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This post was written in anticipation of MKT, an entrepreneur event hosted by my employer, Horizon Media. The event took place on December 15.

I’d been working at Horizon Media for a few months when I heard the story of how the company’s CEO and founder, Bill Koenigsberg, started his ad agency back in 1989.

Koenigsberg was his early twenties, fresh out of college with a marketing degree in hand, when he went to work for a boutique media buying agency in Manhattan. (When an advertiser wants to buy space on a billboard, in a TV show, or on a website, it typically uses a buying agency to negotiate the price and purchase the ad for them.)

It was meant to be a temporary gig until he found something better. But he had a knack for the ad business, and ended up working at his first agency for six years.

He was doing so well, in fact, that the president of the agency promised Koenigsberg a car as a reward for his hard work. But when it came time to actually give Bill the car, the president reneged. Bill was not happy. When a headhunter called him with a job offer shortly after, he took it.

Koenigsberg eventually parlayed that job (from the headhunter) into an opportunity to buy the company that would later become Horizon Media, which he still owns today.

A small business in a big business’ body
Horizon Media is the largest privately held media agency in the world and boasts a client roster that includes GEICO, Capital One, and Burger King. With nearly a thousand employees across its New York and Los Angeles offices, it’s no mom-and-pop shop.

So it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Horizon’s office culture leaned towards the corporate end of the scale—by which I mean a stuffy, serious workplace straight out of Office Space—considering its size and the brands it reps. But it doesn’t.

Instead, Koenigsberg and Horizon have gone in the other direction when it comes to office culture.

Philanthropy is a major part of Horizon’s identity, forging partnerships with City Harvest, 96 Elephants, NY Cares, and Toys for Tots. Employees are empowered to host charity happy hours on The Terrace, our outdoor space which includes beer taps, with the proceeds going towards important causes.

In late October Horizon invited 75 first graders from a local elementary school to trick-or-treat in our offices. Afterwards the company treated the kids to lunch and surprised them with costumes the agency and its employees had purchased for them.

Horizon employees are also afforded myriad perks—many of which are unheard of at most companies—not to mention everyday use of its gorgeous office space. But at Horizon the extras go beyond happy hours or company sports teams or World Cup viewing parties.

At Horizon’s SoHo office it’s not uncommon to find Stephen Hall, Horizon’s chief marketing officer, in The Dunes—Horizon’s cavernous all-purpose space—interviewing guests like baker and Cronut inventor Dominique Ansel, or Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe co-founder Matt Besser. This past September renowned film director Robert Rodriguez stopped by for a talk as part of Horizon’s Hispanic Heritage Month event series.

MKT
In December Horizon will host MKT (pronounced “market”), inviting entrepreneurs to set up pop-up shops in The Dunes and sell their products and services. Businesses run by Horizon employees and their families and friends get first priority, after which vendors from the local small business community like Brooklyn Renegade, Union Square Holiday Market, The Market NYC, Scoutmob and Etsy populate the remaining spots at MKT.

You might be asking what a local marketplace of entrepreneurs selling their wares has to do with planning and buying media, i.e. Horizon’s area of expertise.

Business is Personal is intangible,” says Hall, referring to Horizon’s company tagline. “You have to experience it to believe it.”

Hall points out that every media agency is constantly trying to differentiate itself from the competition to land its next big client. But an event like MKT, he says, “turns words into action.”

The idea for MKT came from Leena Danan, Horizon’s VP of business development. “We started MKT as a celebration of entrepreneurship on [Horizon’s] 25th anniversary.” December 2014 marks Horizon’s third MKT event in two years. “This year,” Danan says, “we had multiple referrals both internally and externally, so we are thrilled that employees and past participants are excited to see MKT succeed.”

Horizon Side Hustle
Several Horizon employees have used MKT to showcase their talents outside of their day job.

Meeting and events specialist Brandon Smith, who raps under the name SMTH (pronounced “Smith”), has performed his songs at several Horizon events, including MKT.

“The second I get out of work it’s just straight to the studio, or straight to a shoot,” says Smith. “Every free minute that I have, I just put it into my music.” The music videos for SMTH’s songs, “Ticket to the Moon” and “Last Straw,” have been featured on MTV.

Alex Pagano has really taken Business is Personal to heart, running events for Horizon during the day—including MKT—and running her own business, Look Sharp Events, by night. Pagano recently organized her company’s largest event yet for beer brand Stella Artois, the “Butcher, Baker, Belgian Beer Maker” series kick off in New York City.

Des’ Sweet Treats was founded by Desiree Walker and her daughter, Shayna, who works in human resources at Horizon. Desiree found baking therapeutic while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. “I began playing around with a simple bread pudding recipe to create a variety of flavors,” she says. “My family and friends were my taste testers since my taste buds were off. … The rave reviews received were encouraging and many people began to suggest that I make baking more than a pastime.” Des’ Sweet Treats has attended every MKT event since it started.

External MKT-ers
Brooklyn-based TGT (pronounced “tight,” as in keeping it tight), founded by entrepreneur Jack Sutter, is one of the most exciting new entrants in this year’s MKT.

