In the swim with the moguls of 'Shark Tank'
New York • Perhaps the title overstates the case.
The tycoons of the ABC reality series "Shark Tank" wouldn't feed on your leg. They're not even out to eat the lunch of budding entrepreneurs who come before them in the Shark Tank (actually a stage at Los Angeles' Sony Studios, where the Sharks convene two or three times a year for mammoth taping sessions). They're just after a healthy serving of any future feast.
So each Shark must decide whether to invest his or her own cash and expertise in a given opportunity, whether it's a kiddie train ride at the mall, boneless baby-back ribs, or a pot of boiling water that can charge a cellphone which was made Power Practical, a company founded by University of Utah graduates David Toledo and Paul Slusser. Maybe the Sharks try to outbid one another. Often they argue over whether the deal is a winner or a bust, such as two Utah food businesses that have been featured on the program recently Kodiak Cakes and Chapul Bars, which are made from cricket flour.
The show, now in its fifth season, airs Fridays at 9 p.m. EDT. This week at 8 p.m., a companion special, "Shark Tank: Swimming With Sharks," gathers updates on more than a dozen of the show's more memorable entrepreneurs and the Sharks who bit.
Recently five of the Sharks (technology specialist Robert Herjavec couldn't make it) joined a reporter for a bite at a Manhattan restaurant, and they said a mouthful. Here's a boiled-down version:
"Queen of QVC" and inventor Lori Greiner: "Why did I agree to be on the show? Because they asked!"
Fashion and branding expert Daymond John: "I did it because I wanted to diversify my portfolio, but I was only getting pitched clothing companies. People thought since I was the FUBU (urban streetwear) guy I'd come to a meeting with gold teeth and baggy jeans and start break dancing."
Venture capitalist Kevin O'Leary: "Because each Shark has made it on his own from different sectors of the economy, we bring different disciplines to the table. Any one of my fellow Sharks might see something in a deal that I don't. To be competitive, I try to see it through their eyes."
Mark Cuban, owner of AXS TV and the Dallas Mavericks: "On the show, we all have our little branding angles. I try to be the guy who gives the advice. Lori tries to be the one who encourages. Daymond is the homey. Kevin is right to the point; it's all about money. And Barbara is going to be brutally honest."
Real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran: "The best advice was from (executive producer) Mark Burnett: 'What makes great TV is just to be yourself.' How freeing was that! So my first concern is always: Am I gonna lose money? Second concern: Can I MAKE money? A distant third: Is this good TV? And no one's in our ear saying, 'Do this, say that.' Doesn't happen."
Cuban: "It's OUR money! The producers can't tell us what to do!"
John: "I'm always amazed at how they take 15 cameras and an hourlong pitch and turn it into six to eight minutes, and yet it plays out exactly like the pitch happened."
Cuban: "The hard part on 'Shark Tank' is finding a clever way to say no."
Corcoran: "A way you haven't used a hundred times before!"
Cuban: "One pitch, I was thinking, 'There's no way I'm interested. Now I've got to come up with a clever way to go out.' And then the guy called me Cubes. He goes, 'Hey, Cubes!' And that was all I needed: 'Cubes?! I'm out!'"
O'Leary: "After you go in on a deal on 'Shark Tank,' a due-diligence period begins."
Cuban: "They'll come on and say, 'My widget costs 50 cents to make.' Then you do your due diligence and find it costs $4 to make UNLESS you get to a billion units THEN it gets down to 50 cents!"
Corcoran: "Out of 26 businesses, I have four that are clear winners, two that have paid me back, two that WILL pay me back. The rest? Come to my office: I have every entrepreneur in frames on my wall. The minute I realize I'm not gonna ever make money on THAT one, I flip him over to remind me not to spend more time on it. (Laughing.) It's dead to me!"
Cuban: "The real work isn't shooting the show. It's managing and dealing with the companies afterward."
Greiner: "Eighty percent of my deals are doing well. My biggest problem is the ones who don't listen when you advise them to do something."
O'Leary: "The first season, everything we saw was absolute crap. Then in season three, real deals started to show up. That was the first time I thought, 'My goodness, this really IS a platform to launch products and services!'"
Cuban: "There's no better platform anywhere. If I had a choice between putting something on six minutes of 'Shark Tank' (averaging 7.3 million viewers this season, plus CNBC's reruns on Sunday nights) or on the home page of Amazon, I'm taking 'Shark Tank' every time."
Corcoran: "No contest."
Greiner: "Of course, being recognized from the show can be a problem. Before, if I just wanted to run to the grocery store, I'd be in my nightgown and throw on a coat, no makeup, and go. That doesn't work anymore."
John: "People pitch me on the street. But I tell them I'm either Ashy Larry from 'Chappelle's Show' or Cee Lo (Green)."
Cuban: "The show has actually reduced pitches I get from people. Now I say, 'If you want to be on "Shark Tank," you can't tell me now. Go to ABC.com and apply.' I just deflect it to the show."
Corcoran: "I think the celebrity is GREAT. When I started on the show, I fired the shrink I had for years because of my tremendous need for attention. Now I save that money every week!"
Tribune business editor Sheena McFarland contributed to this article.
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