'Shark Tank' Stars Dissect Their Show's Popularity on the Eve of Its 10th Season
Kevin O'Leary (a.k.a. 'Mr. Wonderful') said he was induced to join the show when an executive told him, 'We're looking for an asshole.'
The Sharks were let out of their tank long enough this past weekend to trade barbs and blasts of humor and put their usual business acumen on display. The occasion was a panel at the Tribeca TV Festival, and the five Sharks attending -- Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Barbara Corcoan, Lori Greiner and Kevin O'Leary -- promoted their show's 10th season, premiering Sunday, Oct. 7 (yes, it's been 10 years).
Related: How to Win on 'Shark Tank'
The episode will the the show's 200th. Among its new twists and turns:
- A new guest Shark will be taking his seat -- someone who's been in the Tank before, under less comfortable circumstances: He's Jamie Siminoff, who pitched his wi-fi enabled doorbell, Ring, in Season 5 and failed to win a deal (though O'Leary offered him $700,000 in debt/equity, which he declined). Siminoff subsequently sold to Amazon for $1.1 billion.
- New guest sharks will be retired NBA star Charles Barkley and Matt Higgins, CEO of incubator RSE Ventures.
- Bethenny Frankel, founder of Skinnygirl, and Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, will return as guest Sharks, as will Hollywood "Brandfather" Rohan Oza and baseball great Alex Rodriguez.
- Entrepreneurs will include an 18-year-old who says he's watched the show "for 10 years" -- since he was all of 10.
- Corcoran has promised, this season, "more aggressive" Sharks and entrepreneurs "who are going to win your heart."
- And John has described a new "High School Sweepstakes" feature inviting teens to write in, via Twitter, about the recent episode's most important lesson. Prizes will be awarded; the grand prizewinner gets a trip to the show.
That show, Corcoran pointed out, when asked about Shark Tank's uniqueness and popularity, is all real, all the time. "What you see is exactly what you see on TV," she said. "Nothing is prompted, scripted. We don't see those entrepreneurs until they walk through the door."
Added John: "It's even more real because the pitches can be an hour long and you only see eight [edited] minutes of it."
Chimed in O'Leary: "And it's our real money -- I like to get it back."
Other data points that may be new: The number of people who have made raw pitches to the show: 40,000; number of people who each season are brought to Los Angeles to pitch to the producers: 170; the percentage of those people who get to pitch to the Sharks: 95 percent; the number of pitches the Sharks see each day of filming: 10 to 11.
"They bring in pitch after pitch after pitch," Cuban pointed out, "and at the end of the day, like every other job, we can be annoyed with each other. But the way we're interacting now, and the laughing and cracking up -- that's how we truly are. I think it's how we care about each other and like each other."
How the Sharks came to be
Asked how they came to be on the show, some Sharks said they'd auditioned; Corcoran was an exception. "They asked for my financial statement. I did it, and they said 'You're in,'" she remembered.
Cuban, meanwhile, was invited to join the show but was ultimately rejected by the network -- for reasons he wouldn't disclose; he was then back, permanently this time, starting with Season 3. John said he'd joined because he liked what Cuban said about the Sharks' opportunity to inspire young entrepreneurs.
Greiner -- a.k.a. "the Queen of QVC" -- said that Mark Burnett (chairman of MGM Worldwide Television Group) told her, "There's nobody else like you; you do everytrhing from soup to nuts."
And O'Leary, ever the bad boy of the group, related how he and Robert Herjavec had already done a Canadian kind of Shark Tank show, and how he, O'Leary, received an invite from Burnett saying (O'Leary's words), "We're looking for an asshole."
The language again turned colorful when the Sharks responded to a question about their favorite moment of filming. "I loved the squirrel zapper," Greiner volunteered. The product she described, the Squirrel Buster, is a bird feeder that deters squirrels from eating the feeder's birdseed with an electric shock. Trouble was that the entrepreneur behind the product had a strange sense of humor and used the remote controls he'd given the Sharks to zap them.
One of O'Leary's favorite products was the Potato Parcel, which mails potatoes with personalized messages and photos. "The thing about Shark Tank is, the ones you think are going to be successful aren't always so," O'Leary said. Of the deals he'd done, he shared, Potato Parcel has so far topped his list of product internal rate of return.
O'Leary predicted that the "home run" pitch for Season 10 will be the Benjilock, which uses a biometric fingerprint.
Then there was everyone's favorite moment this season: a guy who, for a door-stop product, attempted to play up the drama and kick in a door on set. The problem was that he had to attempt this 20 times before succeeding. "One of the best pitches I've ever seen," Cuban declared. The others described struggling to hide the tears of laughter streaming down their faces.
What works -- and doesn't -- for entrepreneurs trying to win a "Shark" Tank deal
An obvious topic for the Sharks was what works in a pitch. "Tell us what the product is, what are you selling," O'Leary counseled. "If you're still rambling five minutes later and we're trying to figure out what the hell they're selling, it's not going to work.
"I'm always about the product," "Mr. Wonderful" continued. "If I own 50 percent of the company and the manager's not working out, I'll take him out behind the barn and shoot him and get somebody else."
Corcoran, on the other hand, described herself as being more drawn to personality. "I make up my mind whom I don't like [if] I just don't like the way you look," she said flatly. She added that the entrepreneurs in her portfolio who'd made her the most money were those about whom "I had a good feeling in my gut." (Cuban endorsed her gut decision-making as "99 percent" effective.)
What all five Sharks agreed on was their disdain for "gold-diggers" -- entrepreneurs who come on the show merely for the exposure and often already possess generous financial resources.
Another sticking point: higher-than-logical evaluations from entrepreneurs offering a mere 3 or 4 percent of equity. Such people, O'Leary said, often don't get the deal they want, then go back out in the world "and get the you-know-what kicked out of them.
"They get tenderized by the meat grinder of life," he added.
They become sensible, he said, "after reality has squeezed their heads like a teenage pimple."
Also agreed on was the Sharks' unanimous positive response to an entrepreneur in obvious need. John described this person as typically someone who "risks their 401(K) and son's college money."
Corcoran added: "We recognize what 'need' looks like because we've all been there. I just feel there's a difference with hunger."
Another poignant note: The Sharks' comments on what they want their show's legacy to be. "Exactly what we have," Corcoran weighed in. "We've inspired loads of people and created the idea that entrepreneur is a pretty sexy thing to do," she added.
And, from John: The show's legacy, he explained, will be about entrepreneurship itself. It "will be words like 'margin' and 'royalty' and 'distribution' and things unusual to the common discussion a family could have," John predicted.
It will be the phenomenon of "talking about financial intelligence at the dinner table," he said. "A family that has kids that want to be Sharks as much as they want to be actors and athletes can have a discussion and have financial intelligence and then [see those kids] go out and follow their dream," John said.
"That's what I love about the show. It's made business a common discussion instead of a fear -- as something to talk about."