Michael Desmond / ABC

Shark Tank Needs To Stay After Class

A misbegotten app aimed at preschoolers causes Philip Michaels to finally drop his thin veneer of civility.

I've probably said this before, but it bears repeating: Most of the time, I don't sit down for an evening of Shark Tank with the goal of actively despising products and rooting for their total and utter failure. At best, I sincerely hope that the people who come on this show gain the capital, guidance, and confidence to follow their dreams. At worst, I wish them no particular ill will. I may not understand a product or see a use for it or envision a scenario where I would ever hand over money for it absent a court order. But if you can convince other people to exchange money for your good and/or service, then good for you. [Insert condescending Mark Cuban-style applause here.] Even you, Toilet Weirdo.

But the key phrase in that last paragraph was "most of the time." Because tonight was not one of those times. This episode features a product I found so off-putting, promoted in a pitch so wrong-footed, that concerned neighbors came to the door, startled by the volume of my teeth-grinding. Naturally, this was the only product to walk away with any dough, so let's count our way toward it from the least annoying pitches to the ones that will have me angered up enough to grab the invisible hand of the market and twist it by the wrist until it screams for mercy.

5. Shark Tank Flashback: Keen Home

Keen Home appeared on Shark Tank last year, which gave me a momentary panic fit because I have absolutely no memory of this smart vent company. As it turns out, I bowed out of the episode where Keen Home struck a deal with Robert Herjavec on account of severe jet lag, so I'm happy to report that I haven't completely lost my mind, though check in with me in a few paragraphs.

I mainly want to mention this segment so we can contemplate the clearly non-Shark Tank-sanctioned haircut Robert is sporting.

ABC

ABC

I mean, obviously he showed up on set for this taping, and the producers were like, "You know, let's get Chris Sacca back on the show while that grows out."

For those of you scoring at home, by the way, here are this week's tallies for Name-Dropping With Chris Sacca.

  • Instagram: 2
  • Google: 1
  • Sophia Bush: 1
  • Uber: 1
  • Twitter: 1
  • Collect your winnings at the window.

    Desmond

    Desmond

    4. Brellabox

    Anush Kambhampaty and John O'Connor want to do for umbrellas what Citi Bike has done for bicycles. It's basically a box where, during an unexpected downpour, you plop down $1.50 to get a fairly durable umbrella for the next 12 hours. (You're charged $40 if you decide to hold on to this special keepsake.) The idea is to undercut those crummy umbrellas sold by street vendors that crumple at the first gentle breeze.

    It's not the worst idea ever to appear on Shark Tank, despite what Kevin O'Leary insists repeatedly and at the top of his lungs, but it's not a very good idea, either. For one thing, they haven't sold a single umbrella-renting machine at this point -- it's just been pilot programs. For another, it costs them around $1,150 just to get one machine up and running. And there's that whole theory that someone caught in the rain is going to take the time to swipe a credit card that may not actually pan out in practice. You can understand, then, why the Sharks are not eager to give Anush and John $400,000, even before you consider the seasonality of the whole operation and the fact that, as Chris points out, California is rapidly transforming into a parched hellscape upon which no water will ever fall again.

    Desmond

    Desmond

    3. My Fruity Faces

    So apparently, what's been stopping your kids from eating things like fruit all these years isn't that they're finicky oddballs but that the healthy snack foods don't have faces affixed to them. Enter My Fruity Faces, which is an edible sticker made out a tapioca starch and affixes on to food, so that pineapple wedge can get a good look at who's going to bite into it, I guess.

    It makes no sense to me, but a lot of things don't in this crazy world of ours. What's bothering the Sharks, though, isn't the core concept, but rather that the My Fruity Faces gang has amassed just $125,000 in sales over three years. You also throw in factors like My Fruity Faces having the right to sell at Wal-Mart, but no actual purchase orders; or the company's $177,000 worth of debt; or the fact that whichever Shark invests in this company will also be dealing with 12 other investors with stakes of their own. Suddenly, it's not hard to understand why no one really wanted to hand over $200,000 for a 10 percent stake, let alone the series of pained groans emanating from Cuban and Co.

