Bellhops has had two huge honors this week— first they were one of six Chattanooga companies invited to Southland SE Conference in Nashville. Then they were chosen to pitch in the Miller Lite Tap the Future event in Atlanta in front of a panel of judges including Daymond John from ABC’s Shark Tank. Not only did they pitch at Tap the Future, they won $20,000! They wouldn’t have won that prize, however without a skill essential to any entrepreneur— the ability to pivot last minute, read the room, and think on your feet.
Bellhops was up against a variety of other business concepts, including Bank My Biz, SoberDough, SignatureElite, and a secure cloud-based storage startup. Although they’d applied to the Tap the Future event back in April, they’d only recently heard they were semifinalists and started preparing for the event. When they packed up and headed to Atlanta, they had their standard pitch prepared, the one that’s won over investors plenty of times before.However, on arrival they quickly realized that Tap the Future isn’t your average pitch event. For one thing, the judges include Daymond John from ABC’s Shark Tank. For another, the prize is cold hard cash, not an investment. Third, it’s as much entertainment as it is business. The event took place in the Opera Nightclub, and was attended by celebrities like Kenny Burns, the Vice President of P. Diddy’s Revolt TV empire.
“It’s almost like standup comedy with a business model,” Bellhops cofounder Stephen Vlahos said. Because the event was so different from others in the industry, each team was given a mentor beforehand to coach them on how to wow the judges’ panel and the crowd. “I was freaking out because I had a whole speech planned but then I realized it wasn’t going to be entertaining.”
That’s when Bellhops decided to think on its feet and switch up its plan. Where others might have panicked, or forged ahead with their prepared presentations, the Bellhops team took a different approach. “We started drinking beers and then about ten minutes beforehand I decided to ditch what I had planned and just get up there and tell our story,” explained Vlahos.
The last minute shift in strategy paid off. The crowd loved what Bellhops had to say about their startup and their story. Vlahos was happy to say that “from there on it was just laughter and more laughter.” That ability to make a last minute change to suit immediate needs and read the audience was crucial to taking Bellhops to the top. In the end it wasn’t the numbers of the presentation that mattered as much as having a strong team and a story that spoke for itself.
As semifinalists, Bellhops will have another chance to share their genuine wit and wisdom at the Tap the Future finals in August. The semifinalists from each Tap the Future event in Dallas, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Miami, and Atlanta will compete before a new panel of judges for a $200,000 prize. We have no doubt that they’ll do an amazing job.
When you have a strong startup concept, know your customers and your audience, and have an absolute passion for your business, there’s no obstacle you can’t tackle. After all, when you know your brand and your people inside and out, you can always show your best side and a fresh solution under any circumstances.