Apple has just ventured into original content programming and its first offering, Planet of the Apps, is a reality show where app developers make funding pitches to venture capitalists. The ones that succeed not only receive investment, but also get featured on the Apple App Store. Planet of the Apps has obvious similarities with ABC’s Emmy-winning show Shark Tank where aspiring entrepreneurs contest for the attention of ‘sharks’ (venture capitalists).
While Shark Tank is among the highest-rated shows on American television and has been renewed for the ninth season, Planet of the Apps will reach about 27 million Apple Music subscribers across the globe. Apple has roped in four celebrity judges who also double up as advisors. They include actor and Honest Company founder Jessica Alba, musician and entrepreneur will.i.am, actor and Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow, and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk who runs Vayner Media. The show is hosted by Zane Lowe, who’s also the head of Apple’s international radio station, Beats 1. ALSO READ: Google Play Music vs Apple Music: Comparison of your favorite music streaming services
First up, contestants make a 60-second pitch on an escalator that ferries them from the backroom to the main stage. This aspect of the set-up is noticeably different from Shark Tank and compels contestants to keep their pitches crisp and focused, leaving them with just enough time to spell out the big idea behind their offering. At least one judge needs to swipe right, i.e. press Green, for the creators to go ahead and give a demo of the app. If all four swipe left, i.e. press Red, it’s the end of the road for them.
Those that manage to demonstrate the app are then interviewed on their product, strategy, growth and vision by the four advisors. If they are impressive, the judges volunteer to “work with” the developers and refine their offering through a six-week period before the big VC pitch takes place. If more than one judge volunteers, the app creators get to choose their preferred “partner”. In the episode we watched, only one of the 6 pitchers earned that choice. 2 were supported by one judge each, while 3 were rejected post the one-minute escalator pitch.
Pitches ranged from AI-enabled weather apps and emotional wellness products to live news and entertainment services delivered on OTT platforms. Planet of the Apps makes it amply clear that pitching for funding is no mean task. To get past the first screening, you have to be good. To get beyond that and invite a good offer, you have to be exceptional. VCs tend to love scale; they are always scouting for products that can impact tens of millions of lives. ALSO READ: Facebook is getting serious about original programming; will take on Netflix
One investor at Lightspeed Venture Partners — the VC firm that is on board to fund these ideas — tells a contestant, “There are going to be plenty of ways to make money if you get scale.” Another investor, while turning down a pitch, says: “Get 50 million users and I promise you Zuck [Mark Zuckerberg] will take notice.” Incidentally, Lightspeed (a Silicon Valley giant with over $4 billion investment in apps and startups) was one of the first backers of Snapchat that actually went on to attract attention from Zuck.
But not all ideas are as focused as Snapchat. For instance, Poncho — a personalized weather app whose founders can’t decide whether they should chase scale or plan to monetize. VCs are seen lauding the concept and acknowledging the “massive opportunity” in the space they are in. However, Poncho founders lack clarity in vision and that counts as a negative. When you’re pitching to VCs, you need to know exactly where you want to take your business in the next 3-5 years. “Or else, they won’t invest in us. Period,” says one founder. ALSO READ: Apple hires executives behind Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul for original series
It helps being confident when you pitch. No matter how small your business is, sharp answers and a positive outlook keep VCs engaged. Take Cheddar founder Jon Steinberg, for instance. The former president of BuzzFeed and CEO of Daily Mail is now looking for VC funding through Planet of the Apps. His ‘6-hours-live-a-day’ news media app for the “mobile generation” already earns $2 million in native advertising and clocks 12 million views a month. The founder now wants to take Cheddar to the next level where it becomes a pioneer in on-demand news programming. Steinberg asks for $20 million but has to settle for $2.5 million. “$20 million is a big ask,” says one of the investors.
No matter what your past credentials are, it is still a big ask. And Planet of the Apps is essentially Apple’s search for an app that fulfills the “big ask” and goes on to become the next life-altering technology in our lives. So, should you watch it? Well, if you want a sneak peek into the hallowed entrepreneurship and investment circles of Silicon Valley or learn how to persevere despite many rejections, you must. And tech entrepreneurs, you have no option but to watch it.