Shark Tank Blows A Lot Of Hot Air
There's a 'been there, done that' feel to a lot of what we see on this episode, but who best manages to turn something old into something sort-of new?
At least twice during this week's episode of Shark Tank, Daymond John observes that nobody's going to invent anything new these days, maybe just do something a little better than what anyone else is doing. The participants on this episode do their level best to at least prove the first part of that statement, trotting out a series of "been there, done that" products and services.
And you know what? That's okay. We don't need someone to come on this show and reinvent the wheel. (Because honestly, someone already tried that.) But try to teach a new trick or two to your old dog -- especially if you want Kevin O'Leary and Co. to cut you and Ol' Fido a six-figure check. Some entrepreneurs have been more successful than others tonight at putting a new spin on an old familiar thing. Let's rank them in descending order of who most successfully pulled that off, shall we?
4. Icy Breeze
The idea where you take a run-of-the-mill cooler and jam a lot of high-tech stuff into it is not a new one; neither are lengthy shipping delays that irritate your crowdfunding backers, apparently. But give the makers of Icy Breeze this: no one has previously looked at a cooler and thought, "Boy, I bet I could make a portable air conditioner out of that."
The reason no one's had such a thought becomes quite apparent once Icy Breeze's creator reveals its price tag -- $349, which seems an awful lot to pay for an otherwise unremarkable cooler that essentially blows cold air from the ice inside through a tube and into your sweaty mug. Need to cool down multiple people? Then be prepared to crowd around the hose or take turns cooling down -- or, as Icy Breeze's sales guy sort-of-jokingly-though-not-really suggests, pony up for a second $349 cooler. While you're at it, ask your butler to brighten the shine on your jewel-encrusted shoes.
Also dimming the Sharks' enthusiasm: the fact that founder and co-inventor Dave Yonce is a very wealthy man, the software company he founded having sold for a king's ransom. In other words, he's not the sort of person who really needs the backing of a Shark -- he should be a Shark. Everyone drops out without much deliberation, leaving Dave and his cohorts dazed and confused. "It's baffling that they wouldn't come on board," Dave says. I can probably name 349 reasons why they didn't, dude.
Jeff Popp and Casey Lorenzen have a six-year-old bag and backpack-making business that's doing all right, to the tune of a little less than $500,000 in sales. But that's not what they're here to sell the Sharks on today. No, they're creating a backpack that comes with its own battery to charge up gear like your smartphone or other portable device. The only problem with this product is that lots of bags already do this. Ah, but the difference with Co.alition is that you just plug the bag into a wall socket to recharge it instead of having to remove all the various components. Whatever, man -- that's no way to get anyone to cut you a $200,000 check for 20% of your battery-powered backpack product, especially when you have a hard time articulating your go-to-market plan.
The Sharks are more miffed that Jeff and Casey have separated the charging backpack from their already healthy backpack-making business. "This is not a separate company," Robert Herjavec says, as he and Mark Cuban quickly drop out. "This is a feature to your existing company." Kevin suggests that maybe Jeff and Casey want to rethink their approach before proceeding, and they take Kevin up on his advice. How about $300,000 for 30% of the entire company? Hard pass, the rest of the Sharks say, though Daymond John thinks long and hard about investing before eventually dropping out. I guess society will just have to make do with the half-a-dozen or so other products that do exactly the same thing.
2. 2400 Expert
Shaan Patel is the kind of a guy who can tell you what he scored on his SATs, though since it was a perfect score, I suppose that's easy enough to remember. He's set up a six-week tutoring course in Las Vegas that delivers an average improvement of 376 points on your SAT score, and now he wants $250,000 to help him expand to new markets while building up his recently launched online courses.
That would seem to create the usual scalability problem we see with personality-driven services that appear on Shark Tank. Shaan appears to be the driving force behind 2400 Expert's success, and there's only one of him unless one of the Sharks happens to be investing in a cloning machine. (Memo to self: go on Shark Tank and pitch the Sharks on some yet-to-be penciled-out cloning machine.) Also, consider the fact that Shaan is currently pursuing both an MD and an MBA. While that's impressive to most of us mere mortals, to the Sharks it suggests someone with a lack of dedication to making them a buck. "Do you want to be a doctor or an entrepreneur?" Lori Greiner asks. Why not both, Shaan essentially responds, and that siren you hear is the "Abandon Ship" alert that chases most of the Sharks out of the room. Consider that Kevin O'Leary, whose success in the education market has made him wealthy enough to appear on your TV each week, took the measure of Shaan and got out while the getting was good. That tells you all you need to know.
It was not all Mark Cuban needed to know, though, because he's decided to make an offer for the sole purpose of acquiring Shaan's juicy brain. He'll give Shaan that $250,000, but he wants 20% instead of the 10% Shaan was looking to give up, plus the rights to any other non-medical career projects Shaan may embark upon. Shaan agrees to that last point, but would prefer that Mark only take a 15% stake for $300,000; Mark declines. Shaan's next counteroffer is $300,000 for 20%, before he realizes he'd be cutting $1 million of his original valuation. Well, it's not like math is a major component of the SATs. Anyhow, the deal gets done.
I won't lie to you: I am not the world's leading expert on sports bras. So when Sara Moylan, joined by her husband Bob, tells us that the SheFit is the first fully custom-adjusted sports bra, I'm in no position to dispute her. The bra features ways to adjust the straps and back for a comfortable fit, and I'd explain how they work, except the word "uni-boob" kept getting bandied about and the eleven-year-old boy who lives in my brain drowned out the TV's volume with the sound of his nervous giggling.
More to the point, Sara sells medical devices in her day job, peddles the SheFit in her spare time to the tune of $220,000 in sales over the last eighteen months, raises four kids, and still can block out enough time at the gym to be able to snap most of us in two. Instead of the sports bra, maybe we can find a way to bottle whatever weird voodoo power gives her the energy to pull all that off. Because as the exhausted father of just one kid, I would scarf that down like a Skeksis shotgunning Gelfling essence.
Back to the business at hand. Robert is put off by Sara's claims that she's creating a new category, when really it's just a new (and ideally improved) version of a sports bra. Lori mutters some vague concerns about patents and exits the bidding. But Daymond cuts right to the chase: he'll pay $250,000 for a third of the company, but he wants an answer right now. Even though the Moylans only wanted to give up 20%, their answer turns out to be yes. And everyone walks away happy, particularly if you're amused by the word "uni-boob."