Cox and Taylor got their feet wet at an open call held at the Silverton Casino hotel in Las Vegas on Feb. 20. Knowing only the first 500 contestants would be guaranteed time with a casting director, they arrived the night before along with some 30 other hopefuls.
“As small business owners and entrepreneurs, we are constantly on the lookout for ways to increase the market awareness of our product. I have been a fan of the show for a long time,” Cox said, “so when Lee found out that they were holding open casting calls right in our backyard, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
They spent the next 18 hours running through their pitch, trying to sleep and networking with a talented, inspiring and often quirky group of entrepreneurs. Many were local, while some came from as far away as Florida. Cox also scored air time with a crew from KTNV Channel 13 Action News.
“If we were to get on the show, we are asking for money to be able to push a larger nationwide marketing campaign than we have the resources for right now,” Cox said. “The money would definitely get us a long way, but ultimately it is the resources and connections of the sharks themselves that would allow us to take our company to the next level.”
Contestants were divided into groups of 70 and given only one minute to pitch their product. After the whirlwind audition, Cox and Taylor are now waiting to hear from a producer; they will only be contacted if they’ve been accepted.
“We’re unable to comment on potential show participants or their status in the consideration process,” ABC publicity director Marsha L. Smith said.
Ringing up success
Like many inventions, Call iQ was created to solve a problem. Cox and Taylor were running a wireless internet service throughout southwestern Utah in 2010. As the business grew, so did marketing expenses, and they needed a system that could pinpoint successful advertising to save time and money. They started developing a product to do just that.
Call iQ is call tracking and marketing analytics software designed specifically for small and medium-sized businesses. A unique phone number is assigned to each form of advertising a business uses. Calls are routed through the Call iQ data center and on to the company.
While the call is routed, the software will record information about who called and how they found out about the business. This information is then sent to clients in aggregated weekly and monthly reports.
“At the end of the day, people who call you are more engaging potential customers than those whose click to your Web page from a Facebook ad and then bounce away without even remembering your website,” said Dr. Xi Cui, an assistant professor with Dixie State University’s Communication Department. “I see this as a good business idea; however, it’s not new. The real gold, I think, is in how to mine the data they collect and provide better qualitative insights that other metrics can’t.”
“We came from a small business background, so we understand explicitly the demands that are placed on small business owners’ time and money,” Taylor said. “Call iQ was designed to give these small business owners the tools and information they need to be able to make informed decisions on how and where they spend their marketing dollars, without needlessly wasting their precious time and resources.”
Call iQ has grown steadily over the past four years, with a customer base ranging from local tire shops and pizza franchises to phone books and marketing firms that resell the software as a white-label product, that is, one that others can remarket, rebrand.
“The great thing with our software is that we are constantly improving and coming up with ways to track new advertising mediums, from text marketing to tie-ins with Google Analytics,” Cox said.
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About “Shark Tank”
Created by “Survivor” executive producer Mark Burnett, “Shark Tank” is a reality series that features product and business pitches from entrepreneurs to a panel of potential investors, made up of multimillionaire tycoons Robert Herjavec, Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran, Daymond John, Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner. The show airs Fridays at 8 p.m. local time on ABC and is also in syndication on CNBC.
Companies that have scored a deal with the “sharks” include children’s medicine dispenser Ava the Elephant, restaurant and condiment brand Pork Barrel BBQ, cat toilet training system CitiKitty and online bake shop Daisy Cakes, all of which now gross over $1 million in annual revenue, despite being startups or even just ideas at the time of their appearance. Those who leave the tank empty-handed still benefit from the exposure of being on the show, with an average of 7 million viewers per episode.
This proven success has entrepreneurs across America clamoring for a taste of TV fame. According to a Jan. 19 article in the Washington Post, producers received over 35,000 applications for the 2013-14 season. Of those, only 157 were selected to pitch in front of Herjavec, O’Leary and the other investors. About 112 are expected to air.
“The odds of actually getting onto the show are infinitesimally small,” Cox said. “We probably had about as good of a chance of winning big playing slots while we were there, but as the great (Wayne Gretzky) said, ‘You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.'”
Regardless, the experience has positively impacted not only Call iQ, but their overall approach to business.
“Having to squeeze your entire business into a one-minute pitch makes you take a second look at what truly sets you apart from your competitors, so it has definitely helped give us a more laser-like focus on who our market is and what their needs are,” Cox said. “We had so much fun throughout the experience, and it has encouraged us to explore other ‘out of the box’ ways to market our business and get ourselves out there.”
“Will we make it on the show? Probably not,” Taylor said. “But did we have a fun adventure that helps us step out of our comfort zone, both personally and professionally? Without a doubt!”
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