.

“Now Mark! now, Kevin and Mr. John to the Tank!
On, Barbara! On, Robert!, Let’s go to the bank!
To the Taj Mahal and to the Great Barrier Reef!
Now get ready! Get ready, get ready good grief!

With hours to go, final preparations were made
A battle with the Sharks about to be played
What’s not reflected in the eight minutes of the show
Is the thousands of hours already in tow

So proud of my team I couldn’t be more
It’s time to get ready for the big score
And just before sun-up, I let out a call
Congratulations on your hard work. Congratulations to all!

Tune in to ABC May 17th at 9pm EST to see how VerbalizeIt deals with the Sharks. Oh, one more thing, Erika the young woman on the show (one of our very first translators) just recently said “Yes” to Ryan’s marriage proposal.  So cute!

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Jumping into the Shark Tank

This blog was originally published on Wharton Magazine by our co-founder and CEO Ryan Frankel.

VerbalizeIt’s co-founders will appear on ABC’s Shark Tank this Friday. We invited one of them to share the four keys to startup pitching that he learned preparing for the show.

After the harrowing experience of being unable to communicate with a doctor during a trip to China, I wanted to help eliminate language barriers by offering real-time access to human translators using the power of technology. Kunal Sarda, WG’11, and I started VerbalizeIt during the first year of my Wharton MBA. Some months later when we were ready to raise capital, the Wharton Venture Initiation Program (VIP) team alerted us about an opportunity to apply for a spot on Shark Tank, the popular ABC show that gives entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their ideas to veteran investors.

To vie for the opportunity to be on national TV, we took several important steps that not only landed us a spot on the show but helped us generate an exciting outcome:

We did our homework. Before we stepped in front of the sharks, we conducted extensive background research to better understand how they could add value to our company. This meant finding out whether each investor had industry or functional expertise, had invested in similar ventures, or had particular investment objectives and requirements. Understanding precisely who we were dealing with helped us craft a story and boosted our confidence before going in front of the sharks. We now do this before meeting with any potential investor.

We emphasized what makes our business unique. While it often seems obvious to us that we have a unique value proposition, it was important to remember that someone hearing only a brief synopsis of our business may not immediately be clear on how we differ from the competition. It was critical to explain this in clear language. In our case, this meant addressing how our global community of human translators provides greater accuracy and quality than automated translation alternatives.

We didn’t ignore the naysayers. It is common practice to tell entrepreneurs that they should “ignore the naysayers.” But before going in front of investors, it is a good idea to seek out critics of your business model and understand their perspectives. We asked several people in the Wharton community to poke holes in our ideas. We then prepared a strong response to their feedback and solutions for every skeptical point raised. A good investor’s job is to ask tough questions, and a good entrepreneur’s job is to have a ready answer for each one.

We showed our progress on the path to success. Though VerbalizeIt is still young, we’ve found it effective to identify the successes we’ve already had, before explaining our future potential. Investors have often told us they view our ability to hit past milestones and launch translation products for consumers and businesses as indicators of our ability to execute on future goals. Because VerbalizeIt filmed our Shark Tank pitch only months after incorporating and before we had a working iPhone app, we tried to impress the judges with the team we had assembled and a virtual demonstration of the product we had fully designed. Showcasing wins gained us more respect from the sharks and investors down the line.

Editor’s note: To find out what happened when Frankel and Sarda pitched to “the sharks,” watch the season finale of Shark Tank on ABC this Friday, May 17, at 9 p.m. EST.

VerbalizeIt Release Version 2.0 of the Human-Powered Translation App

VerbalizeIt, Inc. has released version 2.0 of the world’s first human-powered translation app.

VerbalizeIt provides human translators who facilitate real-time conversations between people that speak different languages. By providing real-time phone and internet-based access to a community of more than 3,500 translators in more than 75 countries collectively speaking more than 60 languages, VerbalizeIt facilitates global, cross-language conversations, effectively eliminating language barriers for good.

“We’re thrilled to release version 2.0 of our app,” said Ryan Frankel, VerbalizeIt co-founder and CEO. “VerbalizeIt began from stories of personal trauma with language barriers and now we’re ensuring that people are helping people break those barriers anywhere in the world at any time.”

VerbalizeIt’s new app features ten languages including: Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, French, German, Spanish, Hindi, Japanese, Italian, Korean, and Arabic. Additionally, for the first time ever, the app also features access to VerbalizeIt’s suite of services including text, audio, video and industry-specific translation services. As an added benefit, VerbalizeIt included a “Need Inspiration” section where VerbalizeIt translators can personally teach useful phrases for global travel, insuring all intonation and cultural references are accurate. Phrases include: “Hi, my name is…”, “This is delicious…”, “Do you know where this is…” and of course, “Which way to the bathroom?”

“Emotions, local customs and terminology are the characteristics that matter most in global translation,” states Frankel. “Computer solutions overlook the most important fact in a global economy—humans still matter.” With the release of version 2.0, VerbalizeIt reinforces the human element with the ultimate translation solutions.