Don’t ask me why, but I’ve become totally mesmerized by the TV show “Shark Tank.” I know it’s been around for years, but I had never watched it until recently. I got so into it, I set the DVR to record it every time it aired. Little did I know that CNBC was broadcasting a marathon. I ended up with dozens of episodes from past seasons.
For those who have never seen it, here’s the premise: Budding entrepreneurs who have invented a product or service pitch their idea to a panel of potential investors. Those investors are multi-millionaires with money to burn, and they’re shrewd businesspeople, a.k.a. “sharks.”
The entrepreneurs are not just looking for financial backing. They also want to tap into the shark’s impressive list of contacts to get their products or services into retail stores or websites.
After watching all of those recorded episodes, I feel like I really know those sharks (actually, at this point, I feel like they should know me, too) and I can predict how they’ll react to any given pitch. If there are dogs or cats involved, Robert Herjavec, a cyber security mogul, will get all mushy and sentimental. Branding guru Daymond John will show serious interest in fashion pitches, but will steer clear of anything involving food. If the pitch is confusing or shady, real estate specialist Barbara Corcoran will roll her eyes and say, “I’m out.” If the idea is destined for failure, Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary will refer to the entrepreneurs as “cockroaches.”
But if it’s an enticing, potentially profitable pitch, a shark will make a monetary offer in exchange for part-ownership in the business.
There are plenty of times when entrepreneurs are confronted with offers by more than one shark and have to decide which one is in their best interests. Sometimes the offers are complicated, involving low-interest loans, ownership stakes and/or perpetual royalties. The contestant clearly feels bombarded and needs time to think it through in order to make the right decision. It doesn’t help that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban gives them a “10-second clock” to decide or he’ll retract his offer. This is also when the sharks start hurling insults at each other. That’s always fun to watch. Filthy rich people calling each other names? Pass the popcorn.
I know it’s going to get good when I see Robert lean over and whisper into Lori’s ear. It means they’re going to team up and make a double offer. Two sharks for the price of one. Lori Greiner, the “Queen of QVC,” is easily the nicest shark, but she can hold her own when push comes to shove.
Me, I’d make a terrible shark. Some of the ideas being pitched are just plain stupid, yet the investors go after them like it’s the new version of sliced bread. They clearly see value where I see nothing, which I suppose is why they’re sitting there and I’m sitting here.
And then there’s the vice versa situations. I listen to the pitch and think … “what a GREAT idea!” … right before the sharks tear it to shreds. It can get so ugly that some entrepreneurs are reduced to tears and I find myself cringing on their behalf, but what did they expect? If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the tank.
When our 5-year-old grandson, Timmy, is visiting, we watch an episode of “Shark Tank” while we eat lunch. When a shark says “I’m out,” Timmy turns to inform us as if we didn’t just hear it ourselves — “He’s out,” he’ll say. He’ll then give us the count, such as “three sharks are out.” Every time a dollar amount is mentioned, which is frequently, Timmy turns to us and repeats the amount. It’s a quirky thing he does and it never fails to make us laugh. But who knows? We might just have a little venture capitalist in the making.
Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.