“How long have you been watching Shark Tank?” Daymond John asked. Eighteen-year old Max Feber, founder of Bruw Coffee (who ended up getting a deal with Dallas-based shark Mark Cuban) quickly answered, “Since I was about 8 years old.” The show has now been around long enough to have created its own mini-generation of budding entrepreneurs who learned basic business fundamentals, one hour at a time, from this Emmy-award winning series. To commemorate ten years of watching pitches, it’s worth revisiting just a few things Shark Tank has taught all of us.
Know Your Numbers
In the earliest seasons of Shark Tank entrepreneurs might have been forgiven for not knowing their customer acquisition costs, their costs of goods sold, their blended margins, and burn rate, just to name a few of the frequently asked questions posed by the sharks. The show had not been out that long and those being filmed for the show didn’t have many previous episodes to reference. But it is now the very rare occasion when an entrepreneur – no matter how questionable his/her business might be – doesn’t know the answers to the majority of these questions. Just because you’re operating out of your garage and hand-fulfilling out of your living room doesn’t mean you can’t put together a basic P&L and/or balance sheet.
More than one entrepreneur has had a particular marketing direction or monetization strategy that the sharks very much disagreed with. The ones who got deals were willing to hear out the seasoned advice of proven entrepreneurs and adapt their businesses to advice and considerations in an intense 1-2 hour session (what we watch on the show are edited snapshots of much, much longer shoots). What underlies this flexibility is a humility to believe that you don’t know everything and a resilience to know that if one avenue doesn’t work, you can always try another.
Don’t Forget to Be Human
Sometimes the entrepreneurs are so focused on knowing numbers and negotiating that they don’t share their why. When the sharks poke and prod to find out, very often emotional and wrenching stories come out and this takes sharks who were on the fence to fighting each other to make an offer. It might even cause some of us to pretend we’ve got something caught in our throat as we marvel at the willingness of people to be vulnerable on national television. Yes, numbers and profitability matter. But so do people, and if the sharks have proven something over the last ten years, it’s that they care very much about people, as that’s where every business starts and ends.
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Shark Tank is a great and entertaining way to learn a bit about business for those who didn’t have an opportunity to go to business school. My favorite moment from Shark Tank is whenever two college students invented a blow-up light that is intended to help in disaster zones. The various sharks are attempting to quibble over valuations whenever Mark cuts everyone off and makes a quick offer that is immediately accepted. From my understanding, it turned out to be one of the better deals he made on the show.
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