Al Nelson always knew he had a good idea for a business. He just never knew how good it was until he pitched his start-up company – EZVIP.com – on the ABC show ‘Shark Tank’.
Nelson, 27, who grew up in Southwest Miami and graduated from Southridge High, is the Founder and CEO of the website that allows you to reserve and pay for your bottle service at a nightclub in advance. (Think of it like the popular restaurant application Open Table, but for nightlife.) After three years he decided to pitch his idea on the show that features successful entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks owner), Daymond John (founder of FUBU clothing line), Kevin O’Leary (educational software), Barbara Corcoran (real estate) and Robert Hejavec (technology security) who try to outbid each other to invest their own money and get a piece of a new business.
On Friday, Jan. 20, Nelson’s pitch was in the final slot of the show’s season premiere, and he watched the broadcast with a small group of friends at the Shelborne Hotel on Miami Beach. He ended up with several offers but in the end accepted the offer from Cuban and John - $150,000 for a 30 percent share of the company. We caught up with Nelson recently to chat about his experience.
When did you decide to try your shot at Shark Tank?
I had a friend who is one of Pitbull’s managers who knew someone who could get me on the show. I told them I wasn’t too sure about it. But eventually I said, ‘What the hell’ and I did the audition. I flew out to L.A. and made my pitch and they picked me to be on the show.
Were you nervous when you had to present your idea?
It was nerve wracking. I knew I was going to be on the show for a month, so I practiced non-stop in front of a mirror to get the wording of my pitch down. When I got there for the show, the producers also helped me mold the pitch and I was ready for it. When it was time to do the pitch, I could have practiced for two more months in front of that mirror and it wouldn’t have mattered. You forget everything you rehearsed and it all becomes second nature. After the taping they told me it was arguably the best segment they’ve had on the show. Sometimes people get two or three offers, but I got what felt like 17 offers. Actually, I don’t remember anything I said from the time I went on to when I walked off. So watching it on Friday will be the first time seeing myself and that will be more nerve wracking.
What was it like when you presented? Is it more difficult than it looks on TV?
You are pitching for an hour and a half, and they are just drilling you and asking you to show the company numbers and all this information. And just because they agree in the show doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. The handshake is cool for television, but they still have a couple more days to investigate you and your company.
When did you find out you would be on the season opener?
Well I taped the segment in October, but it wasn’t until two weeks ago that they called me to tell me I made the show and would be on the season opener and in the last slot on the show, which is the best spot.
What was the end result?
I had an offer with Robert and Kevin, who teamed up. Then I had an offer from Daymond John and Mark Cuban. So I decided to go with Daymond and Mark, they did their just due and a month later we inked a deal and issued shares. They are partners who now own 30 percent. We just came back from Las Vegas and we met with a lot of venues that were set up by Mark, and they are all on board. We also are setting up in New York City. So in a month we are launching websites for both of those cities and we plan to grow to every market, whether it’s a nightclub or a pool party, and develop an mobile phone app as well.
How have things changed for you since the show?
I get a call from Daymond and he tells me he is going to Boston and to meet me out there. We meet up with Mark and then we go to Harvard. Daymond is giving a speech there, talking to students about business, and he pulls me up on stage and asks me to talk about the experience. It was crazy. I have learned so much from these guys, but the most exciting part is the connections they have. They have the knowledge and insight on how to grow my business that I was looking for. They
have done this numerous times.
Shark Tank airs at 8 p.m. on Friday on ABC (WPLG-Ch. 10 in Miami).