Shark Tank Presents: Sharks Behaving Badly
You know what's not investable? Good manners, if the pompous plutocrats on Shark Tank are anything to go by.
Most of the time, when there's derisive laughter to be had around these parts, it's at the expense of the people who come on this show to pitch a product no one wants and act aggrieved when they're not handed over a check with a string of trailing zeroes. But not tonight -- no, this week's parade of would-be business titans make a decent show of themselves, presenting ideas that are, for the most part, respectable. (I said for the most part, Sleep-Away Camp Guy.) Instead, on this episode, it's the Sharks who, collectively, kinda show their ass.
More shockingly, Kevin O'Leary was one of the better behaved ones.
Whether it's getting sniffy for no reason with the presenters or taking a page out of Mark Cuban's Guide to Patronizing Your Lessers, the Sharks seem to go out of their way to be especially grating in this episode. But who sets the gold standard for bad behavior? Let's count our way down to the Shark who most needs to spend the week taking up residence on the Naughty Step.
5. Camp No Counselors
Actually, the Sharks are pretty on point with this presentation, in which Adam Tichauer wants to hasten the ongoing infantilization of modern adults by bringing back summer camp. Specifically, Adam puts together weekends at actual sleep-away camps in which adults can spend a weekend canoeing and making lanyards and engaging in other supposedly nostalgic activities from their youth, only this time there's booze involved. This sounds exactly like how I enjoy spending my weekend getaways, only I call my sleep-away camp "a hotel" and the nostalgic activities from my youth are replaced by "shit I like doing as an adult." I dig the part about the booze, though.
There are apparently plenty of people who aren't me, though, because Adam is on target to gross more than $800,000 on his adult sleep-away camps this year. And since his main expenses are renting out the camps and marketing his product, he's turning a profit. So why does he need the Sharks, everyone wonders. Why, to expand, Adam replies. Well, why not just use the profits you're making to fund that, the Sharks counter. Because I want to expand faster, Adam guesses.
It is at this point that Daymond John suggests that maybe Adam is just appearing on the show to score some free PR. Oh no, no, no, Adam insists, but at the rate the Sharks are dropping out, it seems like they are unconvinced. Mark toys with making an offer, but only if he could get 25% of the business for his $300,000 investment instead of the paltry 7.5% Adam was looking to give up. For that kind of equity, Adam says he'd like every Shark to be involved, which is all the cue Mark needs to run for the hills. So if you are looking forward to a weekend of sitting around the campfire singing "Kum Ba Yah" while you down martinis with your fellow man-babies, you'll be doing it without any investment help from anyone on Shark Tank.
Much to my disappointment, VPCab is not the crowd-funded sequel to 1983's DC Cab -- you'll get respectable work again someday, Adam Baldwin! -- but rather a business that takes old pinball machines, rips out the guts, and installs high-end electronics and displays to turn them into fancy gaming consoles. The idea, Brad Baker explains, is that instead of spending lots of money on a machine capable of playing one game, you'll spend lots of money on a machine that can play multiple games, with natural physics feedback and sound effects thrown in to the mix.
It's a nifty-looking product even though, at $3,000 to $9,500, it's the sort of thing only our nation's richest kings could afford. Robert Herjavec and Lori Greiner sniff that this isn't the kind of product likely to appeal to kids, who are all about their GameBoys or their Merlins or whatever it is the kids are playing with these days. Kevin gets huffy that Brad's barely two-year-old business isn't yet profitable, though, really, that's kind of Kevin's schtick. It's Mark who really works my nerve by going through this whole song-and-dance about he'd like to invest, but that Brad failed to articulate the proper vision for expanding his business. Yeah, boo on you, Brad for not meeting the expectations of a guy you met ten minutes ago.
Daymond's willing to put up $200,000, provided Brad concentrates on selling the machines while Daymond uses the expertise of one of his companies to manufacture them. That is okay by Brad. Daymond would also like 30% of the business. That is less okay to Brad, who wonders if Daymond might go down to 20%. Eventually, they settle on 25%, and the rec rooms of people with ungodly amounts of disposable income are the better for it.
3. Extreme Vehicle Protection
When the flood waters are rising, threatening your every possession, what are you to do? The answer, according to Kenny Lerner and Matthew Harris, is to drive your car into a plastic baggie, and then zip up the back to protect it from flooding. That's Extreme Vehicle Protection in a nutshell -- or, as Mark Cuban puts it, a "car condom." He's not incorrect.
It's a noble idea behind EVP, as Kenny and Matthew call it, but there's a couple of issues. First, they have insignificant sales. Second, as Robert correctly points out, most consumers are unlikely to think about buying a product they will need only in the case of extreme emergencies. Mark and Lori are similarly unimpressed, but Kevin spies the opportunity for a licensing deal: he'll give Kenny and Matthew the $50,000 they want, but only if they give him a $30 royalty on every unit they ever sell.
This would be a remarkably stupid deal, and Kenny and Matthew are wise to resist it, especially when Kevin realizes that he may be asking too much and amends his offer to end the royalty after he quadruples his investment. But the Shark who really acts like a jerk here is Daymond -- my favorite Shark! -- who offers $50,000, but wants a third of the company. Nothing wrong with that. But when Kenny asks what Daymond's marketing plan would be for EVP, Daymond acts like he's been mortally insulted. That's...less good. Oh, I apologize, Guy Who Wants A Third of My Business. I hadn't realized that asking exactly what you expected in return for your investment was such an act of impertinence. Kenny and Matthew aren't as put off by Daymond's fainting couch routine as I am, and they end up taking the deal. Anything's better than doing business with Kevin, I guess.
2. Gladiator Lacrosse
Rachel Zietz is fifteen years old and has accomplished more in her life than anyone reading this ever will. In addition to her schooling and captaincy of the lacrosse team, she's also built a thriving business specializing in durable-yet-affordable lacrosse equipment. She's racked up $300,000 in sales since 2014, which is impressive when you're fielding calls from customers on your way to homeroom. She also has a vision for what she wants to do with the $100,000 she hopes a Shark will give her, including boosting her online and retail distribution, building up a sales team, and expanding her product line.
So naturally the Sharks treat her like she's running a really effective corner lemonade stand.
Look, I get that there are issues with investing in a business run by a fifteen-year-old, not the least of which is, how are we supposed to grow this business when you've got a paper on Catcher In The Rye due Thursday? But Christ, the Sharks do everything short of walking up to Rachel and patting her on the head. Who's got a good business? You've got a good business! Lori's "You inspire me" platitudes are particularly grating. Yeah, maybe use that inspiration to write out a check, Lori.
Anyhow, Rachel is great, and all the Sharks are awful.
This is one of those updates about a company that appeared on Shark Tank long before recorded history (i.e. when I wasn't writing about it). It will shock you to learn that once they faced challenges, but now are doing quite well for themselves. That's not the interesting part.
No, MistoBox is featured here because on these flashback segments a Shark normally can be bothered to show up at company headquarters to offer a hearty handshake to the happy entrepreneurs. At the very least, he or she can cut a promo talking about how chuffed he or she is to watch this incredible turnaround.
Ah, but this is Mark Cuban, who apparently can only be bothered to participate in these segments at point of bayonet. Rarely can ol' Cubes rouse himself from his basketball pleasure palace to film a Where Are They Now segment; most of the time, he Skypes in to offer a few wise words or at least a dramatic reading from The Fountainhead. With MistoBox, though, Mark can only muster a phone call on speaker.
To put it more bluntly: what we have here is a segment where Mark Cuban literally phones it in.