Shark Tank Eats Its Own Dog Food
A dog starved at his master's gate may predict the ruin of the state, but what would William Blake say about a Shark Tank episode steeped in useless products? 'I've been dead since 1827, thank Christ,' probably.
You know, every so often Shark Tank comes up with an episode that leaves you thinking, "Would it really be so bad if capitalism crumbled and we were reduced to living in a barter-based economy in which I had to trade you a hog in order to clothe my family?" Well, this installment is the leader in the clubhouse for Season 8's entry in the "You Had A Good Run, Capitalism" sweepstakes that those of still living in the Afterscape will point to as the moment when we knew the jig was up.
Ah, but perhaps I'm being too gloomy. After all, America's favorite guest Shark is on the case tonight to remind us that fortune always smiles upon the most worthy and admirable in our society.
...No, actually I'd say our gloom levels have been calibrated to their accurate setting.
So on an evening in which every product fits squarely in the "Perfect For Rich Weirdos With Too Much Disposable Income" demographic, let's rank tonight's pitches based on the ones that will be first against the wall when the tremulous bonds holding our society together finally snap and we take to the streets in an uprising that makes The Purge look like Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. I'm pretty sure we're eight months, tops, from this happening anyhow, incidentally.
Nomiku bills itself as the first sous vide option for home cooks, and good for Lisa and Abe Fetterman for staking out that territory since even the most casual Google search turns up dozens of sous vide options for home cooks, many of them not named Nomiku. Still, it's hard to argue with $3 million in sales since 2012 and a purchase order from Williams-Sonoma. It is, on the other hand, very easy to argue with Lisa's contention that sous vide is essentially one-button cooking for the crock-pot crowd since it's a very sophisticated level of cookery that's not going to appeal to the home chef just looking for some way to cook up a chuck roast with minimal effort.
Here's your red flag that maybe Nomiku isn't that enticing an investment. Lori Greiner, who has built a fortune on selling this kind of gadgetry to aspirational consumers, is among the first to bail on this pitch. When Lori doesn't see a broad appeal for your product, it is maybe time to rethink your business model. That Mark Cuban and Robert Herjavec also drop out suggest that maybe this company might be just a tad overvalued.
But where others see red flags, Kevin O'Leary sees the opportunity to wring every last cent out of panicky entrepreneurs. He's willing to give the Fettermans the $250,000 they want, but for 10 percent of their company, instead of the 5 percent they were hoping to part with. At this point, Lisa starts pleading with Chris to make her an offer -- "Chris Sacca, give us a deal," are her exact not-negotiating-from-a-position-of-strength words -- and Sacca, apparently aware that his Q rating is trending below "punch to the groin" among Shark Tank viewers, is willing to oblige. He'll match Kevin's offer, but only if the Fettermans are able to convince their current investors to give up enough equity so that Lisa and Abe retain a 40 percent stake. Lisa tries to counter-offer -- a fairly bold maneuver, considering Kevin drops out after he realizes where he's not wanted -- but in the end, Chris lands the deal in what turns out to be the only Shark Tank pitch tonight that shouldn't prompt us all to set fire to The Man and his damnable institutions.
If you've ever wondered to yourself, "Hey, what would it be like if Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory ever went on Shark Tank to pitch something?" let me introduce you to Michael Brandt and Geoffrey Woo. They're self-described "biohackers," who claim to be re-engineering the stuff you mash into your food hole so that your body can maximize your performance. The byproduct of all this considerable brain power? Chewable coffee, which the Sharks rightly dismiss as sugar cubes. The amount that Michael and Geoffrey are asking for their master stroke? $2 million for a 5 percent stake, which would only give them a valuation of $40 million, or the largest valuation ever for a Shark Tank product.
We will spare you the halting justifications for this inflated amount or the inability of Michael and Geoffrey to clearly articulate just why they should be handed that oversized sack of cash. None of the Sharks is particularly interested in the product, certainly not at that valuation. And so Michael and Geoffrey must return to Leonard and Penny and the rest of the gang empty-handed, but hopefully wiser about having tried and lost. Bazinga!
I have spoken in the past about my blinding hatred for vehicular contraptions designed for able-bodied young people who are too lazy to walk. I mean, thankfully, my current commute is about 50 feet to my home office, so I no longer have to fear walking down the street as entitled tech douchebags whiz by me on motorized scooters, close enough to fray my beard stubble. And yet, the memory of being buzzed by one too many oblivious scooter-riding techno-weenies has me baying for the blood of anyone who would enable this form of cash-fueled laziness.
Alas, I'm unlikely to get any satisfaction from Inboard, the company backed by Chris Haley and Ryan and Dave Evas. They've created an electric skateboard capable of mowing down pedestrians at 20 mph. And the fact that Kevin O'Leary is able to ride it without injuring himself suggests that this is truly an idiot-proof device. Because if there's one thing we need, it's more idiots operating $1,399 pieces of moving machinery.
Kevin, in fact, is so impressed that he's willing to give Ryan, Dave, and Chris the $750,000 they want, but only as a loan repaid at 8 percent interest to ultimately give Kevin a 2.5 percent stake in the company. Most of the other Sharks take a pass -- and the relative disinterest of Robert, Chris, and Mark should tell you all you need to know about Inboard's prospects -- until Lori essentially matches Kevin's offer, though she's demanding a 3 percent stake.
Ryan, Dave, and Chris pow-wow about the two competing offers, which is their fatal mistake, as it gives Kevin and Lori a chance to decide they're better teaming up on this offer. Now they want 5 percent equity, and we'll spare you the back-and-forth of the negotiations, other than to marvel at Chris's willingness to pay a higher interest rate if it means giving up less equity in the long run. Their position is slightly undone by the fact that they were originally willing to give up 4 percent of the company, so Inboard eventually agrees to give up that 4 percent in exchange for repaying the $750,000 loan at 9 percent interest. This has been tonight's installment of Bringing A Knife To A Gun Party.
I so wanted to like Renaldo Webb, the son of a single mother who took a job in a school cafeteria to make ends meet so that her son could attend MIT. And I did, right up until the moment that Renaldo, with his particular background and education, decided that he would best improve the world around him by forming a company that delivers freshly cooked food for pets.
Look, I realize you folks aren't reading these recaps to be lectured on the joys of communism, but I've made no bones about the fact that food scarcity is a hot-button issue for me. I rarely comment on the relative morality of a business that appears on Shark Tank, but Renaldo's decision to use his talents to cater to the pets of affluent people is fairly contemptible. And the fact that no Shark calls him out on this is even more so.
Because honestly, the Sharks' objections to this business are not "Man, this sounds an awful lot like the fall of Rome," but rather about scalability and sustainability. And that's repellent. Instead of falling all over themselves to praise Renaldo's business savvy -- as both Lori and the especially contemptible Sacca do -- maybe one of the Sharks could have pointed out that a home-cooked meal for a pet is fairly obscene given the number of people that go to bed hungry each night. But no one can be bothered. Anyhow, Renaldo walks away without a deal and gets a little weepy about it, because honestly, that's the tragedy here and not the actual people who will wake up each morning not knowing where their next meal is going to come from.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, we had a good run, capitalism.