Preparation is key- We practiced our pitch 1000 times, then did it 1000 more times. We practiced it until it was muscle memory. Know your product, know your numbers, and be prepared for every question they could possibly throw at you. It doesn’t matter how many board meetings you’ve presented in front of, nothing is as intense as five Sharks staring at you, and 15 cameras focused on your every word.
Know Your Audience- We spent hours researching the Sharks, learning about what they are looking for, what they like, and who would best fit their current business needs. We listened to podcasts, watched interviews, read their books- anything we could get our hands on. The more you know about your audience the better you can position what value you are ultimately trying to deliver.
As a part of our series about the ‘5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank’ I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Walsh of Dax Holt of TrophySmack.
Matt Walsh is a high-energy entrepreneur with a background in supply chain and logistics. He is the number one sales agent at a publicly-traded logistics brokerage, founded and exited four startups, and owns/operates three ecommerce stores grossing over 8 million dollars per year. Walsh has pulled countless all-nighters fueled by his drive to make TrophySmack a success, all while juggling his full-time job and family life. TrophySmack started after Walsh was close to winning his first year playing Fantasy Football in 2016. As the newcomer in his league, Matt wanted to buy a 6’ tall fantasy football trophy to highlight his victory in the ‘least humble way possible.’ After discovering the product didn’t exist, Walsh and his soon-to-be partner Dax Holt discussed the opportunity and ways to get the idea off the floor on New Year’s Eve.
Dax Holt, who had recently departed from his longtime job as a popular on-air personality for the celebrity juggernaut TMZ, quickly jumped on board, bringing with him thousands of hours of on-camera time, a vast celebrity network, and a keen eye for design. The two began endless hours of imagining, designing and, creating every component and product you see on TrophySmack today. Months later, Holt found himself in his garage running an engraver, knee- deep in trophy parts and never-ending stacks of boxes. A far cry from his life as a television personality.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of the backstory about how you grew up?
Matt: Thanks for having us! I grew up in the high desert of California, and have been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. Every hobby I had growing up I turned into a business — one way or another. Whether it was going door to door selling crafts in elementary school, organizing collectable card tournaments in my parents garage in middle school, or starting a silk screening business in high school- the startup life is in my blood. I’ve always loved coming up with ideas, connecting the dots, and — for better or worse — taking risks.
I went to college at Fresno State (go Bulldogs!) and studied Entrepreneurship- which was like pouring fuel on the fire. I started four businesses during my time in Fresno that ranged from a Red Bull vending route to a brick and mortar cooking school for kids with my wife-to-be.
With the advice from a professor and mentor, I started my career after graduation at a freight brokerage working in supply chain and logistics. This opened my eyes to how some of the largest companies in the world truly operate. After rising to the top of the company in two years, I put everything on the line and joined a logistics startup. We scaled the business to 20m dollars revenue in 18 months and were acquired in 2010 by a publicly-traded logistics brokerage.
Shark Tank has been a dream of mine since I began watching Season One. Of all my ideas and endeavors, TrophySmack is far and beyond the most exciting… and in three short years, to bring this idea to life and into the Shark Tank still doesn’t feel real!
Dax: I’m originally from Denver, and I moved to California during my junior year of high school. I needed a change of pace and was ready to start fresh in Orange County. Throughout my childhood, I always thought I was going to be an architect. I love houses, design, and basically everything that goes with it. I was even offered a scholarship to attend a prestigious architectural college. However, that all changed after dipping my foot into the TV world. I took a few radio/tv/film courses at my local community college, and completely fell in love. From that day forward, I never looked back. I dove in head first to learn all there was to know, both in front and behind the camera. I thought for sure I would end up as a local news anchor somewhere in America. I would have never guessed how my TV career would actually pan out. As luck would have it, I landed an internship at the entertainment news program EXTRA as a requirement to graduate from Cal State Fullerton. That internship changed my life. I met my future boss Harvey Levin during my stint with that show, and he gave me a shot. My first industry gig was covering a PETA red carpet event for a celebrity website Levin was creating. Months later, after graduating and becoming a full-time employee, that website became TMZ.com. It broke onto the scene and became a household name. Twelve years later the website had blossomed into a TV show, a branded Hollywood tour, a sports show, and so much more. During that time I became a two-time Emmy nominee, was spoofed on SNL, and was known as a staple of the brand. In late 2016, however, I was ready for a new chapter of my life. I left the show to see what else was out there for me. After exiting, I competed (and was the runner-up) to be Kelly Ripa’s co-host on Live with Kelly, became a regular on Access Hollywood and made guest appearances on The Talk, Dish Nation, FOX News and many others. But all those pale in comparison to Shark Tank. This was by far the most exciting and rewarding TV moment I’ve had to date.
