WASHINGTON, March 12, 2013 — Shark Tank is a fantastic guilty pleasure on Friday nights - a combination of business insight, drama and inspiring new ideas. Bea Arthur, not to be confused with the Golden Girl, appeared on the show a few weeks prior.
Her idea, Pretty Padded Room, offers licensed therapists and counseling online to help women with stress management, career counseling, marriage counseling and more.
Bea did not receive an investment but did get valuable advice and national exposure. Curious about the process behind the show and where she is now, Bea answered my questions about her experience and her takeaways.
She will also be joining my #BareItAll tweet chat Wednesday, March 13th at 2PM EST.
Jeff Barrett: What makes you believe strongly in your business?
Bea Arthur: Pretty Padded Room is a very personal project for me; I actually came up with the concept after my first business failed and I was beyond depressed. I wanted to talk to a professional but didn’t want to ask anyone for a referral plus I couldn’t afford it. I realized that if I felt like that as a counseling advocate, then other people must feel similarly intimidated or priced out. So I scaled it down and brought it to where we keep all our other dark secrets – the Internet!
Since we’ve launched, my little team has provided therapy to clients all over the country and all over the world to people who wouldn’t have tried it otherwise. I wish I could tell you about some of our clients because it’s amazing the reach that we’ve had. I love the work we do and think therapy is a valuable and needed service, so it is my mission to make it more available and accessible.
JB: How was the Shark Tank experience? What didn’t we see on camera?
BA: As naïve as it might sound, I was not prepared for what Shark Tank would really be like. I knew it might be unpleasant but it became unprofessional and unnecessarily mean very quickly. What aired was rough but they edited out a lot of very insulting things that were said to me.
I did open myself up to the criticism by not being meticulous with customer tracking, but our numbers weren’t even very big at that point as we were still in beta, so I don’t think the anger they had towards me was justified. Obviously it was TV, but I still treated it as if it were a real business meeting and just wasn’t expecting that much condescension. It takes a lot to get on that show and each of them has struggled to get businesses off the ground so it was weird that they were so dismissive. I know they all remember the early days because that struggle and that hustle is what makes great leaders and great mentors. In this situation, I wish they had shown that side more.
JB: Would you recommend being on Shark Tank?
BA: It depends on your goals. I was a solo entrepreneur back then and was completely burned out from doing everything by myself, so I really hoped to get mentoring in addition to funding. But some companies that are further along end up making bad deals for majority stakes in their company when all the real work is done. And depending on how your “meeting” went or is edited, your appearance may have a negative effect on your business or reputation. I’ve been lucky in that most of the response has been positive but I’ve spoken to other entrepreneurs from the show who have actually received death threats.
That said, more than 40,000 companies applied this year to be on the show so if you are good enough to get on, then you should absolutely take advantage of the opportunity.
JB: How have things changed since you appeared on the show?
BA: Things changed immediately after I taped actually which was back in September. More than money, I was hoping to get a partnership through the show. So when I didn’t, I started asking around when I got back to NYC and partnered with an amazing team of advisors. I still own 84 percent of the company, have secured outside funding, and now have hardworking software and business developers that have fixed all the bugs in the platform, which is the real reason our attrition rates were high: The site was in beta for the first year and I didn’t have the money to pay for updates.
Since the show aired, we’ve gotten hundreds of new clients and just as many offers from therapists and other service providers who want to work with us - it’s been amazing! There’s been a little bit of backlash from some mental health counselors, which is disappointing because there’s always room for growth in any industry and tele-counseling is the future. Some have said that our branding is a gimmick but if you go to our site and check out our team’s credentials, you can see that we take it very seriously.
With Pretty Padded Room, I wanted to offer a different experience of psychotherapy. It doesn’t have to be about lying on a couch rehashing your childhood; you can just log in whenever you want, vent to someone who won’t interrupt you, leave your problems on the site, and get on with your day. I personally wanted a way to release stress easier and faster so I created that with PPR, and lots of people get what we’re going for so we’ve definitely found our niche.
JB: What’s next for Pretty Padded Room, yourself?
BA: I’m so proud that we’ve been able to prove our model, make money, and help people at the same time. So right now, we’re expanding by developing strategic partnerships with college counseling offices and human resources departments. And because of this opportunity with Shark Tank, we have a chance to grow even further and really make our mark in the telemedicine space, so we’re building a sister site to appeal to a broader market as well as a SaaS product based on our platform to license to private practitioners looking to set up an “office” in the online space. We’re hoping to launch this product extension in the next three months so look out for that. I care a lot about this field; it’s so exciting because distance counseling is an emerging market and I very much want to be a part of its future.
JB: Anything else you would like to add?
BA: The Sharks are nothing like real investors are and the entrepreneur community is actually very supportive so my best advice to other entrepreneurs who want to make it on the show or just to the next level would be to get started. Now. Right where you are with what you already have. Network, ask around for mentors, and start testing your product. No matter how much you plan or how amazing your financial projections are, things will go wrong, so just start where you are, make mistakes, learn from them, and grow forward.
Jeff Barrett is a recognized leader in public relations, experiential marketing and social media. CEO of Status Creative, 2012 PRNewswire Award Winner for “Best Use of Video In Social Media” and once stayed at a Holiday Inn Express.
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