Shark Tank Says 'Potato,' I Say 'What Fresh Hell Is This?'
You never see the potato with your name on it, which is why this Shark Tank episode, featuring a service that delivers messages by potato, is so unsettling.
Last week at this time, I was coming off a trans-Pacific flight, and I guess the jet lag must still be affecting me. Because when I turned on Shark Tank tonight, I saw two guys on national TV successfully getting funding for their business of sending messages through the mail scrawled on a potato. That they themselves were dressed like potatoes only made me more convinced that traversing the international date line had permanently fried my cerebral cortex.
And the kicker? The potato guys weren't even the most ridiculous business to appear on the show this week.
So let's get right to the rankings, counting our way down to the goofiest business idea to appear on this week's edition of Shark Tank. And if I'm being honest, tonight's winner makes the shortlist for one of the dopiest pitches to ever appear on this program, and that includes the times Jimmy Kimmel has appeared on Shark Tank to waste everyone's time.
4. Joyce's Lulu Bang
Give credit to Kelly and Jorrae Beard for having an actual, real-life business -- they make barbecue sauce -- and for coming up with a business plan in which three of the five steps aren't simply a series of question marks. Also, they open their pitch with "If you're like us, you like to bang," which makes several of the Sharks look around nervously. "I wasn't aware that this was that kind of show, but I'm down for anything," their expressions seem to say, before they realize, maybe a little regretfully, that this is a reference to the product's name.
The good news for the Beard sisters, besides the fact that their sauce apparently tastes delightful and complements all manner of cuisine, is that they scored a regional deal with Wal-Mart that puts them in 170 stores. The bad news: they've only moved $45,000 worth of sauce, which Daymond John estimates to be 2.5 bottles per week. And here we get to the heart of the problem with Lulu Bang appearing on Shark Tank: barbecue sauce is a commodity business, and it's frightfully difficult to ship. Daymond and Kevin O'Leary, who both have some experience with shipping foodstuffs, outline the difficulties facing Lulu Bang, and all the Sharks drop out, though not without offering encouraging words. ("Some women become fear the fire," Lori Greiner offers. "Some people become it. You have become it." Which...what?)
Once the Beards depart empty-handed, we stick around to watch the Sharks argue amongst themselves -- or rather, we watch four Sharks argue with Kevin, who's of the opinion that the sisters ought to just pack it in and that his colleagues are doing Shark Tank participants no favors by blowing sunshine up everyone's skirt. "All this glowing stuff, and they're going to be spending the next two to three years selling hot sauce," Kevin grouses. The other Sharks point out he's being kind of a jerk -- they're not wrong -- and Kevin notes that he didn't exactly notice anyone else breaking out the giant novelty check for Lulu Bang. He's not wrong, either.
Dave Cohen has kind of a clever product of his own. He's built a monocle-shaped view finder that, when you peer through it, can show you what parts of someone's skin are protected by sunscreen and which parts are exposed to the sun's killing rays. The idea is that you whip out Sunscreenr to check on your kids' sunscreen to make sure that water and sand haven't wiped off their protective coating. As someone who has to apply roughly 12 layers of sunscreen just to leave the house, I can get behind anything that will spare me from turning alabaster to lobster-colored in about 60 seconds.
Dave's trouble is his valuation. He's only fresh out of a Kickstarter campaign, having racked up 1,200 orders, but he's determined that 10 percent of his company is worth $800,000. That's an $8 million valuation, and Dave's logic appears to be that sunscreen manufacturers have shown an interest in the product, so the sky's the limit. The Sharks would very much like him to recalibrate that limit.
After Mark Cuban and Robert Herjavec quickly drop out, Kevin O'Leary swoops in with an $800,000 offer, but he wants a third of the company. Dave thanks him for that offer, while using his eyes to silently beg the remaining Sharks to come up with a better offer. Daymond won't oblige, citing that crazy valuation, and Lori's unimpressed by Dave's suggestion that maybe she put up $800,000 for 20 percent. That leaves Kevin as the only Shark making an offer, which, frankly, is when Kevin thrives. After realizing that Kevin's not going to budge off his asking price, Dave quite sensibly takes the deal.
2. Potato Parcel
I don't know which troubles me more -- that Riad Bekhit and Alex Craig decided to build a business where you could go around sending customized messages scribbled on potatoes to friends and family, or that enough people thought this was a clever enough idea to allow them to generate $215,000 in sales over the last 13 months. We did this, America. We are to blame. About the only good thing I can think of here is that if someone ever sends me a potato in the mail, at least I'll have something to chuck at their thick skull the next time I see them in public.
More bad news: It turns out that Alex is something of a Shark Tank superfan, and this is his fourth attempt to actually wind up on the show in front of the Sharks. It is unclear whether the previous three attempts involved this Potato Parcel business, but imagine that the potato-by-mail scheme is the one that finally lands you on the show of your dreams. Talk about your pyrrhic victories. (Adding to the poignancy: Alex actually sold the business to Riad for $42,000, with Riad paying Alex $1 for every potato sold for the 60 days after they appear on Shark Tank. Somewhere, Ernest Hemingway just tore up a sheet of paper that said "Baby shoes, never worn," as he muttered "How can I compete with that?")
Wait: It gets crazier still! While several Sharks rightfully try to laugh Riad and Alex off the stage -- Daymond notes that their potato costumes make them look like testicles, and once he says that, you can't unsee it -- the two actually get competing offers. Kevin proposes one of his royalty deals where he puts up $50,000 and gets half of that $1 Alex is supposed to get for the next 60 days; then he'll get $1 until his investment triples to $150,000, at which point he'll own 10 percent of the business. Robert is more interested in equity: $50,000 for a quarter of the business, please. Riad thinks it over, and once Kevin adjusts his offer to not cut into Alex's royalty, we have a deal, as our economy moves ever closer to a potato-based system.
"Wait a minute," you're asking. "The potato people weren't the most ridiculous guys to appear on Shark Tank this week? Who could possibly be worse?" Allow me to introduce you to Aaron Liskov and Andrew Zahornacky, who have based their Unpack business around the premise that the thought of toting around luggage on a trip is so hateful to you, you will pay $20 a day to wear someone else's clothes.
What you do is sign up with Unpack, list your measurements and your brand preferences, and a fresh array of clothing will be waiting for you at your hotel when you arrive for your next trip. The problems with this premise should be apparent. As an unusually-shaped American, I find stumbling upon off-the-rack clothes that fit me in a flattering way to be a needle-in-a-haystack-type search. I can't imagine showing up at a hotel with no clothing, hoping like hell that Unpack managed to find something that looks good on my abomination of a body. Secondly, since you're still going to have to bring along shoes and toiletries, Unpack is not alleviating you of the hardship of bringing along luggage by any stretch of the imagination. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, you are wearing someone else's clothing, like a common hobo.
I don't think I have to tell you that the Sharks aren't crazy about this idea. (Although in a world where the potato brothers can score big bucks, maybe I do.) Mark is appalled that they don't need to know what business they're in, Robert thinks it's a terrible idea, and Daymond points out that his experience from a tuxedo-rental business suggests the real cost comes from cleaning and maintaining rentable outfits. Everyone's quickly out, and we can rest easy knowing at least one terrible idea was shot down on this episode, even as we await for our message potatoes to arrive in the mail.