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We Walked Away from a Shark Tank Deal and Our Business Grew Anyway

Michael Barnett, co-founder and CEO of Romp n' Roll

The following piece was contributed as part of Business News Daily's byline series:

My wife, Babz, and I presented our Romp n' Roll concept on the first season of ABC's "Shark Tank." Two of the investors made us a joint offer for a majority share of the company, which we declined. 

We were confident in Romp n' Roll's bright future and felt no pressure to strike a deal we weren't completely comfortable with. Although a deal would have been great, exposing our franchise opportunity to a national audience was a valuable investment in and of itself.

Romp n' Roll

Romp n' Roll is a modernized kids' gym providing well-designed curriculum for children ages three months to five years old, which allows children to learn while they play through enriching and whimsical classes, programs and parties.

When Babz and I had our first child 15 years ago, we realized there was a lack of quality programs and classes available for him in our town. As parents, we felt we could create contemporary child development programs that offered a wider variety of classes at a higher quality than what was out there. So in 2004 we decided to open our own, and Romp n’ Roll was born.

Babz and I bet on ourselves to continue growing Romp n' Roll to levels we knew it was capable of reaching, and we have been steadily accomplishing our growth goals ever since.

Swimming with the sharks

We began franchising our business in 2007, and just two years later found ourselves pitching our brand to the infamous Shark Tank investors on national television. The show hadn't premiered yet, so I first found out about it when ABC tweeted for its casting call.

Since they were looking for entrepreneurs, I sent them an email and got a call from producers the next day. Despite not being familiar with the show, we figured it would be great exposure for our brand and took the plunge.

Going into the experience, we had no idea what to expect, and how could we? The show was still in its very first season. In fact, I saw the premier episode in our hotel room the night before our own taping.

The experience of actually appearing on the show was challenging, but memorable. It was about as nerve-wracking to walk down that long hallway onto the set as it might seem from watching on TV.

Once we hit our mark, we stood in front of the "sharks" for a few minutes just staring at each other while a dozen or so cameras moved about. Then, when producers said go, you didn't stop until you make a deal or walk away empty-handed — and there were no "do-overs."

Steady growth

While we may have walked away from a Shark Tank deal, the brand awareness we gained continues to strengthen our business today.

We had a staggering amount of franchisee inquires come through as a result of the episode, and continue to receive interest from every re-run. We were also able to take some of the sharks' criticisms and turn them into company initiatives that have proved successful, such as a higher emphasis on our marketing channels.

When U.S. markets soured shortly after our Shark Tank appearance due to the recession in 2008, we set our focus on China and experienced roaring success. We grew to 85 locations in China within five years, and have recently redirected our focus back to the United States. Romp n' Roll's system-wide sales in 2015 surpassed $2 million in the United States, with a total of $30 million worldwide. With eight U.S. locations currently open and operating, we have a goal to add up to 10 more domestic locations by 2017.

Appearing on "Shark Tank" was an unforgettable experience, and one that we are most thankful for. We may not have left with a deal, but we gained valuable lessons and a renewed confidence in our business and our brand, which helps drive our continued success both internationally and here at home.  

About the author: Michael Barnett is the co-founder and CEO of Romp n' Roll, an international children's program franchise. He has developed marketing campaigns for brands such as Microsoft, Ford, and General Mills. Prior to running Romp n' Roll, Barnett ran promotion divisions for CBS and Clear Channel Communications in New York City and was a co-founder of a marketing agency.

Edited for length and clarity by Shannon Gausepohl. Have a great entrepreneurial story to tell? Contact Shannon at to learn more about our contributed content program.

Image Credit: Romp n' Roll founders Babz and Michael Barnett on ABC's "Shark Tank" / Credit: Shark Tank/ABC