Shark Tank Has What Is Basically The Weekend Parent's Idea Of A Good Time
From confusing and pointless magic shows to a jail for juiceboxes, the entire show revolves around products aimed at people for whom children are an occasional, messy evil.
If this episode can be said to have a theme, it's "Weekend Parent -- They'll Buy Anything If It Means They Can Buy Freedom From Guilt! (And Returning the Kids All Hopped Up On Sugar Is Only A Bonus)."
How many bad ideas are encapsulated in the four product pitches this week? And how bad are the pitches? Ranked in order from "You're paying the kids' therapy bills" to "It's not the dumbest thing you've ever spent money on," let's look at the pitches.
Jarrett Parker and Raja Rahman are no strangers to reality TV, having appeared on Season 7 of America's Got Talent -- and having been eliminated twice -- so why not try their luck at a new reality franchise?
The illusionist and pianist are teaming up to produce a new show aimed at the Las Vegas strip, called "Miracles." Alas, none of the demo stunts they showed the Sharks include turning a loaf of bread and a can of sardines into a Vegas buffet for thousands, or turning a bottle of Dasani into a nice little merlot. There is, however, a water stunt that is not unlike the opening sequence in The Prestige, only with 100% less drowning of Piper Perabo.
Parker and Rahman explain that they need $750,000 for 40% of their company (so, valuation at $1.875 million) because the times, they are a-changing in Las Vegas. Where once there was a golden age where casinos paid magic acts to show up, the Vegas casinos of today require their showmen to pay rent in the facility, and to handle all their own operating expenses and marketing.
Raja explains it like this without adding, "Of course, I doubt anyone is telling Celine Dion or Britney Spears to pay them rent, and I am banking on you all not having read the New Yorker article on celebrity DJs in residence at casinos. The point is, mid-tier acts like ours are basically being squeezed thanks to a breathtaking realignment of Vegas economics in the past twenty years. So, um, pay our rent?"
Mark Cuban doesn't name-drop the New Yorker article (and its fascinating reportage on how the clubs are generating most of the profit because of the crazy-pricey bottle service), but he does point out that the demographics of people who visit Las Vegas on purpose are skewing younger, the young-youngs think of magic as a punchline in Arrested Development, and so he's out.
It does not take long for the rest of the sharks to flee the scene, especially when neither Jarrett nor Raja can answer Robert's question, "Out of all the acts launched every year, how many succeed and how many fail?"
Lori is the last on the scene, and for a long moment, it looks like she might maintain her record of investing in the sublimely stupid, but even she says, "Why are you in Vegas with all this competition?" and bails.
Sadly, these two do not disappear in a puff of smoke.
Will Warne has a vision -- a painstaking vision, one that he still hasn't gotten off the ground after a few years -- that one day, the roadrunning parents of America will be transformed into an army of rickshaw drivers. His company, KidRunner, produces a wheeled carrier that is not unlike a rickshaw, buggy, or other two-wheeled conveyance; the idea is that avid runners will zip their children inside the wheeled pod, fasten a harness around their waists, and Have It All by knocking off a 5K and calling it quality time with the kid.
Warne wants $500,000 for a 20% stake in his company, and I have to say, a $2.5 million valuation for a company that is not actually selling any of these toddler rickshaws yet is a remarkably ballsy move.
Robert tries one of the KidRunners out, so he can compare it to the baby joggers he used when his kids were young, and while he's generally bullish on the experience, the seasick-looking child in the back might beg to differ if she had any verbal skills. Barbara notes as much, and keeps harping on how uncomfortable the child looks. Kevin smiles at the little girl and she flees the scene, so who knows how many sources of discomfort there are?
Then the Sharks get down to questions like "Why does your prototype not do what you claim your final product will?" and "Why has it taken three years to get to this point, where you still don't have a functioning prototype?" and "Why are you so hung up on getting 'athlete ambassadors' to run with these things instead of just selling some?" and "By the way, what is this selling for?"
The answer to the last question is a cool $750. Reader, that was the point where I choked on my drink. Without turning this section into my autobiography, let me lay out some details: I live on a flat island with approximately ten square miles of land, and we're a one-car household. When we bought a stroller, which we used as a second vehicle for nearly five years, guess how much we paid for a conveyance that did NOT churn our child like butter and could handle a few bags of groceries in the basket and doubled as the nursery for the first few months? We paid $700 for a stroller system that included both a bassinet and stroller seat. The notion of paying more for a limited-use cart? Ridiculous.
