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Lessons I Learned from Shark Tank (techcrunch.com)
89 points by mirceagoia on Feb 25, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 29 comments

Having been on CBC's Dragons' Den to pitch Rejection Therapy: http://rejectiontherapy.com this current season, I think I can add some insights.

James nailed the essence of it, but there's a saying that goes a battle plan never survives the first shot fired, and that's true when stepping in front of the Dragons with cameras rolling.

You need to be super versatile with your pitch. It's a big mistake to go in with a memorized script. Too much pressure, and the Dragons don't have to let you finish your pitch if they don't want to.

In my case, Robert started making comments to me and the other Dragons at about three seconds into my pitch. Kind of threw me off (but then again, Robert is the wild card).

Just know your product and the numbers inside and out.

A few other surprises during the pitch. A Dragon made an agreement with me (not for investment though) then reneged. I'll leave it at that.

Something that became perfectly clear early into the pitch: the Dragons aren't risk takers. Not at all. They want proof of sales (and lots of sales) or a promising intellectual property. Or maybe you have a tonne of orders you can't fulfill until you get some manufacturing capital.

In most cases, those who land a deal are those who could get a deal elsewhere.

My most valuable takeaway from the experience? People's feelings get hurt on that show. On Shark Tank, I've seen Kevin call someone pitching a line of fashion belt buckles a "lying pig". On national television.

I should've sworn off the show after seeing that, but I underestimated how that can irreparably harm someone. I'm more sensitive of people's feelings now, even public figures.

Walk a mile in a man's shoes, as the saying goes.

For me, it was obvious I wasn't going to get investment from the Dragons. I was like a lamb to the slaughter and I knew it.

Thing is, one of the cards in the Rejection Therapy Entrepreneur Edition is to "apply for Shark's Tank or Dragons' Den" and I did. It was a failed rejection attempt! I got on!

The experience wasn't so bad though. I got along righteously with Bruce Coxom. He totally got it. He defended the idea all the way, and even stepped out of his chair to give me his glass of water (I got the dreaded cotton mouth). Arlene was a doll. Very polite and understanding.

P.S. I'm in bed with a raging flu, typing this out on an iPhone with a dirty screen. If this runaway comment doesn't make a lick of sense, that's why.

I really wouldnt get offended by Kevin or anyone elses comment. Business is called business until we sleep in one bed together. Otherwise we dont have to like each other. Sure its great when you love your business partners but I dont find it that big of a deal, especially when it came from Kevin's mouth (as with any other show they put totally character-contrast cast to make things spicy - Kevin vs Barbara, i.e.)

You have to learn about him to understand what kind of deals he is performing. He is amazing on selling anything to everyone even if its ice to Eskimo. In his example he had some huge, hm poisoned water delivered here and there :) [1] But I give him credit for fucking up software deal to Matel and having huge balls to being proud of it and shoving it in everyones face (at least on the show: his favorite quote was something like "millions of dollars? thats a rounding error, a statistical noise in deals i have been doing!"). Don't get me wrong: the guy is a genius at making money and just proves that you will get dirty by making plenty of money. I would like to live his live, sure, but definitely wouldn't like to die as Kevin, given you believe in things like God, Heaven and Hell.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_OLeary_(entrepreneur)#Con...

I knew Kevin wouldn't invest in something like Rejection Therapy. I didn't expect any Dragon to "get it" [1], but he was the salivating pitbull in the room I had to watch out for anyway.

He preoccupied a majority of my concerns. I was right to.

And as to your other point, the Bible verse "what profiteth a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his own soul" comes to mind. There is hope for everyone though.

[1] Heck, my own flesh and blood parents were baffled by the concept for the longest time.

Thanks for the comment. I've been watching shark tank for a couple of years now and it's interesting to hear what it's actually like on the inside.

You're welcome Paul.

You know the question I get asked most about Dragons' Den, even from strangers at the local grocery store?

What's Kevin really like? Is he different off-air than he is on air?

I tell them I can't answer that, but I suspect the Kevin you see is the real Kevin.

I'm glad the author grasped that the show is entertainment, and actually has a few words of wisdom. But the idea behind this show is disgusting and disheartening.

This line bit me:

>"What do you care about the percentage?"

Only in Silicon Valley would you hear something like this. The ownership structure of your company isn't a joke or a game. It does matter. Why stop at 40%? Why not give up 99%? If you're out looking for financing for your company and "don't care" about how much equity you're giving up, you shouldn't be in business.

I agree with your sentiment, but I think the advice has some merit in the sense that if you have an offer that might be the difference between life and death of your company, it is probably not the best decision to fight over 5% of equity. Of course, 40% vs. 90% is a different ball of wax.

On another front, I think the best part of the show (I'm a fan) is that it shows how much leverage shifts from investor to entrepreneur when the entrepreneur has built a real company (usually means has sales on the show). In those cases, the investors often fall over themselves and compete giving the entrepreneur a better deal then they came in asking for.

There is a great lesson in there for entrepreneurs to focus on building something valuable first and then raising money. Because when you don't need it to survive, the negotiating leverage and power totally changes.

I think that he may refer at the first time entrepreneurs, unproven entrepreneurs. Because after your first success (hopefully) bet you will know more and they won't try to mess you too much anymore. My guess...

So would it be a fair paraphrase of his view to say that Mark Zuckerberg shouldn't have cared about the percentage of Facebook that he retained?