“I came up with the idea for TGT because I hated using a bi-fold [wallet]; it wasn’t the product for me,” says Sutter, who was at one point using a broccoli rubber band to carry his money. “I knew there was something better.

“I really had a need for this wallet and I kind of had a vision for what it could be,” says Sutter.

After producing some prototypes using scrap leather from a furniture store, Sutter took to Kickstarter—an online platform for crowdsourcing creative ventures—to fund production of his wallets on a larger scale. His funding goal was $20,000. He has raised $317,424 from more than 7,500 backers.

Sarah and Carlos Perla run Made with Nachos, a t-shirt company out of Brooklyn. The Perlas are design school grads who design all their own shirts, and hand-print them in their home studio. They shared the story behind their unique company name:

The name Made with Nachos came about one night when Sarah was cooking dinner. She asked Carlos if he could taste that “special ingredient.” Knowing she meant “love,” he responded with a wink and a smile “What…nachos?” and from that day forward they described things that made with love as Made with Nachos.

The Karako cousins, Michael, Sean and Daniel, are the founders of the reversible tie company Flip My Tie. The Karakos are the sons of the founders of Karako Suits, established 32 years ago in New York City, so men’s fashion is in their blood. They are participating in MKT for the first time.

Sean Karako says he was inspired to start a fashion line while watching ABC’s Shark Tank, the hit reality TV show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to big name (and big bank account) investors. “I saw all these entrepreneurs bringing great ideas and I thought to myself, our fathers have built such great relationships overseas that we should take advantage of it.”

Meanwhile another tie company is making its second MKT appearance. Davor Anic is a former TV producer in Europe with a master’s in fashion design and technology, who moved to the U.S. and started his own tie brand. Anic says he chose to specialize in ties because Croatia, where he’s from, is the “homeland of neckties.” (It’s true. I looked it up.)

It’s a great thing that a company like Horizon Media encourages entrepreneurship—not unlike the kind that Horizon itself was built on. But at the end of the day they still have a media agency to run.

“If everyone [quit Horizon and] did their own start-up we’d have a problem,” Hall jokes, “but we want to create an air of opportunity.

“MKT is like an open mic night,” he says. “If you’ve got some jokes or you can carry a tune, here’s a stage.”

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I started watching ABC’s Shark Tank less than a year ago and since then, I haven’t been able to stop.

The concept of the show is simple: product inventors and/or owners of nascent businesses stand in front of five millionaires and billionaires–would-be investors in their business, or “sharks”–and pitch them on why they should invest their own money in exchange for part ownership (i.e. equity) in a company they’ve never heard of run by someone they’ve never met before.

Most of the presentations are what I’d call “professionally cheesy” (or “cheesily professional”?). They’re rehearsed little 30-second intros that tell the sharks the name of the company and tease what it does or makes, finishing with a flourish in the form of a catchy slogan often uttered in unison. (Jelly company Mango Mango went with, Are you ready for this jelly?) At some point during the little song and dance the entrepreneur(s) (or “treps,” for brevity’s sake) reveals what share of their company they’re selling and for how much equity, e.g. $50,000 in exchange for 20% equity in the company.

Depending on the product, there’s usually a short demo of how it works or what it does, after which the floor is open for sharks to pepper the treps with questions about manufacturing costs, margins, annual sales, their background, and anything else germane to a potential investment.

The better presentations–and the ones most likely to whet a shark’s appetite–are the ones where the treps A) know all the answers to the sharks’ questions and B) have good answers. By good answers I mean the company is profitable, the margins are high (i.e. the product sells for a high price but costs very little to make), and sales have increased year over year.

(One pet peeve of mine related to the Q&A portion is that almost every trep’s answer starts with, “So,” as in, “How much do you make it for and how much do you sell it for?” “So…right now it costs about $5 a unit to produce and we sell it at retail for $9.99.” I know it’s just a stall word in a nerve-wracking situation to let them gather their response, but they do it every time!)

Where was I? I blacked out. Ah yes, the sharks. Each has their own distinct business background (click the links in each shark’s name to learn more), personality, area(s) of expertise, and investment strategy. Episodes features five sharks from a rotation of six. The sharks, far more than the treps, make the show what it is. For the uninitiated, the sharks are:

  • Mark Cuban. The moral compass of the show. Usually very supportive and free with advice even if he doesn’t make a deal with the trep. Calls out his fellow investors for bad deals that don’t favor the trep. Occasionally calls out treps (2:20 mark) whose products/companies he deems specious, irresponsible, or who are on the show for free advertising and not actually seeking a partnership. (Cuban also forced Shark Tank‘s production company to change its policy re: taking 5% of all businesses that appear on the show, regardless of whether a shark chooses to invest his/her own money. What a guy.)
  • Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary: Shark Tank’s answer to Simon Cowell and the show’s constant reminder that it’s not a charity—it’s about making money. On almost every episode Kevin will eschew equity and request a royalty deal where he recoups his investment upfront by taking a cut of every unit sold until he’s paid back in full, then taking a smaller royalty for each unit sold “in perpetuity”—meaning FOR-EV-ER.
  • Robert Herjavec: The nice family guy—but don’t jerk him around or he’ll say things like, “I’m a very nice guy, but don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” Also loves kids and dogs.
  • Lori Greiner: A Chicagoan (listen to the accent) and big player in the QVC world—which is the driver behind most of her deals, as in “This will sell very well on QVC.” (Incidentally, I had no idea QVC was such a huge moneymaker but based on the size of some of the checks she writes, it’s doing a-OK.)
  • Barbara Corcoran: The wacky older woman on the panel–wacky like a fox, that is–also with ties to QVC.
  • Daymond John: Tends not to stray too far from his forte, fashion. Will regularly mention that he started out selling hats on the street (he founded FUBU).