Can you share with us the story of the “aha moment” that gave you the idea to start your company?
Matt: In addition to my entrepreneurial bug, I’ve always been hyper-competitive. I had never played fantasy football before I joined Dax’s league with our circle of ‘dad friends’. After making it to the finals as the “new guy,” I felt compelled to buy the most over-the-top trophy money could buy. After all, isn’t fantasy football all about the comradery and bragging rights?? With my credit card out, I was shocked to find the trophies available to buy online all looked the same — and were a far cry from what I imagined purchasing. At that moment, I knew the industry was ripe for disruption. There and then, TrophySmack was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your company?
Dax: Besides Shark Tank, we were lucky enough to make the trophy for the AGBO Superhero Fantasy Football League. This is the league the Russo Brothers (Anthony and Joseph, the directors of Marvel’s mega hit movies Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame) started for charity. The League has Marvel’s biggest stars — Ryan Reynolds, Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth, Paul Rudd, Robert Downey Jr. and more… and TROPHY SMACK MADE THE TROPHY!! We were totally geeking out while engraving winner Chris Pratt’s name on it the other day. That was pretty mind-blowing, and shows just how far our company has come.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting?
Matt: Well it’s funny now, but at the time it was a nightmare. Designing and manufacturing products from the ground up is a cash hungry endeavor, and as with any start-up, we didn’t know what to expect. The most humorous mistake we made was underestimating how aggressive the demand was for a better trophy. The orders hit so fast, our system didn’t get a chance to update to SOLD OUT. We had hundreds of orders in hand, and no product to ship. I’ll never forget renting a U-Haul and waiting 20 hours at LAX for emergency air freight replenishment of inventory. It was unbelievably stressful, but we can laugh now about how GOOD of a problem that turned out to be!
Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Dax: Well, it’s different now. We’ve got years of data to support our buying quantities. It was our first year. Our rapid growth still lends to us selling out of products, but we are more equipped to handle that now (again- these are great problems to have!).
Matt: Dax will always remind me of the panic we felt when overselling inventory. Paying customers that we couldn’t serve is not a good feeling! We’ve since upgraded our systems to avoid this from ever happening again.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Matt: We have just launched a new product line that we’re extremely excited about. We’ve invested a ton of time and resources into a web-based designer tool, which enables the customer to design their own epic pieces of hardware. Customers can now upload their own images, logos, memes, text- basically ANY design can be made for our championship rings. It’s so cool to see customers design pieces outside fantasy sports, creating groomsman gifts, corporate awards for top salespeople, and even super unique gifts for family members. We are launching a customizable championship belt in the next few days- it’s going to be insane!
Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now move to the main part of our interview. Many of us have no idea about the backend process of how to apply and get accepted to be on the Shark Tank. Can you tell us the story about how you applied and got accepted. What “hoops” did you have to go through to get there? How did it feel to be accepted?
Dax: This ended up being a year and a half long process. We started the journey back in June of 2019 when we submitted a big long pitch about why our business is so unique, and how a Shark’s involvement could really help rocket launch us to the next level and beyond. That was followed by a whole lot of silence for a very long time. Six months later, we were contacted by the production team and the audition process officially kicked off. We submitted numerous videos and filled out dozens of forms. The next year was filled with panic and excitement as we continued to advance to the next rounds. Finally, after all the wait was over, we found ourselves walking down that famous hallway and standing in front of the Sharks themselves. There’s nothing like that moment when the doors swing open and you make eye contact with Mr. Wonderful.