There are exceptions always, especially when an entrepreneur think he will do that thing his whole life (as Mark Zuckerberg is ought to do).

If you are a first time entrepreneur and you have the mindset of "I like to start things, over and over again" then it's easy to give up larger chunks of your first company because you know you will come back to start another startup after a while. Serial entrepreneurs belong here.

If you think "This is something I'll be doing my whole life and I couldn't see myself doing anything else" then yes, it's harder to give up good chunks of your first and last company. Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs and others like them belong here.

Steve Jobs owned ~1% of AAPL shares vs Zuckerberg's much larger stake in Facebook. They are nearly on opposite ends of the spectrum of that particular spectrum.

In the beginning they both owned a lot. And if it wouldn't be the luck of Sean Parker giving Zuckerberg his board seat and sided with him then Zuckerberg might have not been in charge at FB now (he would still own shares).

At one point, when Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, he sold all but one share of Apple. So his 1% was the result of converting his NeXT shares, not original Apple shares.

Mark Cuban posted some more details on his blog the other day (eg they have no computer access, due diligence is done later which is why some deals don't go through.)


I watched a few episodes of Shark Tank and thought to myself "I can't imagine all of those deals actually go through." I'm really glad altucher actually researched some of the deals that fell through, and reported it for us to see. It's really important to be reminded not to treat money like it's real until it literally shows up in your bank account. I've known people to get into big trouble by failing to observe that principle.

> You just presented your product for 15 minutes on a nationally broadcasted TV show that will be re-aired at least two or three times and sell a ton of shows on itunes. That sort of advertising would cost about a million dollars or more.

Reality shows are about losing; game shows are about winning. But some people go into these shows with a completely different mindset: this is an interview and demo for the world, not for the on-show judges.

Top Chef players demonstrate how well they can run kitchens and work with people they didn't ask to hire and don't actually like.

Amazing Race players are usually demonstrating how well they can communicate and work effectively under severe stress in foreign countries. (If you're looking for a new overseas salesperson, look through a season of Amazing Race. You'll see what it takes to make them crack.)

Survivor players are either demonstrating team-leadership or diplomacy (defined as saying "nice doggy!" while picking up a rock). Choose carefully, there...

I particularly enjoyed the little comment on modern society: "Money doesn’t buy happiness but it certainly solves your money problems".


If you like Shark Tank, check out BBC's Dragon's Den (which the format is based on, and in turn, the BBC's format is based on a Japanese show of the same name).

The BBC version seems a lot less "Hollywood", and admittedly a lot fewer deals are made. However the interaction tends to be a little more business orientated and the conclusions more valuable.

The Dragons' Den has always fundamentally been an entertainment show, but earlier seasons were excellent at also including bits of good, solid advice on how to launch and run a small company that the astute viewer could pick up on.

Later seasons dropped this, they go into the business side in less depth, and even the editing became lazy (you can predict who's going to get a deal when they walk in by just looking at your watch.)

Having been at at some of the business shows where the BBC look for contestants - we even had the stand next to them one year.

They pick the contestants in terms whos the most loopy /and or will make the best TV.

And watching the live versions of Dragons Den they also did at some of these shows its brutally obvious that the Dragons are all property developers plus an accountant who got lucky and when they get a real high tech biotechstart-up pitching them the blank looks on their faces was priceless.

I find it interesting that Barbara Corcoran had no money, was working as a waitress and used her boyfriends real estate license to start her business. I've witnessed many entrepreneurs start companies. There are many examples of people building huge businesses with nothing. I believe a show like this could help a contestant but for tv they want the most entertaining stories. I am excited that YCombinator takes a more serious and calculated way to figure out who they accept. I hope to meet some of you on these boards. Blake

I started watching this show a while back, at the beginning it was really interesting and I got really invested in the entreprenaurs fate, but the more episodes you watch, the line between real business and reality show kept on becoming more blury, until eventually you couldn't see any business but a murkey form of reality tv show.

Everyone has talked about the lessons in here and some of the other things to take away from this, but I haven't seen anyone talk about the fact that your teaching your children to open their eyes.

I think this is great, and I wish more people would teach critical thinking to their children.

Per the HN guidelines, I'd suggest you rename the title to "Lessons I Learned from Shark Tank"

Ok, I have done that. I thought we are not to alter the original titles. Good to know...

I don't know the title posted originally, but I would say that "Lessons James Altucher learnt from Shark Tank" is arguably a better title, and one that's more faithful to the original article.

If we read the pronoun "I" in a James Altucher penned column, it means something. If we read it on Hacker News, it means nothing. Dereferencing it should be ok.

It had '10 lessons' instead of just 'lessons', which is against the rules because of top-lists that are usually just garbage. If it can't stand on its own without a number, it's not worth posting.

I've been a huge fan of this show since I caught about 2 episodes of the Canadian version years ago. I was glad to see Shark Tanke come to america. On the wikipedia page you can find that the show has been licensed around the world and varies in name by country (e.g.: Tigers Den, Shark Den, Shark Tank, Dragons Den, etc.) and originated in Japan.

The thing is, I can't find any way to watch the BBC or the Canadian versions online.

I can VPN to most countries so its not the geographic restrictions so much as it doesn't seem there's a HULU in every country.

Any suggestions for how or more importantly where to watch the UK or Canadian versions of this show? Maybe Australian even? Or singapore? Hong Kong? (just listing all the english speaking countries that might have produced it.)

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