Once the price is dropped, you can tell all the Sharks are looking for excuses to bail on this company. Kevin doubts the ability to build a customer base, so he leaves under that pretext. Mark thinks Warne is an example of "perfect is the enemy of good," and he's out for that reason. And Robert and Lori are just plain uncomfortable. Warne goes home empty-handed.
2. Drip Drop
I don't know how many of you are avid Martha Stewart Living readers, but every once in a while, some crafts editor gets a hankering to gussy up candles and goes wild making bobeches: circular collars meant to catch wax so one can hold a fancy, be-bobeched candle and not suffer wax burns in public. (What you do in private with candles is not something Martha Stewart Living has addressed editorially.)
The premise behind Drip Drop is "like bobeches, but for ice cream cones." However, the people pitching Drip Drop -- fourteen-year-olds Oliver Greenwald and Sam Nassif -- are apparently not Martha Stewart Living readers, so they're not positioning their product thusly. They are positioning the edible bobeche as "we have a patent and we really just want someone else to throw us some money so we can sell this idea to a manufacturer."
All of the Sharks are charmed by Greenwald and Nassif's pitch, which is very well-rehearsed and careful to mention their plans for growth and the patent. They are less charmed by the Drip Drop product itself: Barbara notes that it doesn't work, it's ugly, and it doesn't taste very good. Mark and Robert are not enamored of the cost -- each Drip Drop costs three cents to make, compared to the five cents an ice cream cone costs to produce, and that's a hard sell for a cone add-on. Lori does not see why she should pay the proposed $50,000 for a 20% stake in the company if she's going to have to do all the work with manufacturers and/or get the product into ice cream parlors. And Kevin wants to know what the rush is before shrugging, "I'm out."
It looks like a Shark Shutout before, inexplicably, Barbara makes an offer: she'll invest $50,000 for a 33% stake -- basically whacking the valuation by 40% to $150,000 -- contingent on improving the design and taste. The kids take the deal. One senses that the contigency will allow Barbara a graceful exit later but she's curious to see if they can indeed meet her demand of a more attractive edible bobeche. What uses Barbara has for edible bobeches are best left to the readers' imaginations.
This is a fascinating segment, mostly because of how quickly the Sharks turn Brenda Lee Feldman's story of her company into a disaster tale.
Feldman comes out asking for $400,000 for a 10% stake in her company. And what, pray tell, makes her company worth $4 million? A personalized silicone band you stick around a child's sippy and a three-part box meant to eliminate your child's ability to turn any juicebox into a tiny, sticky geyser.
So Feldman hands out samples and everyone makes a show of confirming that indeed, this is a plastic box. Barbara immediately upends her juicebox jail, sending juice dripping all over the floor, and the other Sharks are all, "Why would you do that?" Barbara misses an opportunity to snap back, "Who knows why three-year-olds do anything they do?" but her point is well-taken: the "My Drinky," as it's called, only eliminates one kind of juicebox mess.
My Drinky also has dinky sales, with only $50,000 in the last year. We find out that the bulk of the company's revenue -- $50 million over the last decade -- has come from the personalized-band product (a.k.a. Orbit Labels), and while revenue in the last year was $2 million, sales have been flat for two years.
Although Feldman tries valiantly to keep the pitch on track with "My Drinky is going to go big, I know it!," both Mark and Robert quickly conclude that what she's doing is trying to get a cash infusion for a company whose growth has stalled. Lori's out for that reason, as are Mark and Robert.
Barbara is all, "You're overcomplicating a juicebox. The whole point to juiceboxes is that they're a no-brainer for all parties involved. Why do you want to take that away? I'm out." What she does not add is that the people who are going to spend money on juicebox-type plastic stuff are far more likely to be the kind of quasi-hippie consumer who's buying reusable juice boxes, not buying a plastic product that does nothing to address packaging waste as well as doing nothing to eliminate the mess potential in juice box misuse.
That leaves only Kevin, who offers a classic royalty deal -- $400,000 to be repaid via royalties of $1 per unit until he has $1.2 mil and 5% equity in the company. In other words, Feldman would pay him back triple what he lent her and still lose some equity in her company. Also, Kevin would like Feldman to move out of big-box retail entirely and focus solely on online sales. Since Feldman is unwilling to drop her negotiations with an unnamed big-box retailer, she, her juice box jail, and her stretchy name bands go into the good night.
So why have I ranked them #1? Because those Orbit Labels are cute, they're cheap, and they're personalizable, so they make decent gifts. It's the most practical product I saw all night.