5 Important Startup Lessons From 'Shark Tank'
I enjoy Shark Tank as entertainment, but that’s where the buck stops people (*Kevin Hart impersonation*). If you’re an avid watcher and don’t want to hear the truth then stop reading now. This is your warning because I’m about to expose the truth.
Actually, one of the companies I’m helping build just brought on one of the sharks as an “investor.” I was excited until I learned of the investment process. The shark invested X amount into the company as a loan, gets X percentage of equity, and then is simply reimbursed the full loan amount back immediately. Apparently, it is of value for the company to be able to boast that we have “So-and-so from the show Shark Tank,” but I haven’t seen any value provided to our company or to our capital raise.
I know, sorry for being a dream crusher. Nonetheless, Shark Tank is fun and entertaining. I like that it’s promoting startups, and I’ve been a fan since the beginning. Plus, my mom watches it, so we get to talk about the different deals and companies (in an upcoming column, I’m going to explain why you need to get your mom involved in your startup).
Despite the show being solely for entertainment, there are still valuable lessons we as entrepreneurs can learn from it.
1. This is not the real world.
Let’s get this real clear, real quick. Shark Tank is purely entertainment. Most of the deals don’t actually even get funded, and the process is much more watered down than in real life. Could you imagine how boring it would be if it was like real life? A bunch of attorneys show up with the entrepreneur, or, the real negotiating of every contentious point (board structure, the type of security, compensation rights, liquidation preferences, etc.), and one pitch could take longer than a whole season of Shark Tank. Raising capital for months on end would not make for prime time television.
Enjoy it for entertainment purposes, but please don’t let it convolute the reality of raising capital for your business.
2. Learn how to effectively pitch.
I’m not sure if the entrepreneurs on the show are prepped in any way, but I’d say 95 percent of the pitches are engaging, concise and effective. My favorite part of watching this show is critiquing and hearing the pitches. I’m involved with a charity that teaches prison inmates how to be entrepreneurs and at the end of the six-month program, each inmate “pitches” their idea at their very own demo day. I’m always blown away by how great these pitches are, and I know the amount of work that goes into honing and refining the pitch (months and endless hours).
The entrepreneurs on Shark Tank are just as polished. This leads me to believe they’ve spent countless hours working on their pitches, which I can appreciate and respect. Shark Tank gives everyday entrepreneurs the ability to hear effective pitches -- a great lesson to learn as the art of the pitch is not always easy to master.
3. The value of pre-money valuation.
Pre-money valuation is important to understand. It is typically the most negotiated point when raising money in the real world, and it is the point every shark on Shark Tank negotiates. It is the price you are putting on your business, to explain how much equity you are giving away for how much money you are raising (your “terms”).
Pre-money is the value of the company before the investor invests in the company, where post-money valuation is the value of the company after the investor invests. I do appreciate that the show hasn’t figured out how to remove the pre-money valuation from the process (like create some weird structure for television purposes), and watching how sharks negotiate the pre-money valuation points is helpful to watch.
4. You can say no.
When dealing with investors, you should figure out beforehand what percent you’re willing to give away. I’m not talking about what your term sheet says, and where you’ve set your pre-money valuation. I’m talking about the lowest you’d be willing to let the pre-money valuation drop and the largest percentage you’d be willing to part with.
More often than not, especially if you’re dealing with smart money, your valuation is going to get torn apart and the percentage of equity you originally were selling is going to be negotiated. We’ve all seen entrepreneurs say no on the show, and that can be the most powerful negotiation tactic to use when dealing with investors. There’s no sense in raising capital, but “giving away the farm.”
You're building your dream startup for specific reasons, the investment is just a means to an end to help you afford more resources to realize that dream quicker. Don’t be afraid to say no to investors, or anyone for that matter that is not totally aligned with your vision.
5. You can do it.
At the end of the day, I am pro everything entrepreneur. What I like about this show is that we are given the opportunity to see all types of entrepreneurs from all over the country with different businesses and from every walk of life. Most have more than just an idea, and have actual, thriving businesses. You can use this show as motivation to help you realize that no matter how big, small, crazy, normal, whatever your business type is, that just like these entrepreneurs on the show, you can do it.
Building startups is the most difficult and most rewarding activity I’ve ever personally done, which I’m sure a lot of you can attest to. (In fact, building a startup is more difficult than going to prison for two years.) I’m a student and observer in everything I do, and having this mentality has helped me learn in every situation I encounter, even watching Shark Tank on NBC .
I’ve created a closed Facebook group for entrepreneurs to share advice, ask questions, and learn from one another. Request your invite here.