Shark Tank
Scan.me

How A Startup Accidentally “Hacked” Shark Tank With A QR Code

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If you’re not familiar with Shark Tank, it’s a show on ABC that has a set of entrepreneurs presenting their products or companies before a panel of investors. They’re there to secure funds for expansion or whatever purpose from a group that includes billionaire Mark Cuban, fashion giant Daymond John, Internet mogul Robert Herjavec and a variety of other participants.

The show is a US version of the ‘Dragons’ Den series that originated in Japan, and the format remains relatively similar. The hopeful entrepreneurs come on, pitch their product or service and argue it out with the sharks, who decide one-by-one whether to invest in the product or not.

A few months ago, Garrett Gee, founder of Scan, got a call to come on Shark Tank and pitch his startup to the founders. Gee was looking for $1M for a 5% stake in the company and — long story short — the sharks didn’t see the vision in the company. That turned out ok, because Scan ended up announcing a $7M round from Entree and existing investors just a day before the episode aired on TV.

But I spoke to Gee a bit about his experiences on Shark Tank, which I found really interesting. The hours of shooting time are boiled down to a 15-minute segment and apparently they really drag you through all of the permutations when you’re on deck.

One of the stipulations that you’re given when you go on the show is that you’re not allowed to show a URL on screen during filming. Gee and his team had to design a special version of their logo that omitted the ‘.me’ from ‘Scan.me’ just to go on. As a part of his presentation, which you can see below, there was a large QR code presentation board that was used as a demo of what the company is doing with them.

If you’re reading TechCrunch, you’re probably already seeing the implications of banning URLs but allowing a full-on configurable QR code on screen.

“They ban web addresses from all of the materials,” Gee told me, “Yet they were totally cool with me having a QR code, a forever update-able URL.”

When Scan created the QR code for use on the show, it originally pointed to a dummy URL that went nowhere, and monitored it on their dashboard just to make sure the demos would work. In fact, all of Gee’s devices were in airplane mode during the filming, so they wouldn’t have gone anywhere in the first place.

But, months later just before the episode aired, Gee got a sudden inspiration. Scan had just launched a new feature which allowed companies to point users to their Instagram accounts for easy subscriptions. So he tweaked the code’s destination to point to his Instagram feed and smacked the update button. Then he promptly forgot about it.

“My intention wasn’t to ‘hack’ their system or break their rules,” Gee says, “but…to my surprise, as well as everyone else’s, people actually scanned it.”

The next morning, Gee found over 3,100 scans waiting for him in the dashboard, and a host of new Instagram subscribers as well. Users began commenting on his photos, saying that they’d downloaded the app (despite no download links being shown) during the episode and scanned the code — jumping to his Instagram feed.

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Over the next few days, Gee saw bursts as people watched it on DVRs, subscriptions or ABC.com.

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“I accidentally used our newest product in a very successful way,” Gee says.

There were a few other benefits from the airing. Scan’s app popped back to number one paid app in their category. Every subsequent re-run also nets a burst of downloads and reviews. And, Gee says, it was a great experience overall — even if it was a significantly different one than actually getting their investment was.