I’m sure the actual presentation was pretty nerve wracking. What did you do to calm and steel yourself to do such a great job on the show?
Matt: I’m no stranger to a board room or sales pitch setting. But being in the Tank? Walking down those halls? Hitting our mark in front of the bright lights, and the Sharks staring at us…this is next level adrenaline! I practically have zero hours of on-camera experience, so I had to really lean on Dax. His decade of experience on camera at TMZ definitely paid off in this moment. I remember him looking at me while we stood in front of the doors and I was practically holding my breath. He then said “Dude! We got this!” Once we got in a rhythm, it was smooth sailing from there.
So what was the outcome of your Shark Tank pitch. Were you pleased with the outcome?
Dax: We locked down a deal with Mark Cuban and we couldn’t be more excited about the partnership. He’s the perfect fit for our business. The number one thing people ask is how involved he is. We didn’t have many expectations, but he’s blown them all away. Very responsive, helpful, and is clearly driven to make TrophySmack a success for all of us.
What are your “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Preparation is key- We practiced our pitch 1000 times, then did it 1000 more times. We practiced it until it was muscle memory. Know your product, know your numbers, and be prepared for every question they could possibly throw at you. It doesn’t matter how many board meetings you’ve presented in front of, nothing is as intense as five Sharks staring at you, and 15 cameras focused on your every word.
2. Energy — The Sharks feed off your energy. This is the biggest interview of your life. Walk into that room with the biggest smile on your face because at the end of the day, the Sharks are deciding whether they want to work with you or not- based on you and what you show them.
3. Know Your Audience- We spent hours researching the Sharks, learning about what they are looking for, what they like, and who would best fit their current business needs. We listened to podcasts, watched interviews, read their books- anything we could get our hands on. The more you know about your audience the better you can position what value you are ultimately trying to deliver.
4. Find the Right Partner — In preparation for our Shark Tank pitch, we read that Mark Cuban once said he likes to invest in companies with partners who balance each other. We fit that mold to a T. Matt is the business savvy, logistics driven numbers guy who never stops working. Dax is the hyper-organized, creative, hands-on type. These characteristics equal a partnership worth investing in!
5. Emotional Fortitude — The startup life is not for the faint of heart, and going on Shark Tank took this to the next level. The second you step outside the Tank, you will second-guess and rethink every comment you made to the Sharks. Could you have made a better deal? Did something you say turn them off? You can’t let the “what ifs” consume you. Learn from what took place, and move on.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive and avoid burnout?
Matt: Don’t ever buy into the self doubt. Starting something from nothing will always include tons of uncertainty. Start small, validate your ideas, and never stop learning and tinkering. If you can leverage that inevitable feeling of uncertainty to fuel your passion, there’s nothing that can stop you.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Dax: While our company is founded on the ‘smack talk’ and the camaraderie of fantasy sports, at the end of the day it is really all about not taking ourselves too seriously. We live in an age where negativity garners the most attention. If people stopped looking at things as us vs. them, and understand that it’s OK to have different perspectives, we’d live in a much more enjoyable world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Matt: There are so many great quotes and great minds out there. I try to read as much as I can and as often as I can, so dozens come to mind. Something that’s super important to me is the time I always carve out for my family and kids. I read them the classic Green Eggs and Ham as often as I can. Stay persistent, stay enthusiastic, and always stay creative!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Dax: Naming one person is impossible. Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins — all would be a dream lunch. They’ve excelled beyond imagination in their prospective industries. They are visionaries and philanthropists that have changed the world in some capacity. I’m pretty sure ten seconds into the conversation they would quickly realize I don’t belong there, but listening to their perspective on life, business, and technology would be incredible.
Matt: When I feel like I’m at the end of my rope, which happens often, I always think ‘If Elon Musk can revolutionize the auto industry, send rockets to Mars, and still find time to tweet hilarious memes…I have no excuses!’
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!