    Adam Gerber, one of the guys behind My Fruity Faces, doesn't really understand, though. "We have a great product," he says. "We have a great contract for distribution. We have a great licensing. We have a lot of industry players. And the fact that they couldn't see that is extremely frustrating." I'd suggest maybe re-watching this segment then, friend, to figure out when the crowd turned on you.

    Desmond

    Desmond

    2. Fashiontap

    Amy Roiland has developed a social networking app where users can create content, tag it, and share it with followers. Aimed at fashion bloggers and online influencers, Fashiontap offers a linking system where readers can tap on tagged content to buy the very items being touted by participating fashion bloggers. So congratulations to Amy on inventing Pinterest.

    Actually, the bigger worry is Instagram, which has the mindshare and the Facebook backing to squash all would-be threats. But it's cool, Amy insists, because Instagram is too broad to appeal to fashionistas and it does not yet enable tags on images to lead directly to e-tail sites. That nearly every Shark is dropping out would imply that Amy's arguments are unconvincing.

    Barbara Corcoran isn't quite ready to pull the plug, even though the Sharks who have already dropped out can boast expertise in either tech (Sacca, Cuban, and to some extent Kevin) or fashion (Daymond John). But Barbara is prepared to listen to her gut and her gut is saying, "Lace & Grace something something." So how's about $100,000 for 25 percent of the company?

    That's 15 percent more than Amy was looking to give up, and judging by her unwillingness to make so much as a counteroffer, it appears she wasn't willing to part with more than 10 percent of Fashiontap. "It's kind of the equivalent of slamming the door in someone's face," Barbara sniffs. I'd say it's exactly that, Barbara. Anyhow, there'll be no counter proposed by Amy and no deal with Barbara, which is probably all for the best.

    1. Brightwheel

    So. Brightwheel.

    Dave Vasen thinks the problem with today's preschools is that parents aren't being constantly alerted to what their kids are doing. Fortunately, we live in an age of apps, where preschool teachers can now continuously log every activity your kids are up to on their smartphones, so that busy parents like yourself can check in remotely for the illusion that you're actually engaged in this process. The preschool can even use this app to manage its business. And it's good for the kids, too, because...well, it's technology, isn't it?

    I will be blunt: I hate everything about this app, from the very concept of it right down to the quivering pleas about how all of this is really what's best for the kids. I hate the idea that preschool teachers, rather than being engaged in interacting with my kid, will be staring at a phone screen. I hate how it excuses parents to helicopter in at the slightest blip in data rather than entrusting trained professionals to do their jobs. And I especially hate how it conditions kids and parents alike to forge a relationship that's based on constant surveillance.

    I've got a daughter in preschool. When I go to pick her up, there's a dry-erase board that summarizes everything the class did that day. If I have questions, I can talk to the teachers like an adult with agency, instead of staring at a screen and grunting like a prole in Dave's vision of a brave new world for preschools. If I arrived at a preschool where all the teachers were busily logging activities on a smartphone, I would pull my kid out of there so fast, all you'd see is a pair of little dust clouds in the shape of me and my daughter.

    So naturally, Chris Sacca and Mark Cuban think this is a swell idea, since everything looks like a digital nail when the only tool you've ever used is a tech hammer. (Kevin wants to invest, too, but this can be forgiven since he a) made his bones in the education field and b) is a bloodless monster.) Chris pledges $400,000 for a 4.85% equity stake, and kind of insults Mark in the process, which causes Mark to harrumph about Chris's Silicon Valley bubble, and I'd have paid more attention, but honestly, both of these guys are terrible. (At one point, Chris cautions Dave to not rule out the possibility of flooding parents who use Brightwheel with ads, while Mark nods vigorously because what parent doesn't want to hear about the latest #offers from #brands?) In the end, Chris and Mark both kick in a total of $600,000 for 9 percent of the company, and Dave pumps his fist, and I offer a humble prayer of thanksgiving that my daughter will be done with preschool in just a few months, saving us from having this garbage inflicted on us.

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