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Homeless to famous: Billy Blanks Jr's 'tank' success

Billy Blanks Jr. and his wife, Sharon Catherine Blanks, the founders of the ‘Dance It Out’ fitness program.
Source: Todd Vitti Photography
Billy Blanks Jr. and his wife, Sharon Catherine Blanks, the founders of the ‘Dance It Out’ fitness program.

Billy Blanks Jr. and his wife, Sharon Catherine Blanks, appeared on "Shark Tank" in 2012, looking for $100,000 to expand their workout program, "Dance It Out," by offering dancer instructor certification.

The Blankses told the sharks that when they started their workout program, they were homeless. Although Billy Blanks is the son of Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks Sr., he explained in his pitch that he had received no help from his family.

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On the episode, the Blankses originally declined a deal with Daymond John and Mark Cuban for $100,000 for 50 percent. The deal was contingent on a deal with Zumba, with which Blanks explained that he did not want to be too closely affiliated. While leaving the tank, Daymond John made "Shark Tank" history and did something he had never done before and followed Blanks out of the tank and asked him to reconsider the deal. After some reassurance, the Blankses accepted.

What was it like to be on "Shark Tank" and what has happened since? And what was it like to have Daymond follow him out? Find out below in the Q&A.

How has appearing on "Shark Tank" impacted your business?

It has changed everything for us. We went from just two teachers, myself and my wife, to over 1,000 instructors in the U.S. and 1,000 in Japan and Taiwan. This year we expand to Canada! We now regularly appear on "Dr. Oz" as his Fat Fighting Couple and have now been dubbed by the media as "America's First Family of Fitness."

Is there anything you wished you did differently during your pitch?

Well, I wouldn't have changed my pitch because everything turned out exactly as it was supposed to be.

However, I normally don't get nervous, and when the shark staredown started I tried to steady myself and I was ready to go and they kept saying "Hold" so that took my nerves from 0-100 in about 10 seconds. It was funny, I literally forgot the names of the two students we had brought on with us. I introduced my wife and looked at them like, "ummmm, uhhhh" I was searching my brain for their names, Vanessa and Darren. Then I just said, "These are two regular people!" We laugh about it to this day.

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How did it feel when Daymond John followed you out of the tank after you declined their offer?

When Daymond followed me out it was such an overwhelming feeling. The fitness industry is so competitive and I already knew Zumba would consider us more of a competitor then a possible partner so that was why I very sadly and reluctantly declined. When I got back to the room to tell my wife, the DIO® Co Creator Sharon Catherine, I was filled with emotion and then the doors opened and there was Daymond. Instantly I felt like I was going to burst into tears because that level of support and belief was incredible. I had watched the show since it began and even to this day I have never seen a shark do that. What a blessing!

What is it like to work with Daymond John and Mark Cuban?

They are both so amazing at what they do, and it's fun any time I see Daymond because he feels like family. Mark is awesome because when Zumba was asked to partner and said no he still moved forward with us so then all the hard work began. They both have incredible teams that work with them, too.

What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?

My first piece of advice would be to not quit no matter what it looks like, and no matter how many no's you may get. We had so many things against us and there were times when it felt like we needed to cash in our chips or just move on to something else but we persevered and it was worth it.

My second piece of advice is to work smarter not harder which we got from Mark. Zero in and focus on what you want and how to reach that goal. Then make it happen no matter what. Things will fall into place when you start focused and driven.

What's next for Dance It Out?

We are so excited we just returned from Canada working with David Noon of Noon Distribution & Sales Inc. and have made a five-new-DVD collection, our best ones yet! There is something for everyone DIO® All In, DIO® Get Up & Move, DIO® Latin Heat, DIO® Kids, and Sing It Out®! The DVD's will be out in September and we will be going on The Shopping Channel in Canada then QVC in America. Fingers crossed for great sales!