PHOENIX — When Rohan Oza, a guest shark on TV’s “Shark Tank” and co-founder of CAVU Ventures, is considering investing in a brand, he looks at a few criteria.
“It starts with one, the product. Is your product truly differentiated?” he told a crowd at SNX, SNAC International’s education and collaboration forum held March 27-29. “You can’t be the sixth kombucha on the block. That’s not going to get you anywhere. You need to be No. 1 or 2. Otherwise, you’re toast.”
Mr. Oza, who invests in food and beverage companies, said the product has to stand out in what he called a total addressable market, or TAM.
“Fortunately, all of you guys sitting in this room sit in a huge TAM, which is snacking,” he continued. “Enter a world where you think you can really grow. ... The second is you’ve got to find a founder you believe in and back.”
Mr. Oza has discovered a number of brands and founders to back over the years, including one who was chatting with him onstage at SNX, Megan Reamer, founder of Jackson’s, a line of sweet potato chips. She and her husband pitched them on “Shark Tank” and made a deal with Mr. Oza.
She posed questions to the shark after five entrepreneurs pitched their ideas at the SNAC Tank competition. He said it’s important to find a brand with real purpose.
“It can be a mission purpose. It can be humor. It could be sizzle. It could be a connection with a particular type of audience, but the brand’s got to have something to it where it’s not bland,” he said. “It’s got to have a little bit of zhuzh.”
One thing that is vital to new brands is packaging that pops, not just in how it looks but how the brand communicates its mission. And he stressed the importance of social media influencers because he said one in 10 Americans influence the other nine.
“The DNA of brands today are built through micro-influencers because they talk to their audience,” he said. “That audience embraces the brand, and that’s when your brand story foundation gets set.”
Mr. Oza also talked about the progression of what it takes to have a successful snack. In the past, a snack maker just had to think about the product itself and if the maker could create some sizzle around it.
“Then it became what I call the absence of bad,” he said.
That is a no-sugar drink or a chip that is low-fat. Now consumers are looking for products that have the presence of good such as added protein, fiber or probiotics.
“People are looking at not just what the brand can do for me but for the planet,” he said. “That’s a very Gen Z thing.”
After talking about the importance of great gross margins and the promise of permissibly indulgent snacks, the discussion turned to “Shark Tank.” Are the interactions seen on television authentic?
“It’s real,” he said. “No script, no background. You come in, and the first time you see what’s up is when they’re in front of you. So the good news is that none of us can prep. We can’t Google. I’m on TV, and I can’t even pull my phone out and find stuff out. You basically have four minutes of listening to their pitch and then probably, in real life, 30 minutes of questions from the different sharks. And they cut that down into eight minutes of really good TV. What I love about it is it’s emotional, it’s tough and you have both success and failure, which is kind of what real life’s about.”