Any time I talk about Shark Tank (which is often) to someone and they’ve actually seen the show, the response is almost always “You watch it, too? I LOVE Shark Tank!”

On May 2 ABC aired a behind-the-scenes special, “Swimming With Sharks” (click the link to view the special) that gave fans a look at the sharks when the camera wasn’t rolling, and some dirt about some of the show’s biggest deals (and non-deals)—as well as some of the stinkers. Below is a recap of each company update:

  • Breathometer ($50): A device that plugs into smartphones and works with a mobile app to perform a self-Breathalyzer test. Per the special, Breathometer expects $10 to 12 million in sales in 2014.
  • Lollacup ($15): A children’s drinking cup with a weighted straw that allows kids to drink even when the cup is not right side up. Profits from Lollacup netted the trep couple who started the company with their $1M dream home.
  • Simple Sugars ($22): All-natural sugar scrubs. Was doing $88,000/year in sales pre-Shark Tank, finished 2013 with $2.1M in sales.
  • Bubba’s Boneless Ribs: A patented process for removing the bones from ribs (without losing the essence of the rib, of course). $200K in first ten days after appearing on Shark Tank.
  • PRO-NRG ($2): A Brandon Jacobs-backed energy drink eventually repackaged as a protein water–after Daymond’s investment and intervention. Per its founder, they’re over $1.5M in sales. During their presentation Mr. Wonderful repeatedly referred to the company as “Pro Nerg.”
  • Stella Valle: A jewerly line made by two female U.S. veterans. $2.5M in sales post-Shark Tank ($50K before).
  • Tipsy Elves ($60): Intentionally ugly Christmas sweaters. No sales figures given.
  • Grace & Lace ($20-36): Lacy women’s socks designed to be seen partially while wearing boots. No sales figures given.
  • Tree T-Pee ($6-7): A mini tent designed to put around trees keep in water from sprinklers to save water. After appearing on the show the trep scored a deal with Home Depot.
  • Voyage Air Guitar ($429): A guitar that folds in half. Working with Kevin, the trep licensed his product to Fender. No sales figures given. Despite their business partnership, the trep and Kevin seem to genuinely dislike each other.
  • Wicked Good Cupcakes ($8): Cupcakes in a jar. Kevin’s royalty deal of 45 cents for every cupcake sold paid off. They’re selling $265K/month.
  • Toygaroo ($40/month): “The Netflix for toys,” lost $200K and went out of business in six weeks. Per Mark, Kevin and the trep had different visions and that caused the company to go under.
  • Copa Di Vino ($3): The trep rejected the sharks on two separate episodes. Mark called him a “gold digger” who was only on the show for the PR. The $300K investment the treo was seeking at the time of his second appearance would have been work $3M today. Now doing $25M in revenue. Trep has a private jet, apparently. Good for him.
  • ReadeREST ($9): A ridiculously simple magnetic hook on which to hang reading or sunglasses. $8.2M in sales so far.
  • Scrub Daddy ($7): A scratch-free scrubbing sponge. The most lucrative trep in Shark Tank history is expected to finish 2014 with $16M in annual sales, and is projected by shark investor Lori to do $30M next year. Within the first hour of their episode airing, Scrub Daddy had 30 to 40K website hits.

Some other thoughts from the special:

  • Mark, according to Robert, is worth more than the rest of the sharks combined ($2.6 billion per Forbes), which I didn’t realize. I’d imagine in some cases, though not all, this gives him an advantage when negotiating against the others.
  • “We are the Mick Jaggers of the business world,” according to Robert. Um…
  • Mark mentioned that it was a family show and people come up to him and say their 9-year-old daughter is obsessed with valuation. Adorable.
  • “Buying a nicer car isn’t as powerful as taking care of my children,” says Robert. He’s so quotable!
  • Interestingly in the “shark on shark” interviews the two female sharks said Mr. Wonderful was a teddy bear, while the guys called him a jerk (excluding Mark Cuban, who wasn’t interviewed, probably because they actually hate each other in real life).
  • We can certainly debate the “realness” of Shark Tank, the vibe I got from all the shark interviews is that it’s genuinely competitive and that none of them wants to be bested by the others. And while this might be viewed as a bunch of rich men and women gambling with these treps’ companies like they’re at a high stakes poker table, the treps stand to gain the most if one of the sharks bets big on them.

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