“You can’t insult me.”
Aaron Powell smiled politely at Barbara Corcoran.
“Oh, yes he can,” Daymond John retorted. It was not a comment – it was a warning. Aaron blinked and shifted his weight as he laughed nervously. With eyes shooting behind square-rimmed glasses, the tall businessman had no idea what was coming next.
Powell, a former band teacher in high school, rode an electric three-wheeled bicycle Shark Tank. He rode off with a deal that had never been made before in the show’s 12-season history. So how did a small cycling company from Denton, Texas “pedal” its goods to it Sharks – and win? And what can we learn from Aaron’s experience of persuasion and negotiation?
After another Sharks bowing, Aaron negotiated a deal with Barbara Corcoran, doing something rare (but not unheard of) when he opposed her offer of ownership. He proposed a rather complex combination of a loan and a position of capital in business. Usually counter-bids are rejected directly. Would his fate be the same?
He has just shared a personal story about how a shipment of bicycles was basically destroyed by a mass storm. Thanks to the typhoon, he received a shipment that “smelled of moisture”: the bikes inside were soaked and unusable. He took the junk shipment because he had already paid for it. But without bicycles for sale, he had no income to oppose his payment. So he took on a lot of debt in the process. Because of that debt, which he was repaying, he could not accept Barbara’s original offer – will it seem ungrateful because of that? Selfish? Can’t invest? Most investors run away from debt like a cat from a burning building – and Aaron had a lot of them. But Barbara did not escape. Some backward negotiations have resulted in a new partnership for Aaron and his company.
The agreement to create history came later, when Robert Herjavec decided to become part of the plan. Herjavec was not on set in Las Vegas because of Aaron’s episode – so he didn’t see the field. But he still wanted inside, since he knew (first hand) what Bunch Bikes had to offer. Because Robert Herjavec is a proud owner of a cluster.
He and his wife Kym cruise around with their twins Haven and Hudson (born April 2018), and love the vibe and experience of an electric bike with a front carrier.
As Aaron’s field coach for the show, I saw several key elements that created strength in his message. Remember these elements so you can convince someone that your idea is worth driving:
- Be authentic: When we first worked together, Aaron was trying to find his voice and a natural way to share his story. Television is, after all, a visual medium – and producers are looking for a certain amount of energy and enthusiasm. But how much was too much – and how to find the “right” approach? Powell remained focused on his numbers, his story and ultimately, the real needs of his business. Coaching helped him stay alone, and his authenticity created an atmosphere of trust. Powell was not trying to be anyone but what he was. As the saying goes, “Be your own. Everyone else is busy. “
- Create an experience: The moment Barbara asked to get on the bike was a turning point. “When someone can experience a product,” Powell says via Zoom, “there’s a greater understanding of what’s really available.” The transition from concepts to experience is a vital part of creating a compelling tone. Because, concepts inform – but experiences are forced. We explored the difference between languages information and language creation. Because being more informed is great, but the real goal of any field is the incentive to make a deal. After all, as I tell my clients who teach pitch: if your investors get smarter but you’re not richer, you’re doing it wrong. Achieving a balance between information and outcomes is key. Take ideas out of people’s minds and put them in their hands and move in the right direction. Demonstrate, don’t pontify and your message will get home.
- Don’t back down: Are you really clear about what you need for yourself, your career and your job? Powell was. He knew how his job worked, so he knew Barbara’s initial offer didn’t fit. His counter-offer was placed ua context, so that everyone understood why he could not accept the ownership position she originally wanted. The conversation was just a job – and no ego. When it comes to compelling height, context conquers content. Details, numbers and finances are all parts of the story – but not the whole story. By giving a little clarity about his financial position, Powell paved the way for a new solution. How do you provide context for your next proposal or presentation?
- Is it possible: Since he was on the show during the pandemic, Powell had to rent a cargo van, put two bikes in the back, and drive from North Texas to film in Las Vegas. “Traveling by plane was not an option for me,” he says simply. So while it wasn’t exactly glamorous to drive a cargo van across the desert, it was possible. The mental game — isolation, three days of driving, and eating food for one week’s service — was exhausting. But feasible. “It wasn’t comfortable, but it wasn’t impossible,” Powell says. Saying “yes” to opportunities and understanding that discomfort doesn’t have to stop you is key to finding new opportunities. (And maybe a way to get through this crazy pandemic!)
Aaron knew he needed some guidance on the journey. Isn’t everyone? I am grateful that we had to work together. At the same time, I am grateful to the coaches in my life who help me along the way. While working with entrepreneurs in the SXSW review competition, MassChallenge, Y Combinator and other investor opportunities, I always make sure I have a coach in my corner as well. Because I want to make sure that at every meeting, every conversation and that, even every one, I bring my best self Forbes mail. Coaching is an important part of my business model – and you?
A great excerpt from Aaron’s experience is: you don’t have to go alone. In our joint work, we created a rehearsal space – an online meeting where we reviewed different scenarios so that he did not have to enter the container unprepared. In my experience, understanding is what breeds confidence, clarity and results. When it’s time to progress in your business and career, remember: you don’t have to do it. Self-confidence is nice, but there is something more important than just feeling good about yourself and your field. Once you figure out what you can face, before you get into your version Shark Tank, you are investing in your success.