January 15, 2019
By Zahra Kassam, Founder and CEO of Monti Kids
Why did you decide to audition for Shark Tank?
Over the years, many people suggested that I try and get Monti Kids on Shark Tank. One day, I casually Googled: ”Auditioning for Shark Tank” and saw that there was going to be an open casting call two weeks later in Palm Springs – not too far from where we are in the Bay Area. I decided to go for it! We needed to fill out a long, detailed application about the business, bring samples, and present a one-minute pitch. My baby Zayd was just three months old at the time. I couldn’t leave him and was a little nervous to take him with me but I decided that if I had backup, it would be okay. I asked Berenice, one of the Monti Kids Montessori experts, to come with me to help out. I practiced my pitch with some friends who are big Shark Tank fans and and did a lot of Q&A prep.
How did you feel before you auditioned?
When we flew into Palm Springs for the casting call, I discovered that it was being held at a huge Casino hotel. There were tons of people in the casino gambling and smoking cigarettes (which are still allowed in casinos, I didn’t even know that!), and there I was with my baby, sticking out like a sore thumb, trying to keep him away from the second hand smoke. I checked in with the lady at the front desk, and told her I was there for the Shark Tank auditions which started at 8am the next day. I asked her when people would start lining up because I had watched American Idol and I imagined it would be like that with people lining up the night before and camping out. She told me that no one was allowed to line up in the hotel before 8am, so I thought okay, I guess I’ll follow the rules and come down at 8am. That night, I realized that the answers on my application had been deleted from my computer so I had to re-do it and decided to fill it out by hand this time, just in case. Baby Zayd, kept waking up because he was in a new environment. So I kept going back and forth between helping him get back to sleep and finishing the application and I didn’t go to bed until 2am!
Tell us about the audition day!
I went down right before 8am thinking, I’m really on time and will probably be near the front of the line. I went to the room where the auditions were supposed to be and it was empty! When I asked someone, they told me “This is where the auditions will take place and no one is allowed in here before 8am but … the line starts outside the hotel.” So I walked outside the hotel (this was a huge hotel with a casino, restaurants, shopping, etc) and there was a line of people wrapped around the entire building. I asked the people in the front of the line how long they had been there and they said they had camped out overnight! I was pretty much the last person in the line up and Berenice and I started getting nervous that I might not even get a chance to audition. How could they possibly get to that many people in one day?! We started Googling and asking the people around me whether they hear all the pitches or have a cutoff and everyone had different information. Some people said the producers start auditioning and go as long as they possibly can then stop when it gets too late into the night. Some said that they make sure to see everyone and some people said they cut it off at 500. We were trying to count how many people there were in the line up and then we decided to just think positively and enjoy ourselves.
How long did you have to wait before auditioning?
We actually had a lot of fun in the lineup. People were really excited to see Zayd and play with him since he was the only baby around. He was a really great sport. We took turns strolling him around and since I was nursing, it was easy to feed him right in the lineup. We met some really interesting people who had great stories. For many, it was not their first time auditioning for Shark Tank. One guy had already auditioned four times! There was a former firefighter there who had developed a new design for a fire extinguisher. He really just wanted to help people be safer in their homes. There were so many inspiring entrepreneurs who were chasing their dreams, pouring their savings into their business, working after coming home from long days at their other jobs, getting their families involved. It was a really amazing experience so the 12 hours we waited in line went by faster than I expected. We later learned that there were over 800 people in line that day!
How did your first audition go?
In the final waiting room, right before we were about to pitch, we learned that every season, over 40,000 entrepreneurs apply, less than 100 (this year it was only 88) get to pitch on the show, and even fewer get a deal. It’s a really challenging process. I think the person who told us that was saying it so that people wouldn’t feel too bad if they didn’t get a call back, but I heard those numbers and I thought Wow, those are very bad odds! If I had known that, I probably wouldn’t have come and brought my baby to this casino and waited in line for 12 hours! I definitely saw the humor in it all but it made me lose a little bit of hope. I tried to stay positive and went into the room to meet the producers to give my one-minute pitch. Zayd came in with me and Berenice ended up holding him so I could really focus. He may have been the youngest person to be in a Shark Tank audition room! It was all really exciting. And then it was over! We were told that we would get a call if we got through to the next stage of the application process.
What was it like to hear you made it through the first audition?
I went home not expecting to get a callback because of the very slim chances. But not too long after, I heard from a Shark Tank producer who said that they really enjoyed learning about Monti Kids and they would love to continue the conversation. I was shocked and thrilled! There were still several steps in the application process because they really want to make sure that you’re telling the truth about everything you’re going to say on TV. Finally, after a very long and difficult application period, they invited me to pitch to the Sharks and I couldn’t believe it!
What was it like preparing for the big pitch?
I spent a lot of time preparing for my pitch and, of course, what I was going to wear! I had an outfit planned out but two days before, I was watching some Shark Tank reruns, and I saw a lot of people wearing t-shirts with their company logos. I had seen that before, but for some reason in that moment I thought Oh my god, I have to wear a Monti Kids t-shirt! We didn’t even have Monti Kids t-shirts yet since we were a small startup. I asked our team if we could have one made in time. They worked some magic, found a great website, and got the shirts delivered to the hotel where I was staying for the taping of the show. It arrived just hours before my audition. I had my other outfit there as a backup, but when the Monti Kids t-shirts arrived, I was so excited and felt even more confident. What was even funnier was that there were other companies that ordered t-shirts from the same t-shirt printing company to be delivered to the hotel before their pitches. There’s so much planning to do in order to get to that point so I guess I wasn’t the only one who was scrambling with final details at the last minute.
How did it feel to be in the Tank?
I did a lot of preparation and practice before my pitch day. All of that was helpful, but kind of went out of my mind when I got into the tank because it’s such a unique situation. I honestly think being on Shark Tank was the most stressful thing I have ever done in my life. Maybe it’s not that way for everyone but for me, standing on that stage, under the lights, with the Sharks firing questions at me felt like a lot of pressure. I totally understand why they call it the Shark Tank! It’s not just because the investors are known as sharks, it’s also because if you actually go swimming with sharks, that might be how it feels! All in all, I’m really happy I went on the show. It was a huge accomplishment just to make it into the tank and it was an honor to help spread Montessori on national TV.