Shark Tank Tries Out Braking Bad
Kevin O'Leary is the One Who Knocks...Other People's Businesses. And there's good reason for that on this episode, in which every pitch has its share of problems.
I normally gloss over the Catching Up With Our Shark Tank Chums or whatever the hell that segment is called, because if I wanted to watch an infomercial, I'd tune into QVC. But tonight's segment involves some news that's personally exciting to me, and it comes to us courtesy of Al "Bubba" Baker of Bubba's Boneless Ribs fame. You may remember Al from previous segments on Shark Tank-adjacent properties in which he was on the receiving end of a stern talking-to from patron Daymond John. Apparently, things have improved dramatically since then, because Al just inked a deal to supply the boneless rib meat to the Carl's Jr./Hardees chain of sloppily-assembled sandwiches.
Friends, it sounds suspiciously like Carl's Jr./Hardees is planning to try out some McRib knockoff, and if Al's boneless meat is the vessel in which they deliver that to the world, then I take back anything catty I may have ever said about the product. (An "affront against God" is what I wrote? Uh...that was my intern! Terrible kid. I'm glad we had to let him go.)
I have an unnatural affinity for McRib sandwiches, and I have and will continue to do questionable things to procure them. If Al and his newfound friends at Carl's Jr./Hardees are going to make McRib-like substances cheap and plentiful, then by God, I say let this be the dawning of the age of Pork-quarius. I will eat those sandwiches by the dozens, stuffing them down my gullet until the moment my heart explodes. And I use my last twitch of life not to remember family nor friends but to mouth a silent prayer of thanks to Daymond John for making all this possible.
Also, we are spending all this time focusing on Bubba's Boneless Ribs because the other products on this actual episode of Shark Tank run the gamut from "flawed" to "please get this off my TV post-haste." Let's work our way from one end of the spectrum to the other, shall we?
4. Guardian Bikes
Brian Riley and Kyle Jansen don't have a bad product, actually. They've invented what is essentially the antilock-braking device of bicycles, preventing the bikes from flipping over and causing unspeakable injuries if you don't happen to engage the brakes exactly the way you're supposed to. Kevin O'Leary is so kind as to demonstrate this for us, by pedaling aimlessly the studio and not going ass over tincups when he suddenly applies the brakes.
No, the problem here is not the product, but the fact that bike makers don't appear to be licensing it in great numbers -- which is especially curious, since it's a drop-in-the-bucket $4 cost for bike makers. Brian and Kyle suggest that bike makers are reluctant to add the feature to some models because it will make their other bikes look unsafe, which raises the question of "Well, why not put it on all the bikes, then?" The response from Brian and Kyle is essentially "Hey, did we mention that we're making bikes now?"
They are, and the sales are not all that bad ($90,000 so far, with a projection of that reaching $350,000 by the end of their first year), even if the expense of making and marketing bikes are quite off-putting. And that's why the Sharks are not exactly pushing each other aside to toss their $500,000 at Brian and Kyle for 10% of the company. Kevin will do it if they give him 20% and they agree to stop making their own bikes so that they can concentrate on the licensing business, but that offer gets pulled once the two brake buddies start seeking out alternative deals. That's a shame, since no alternatives are coming. Chris Sacca (yes, he's back, folks, so please hold your applause until never) says the whole strategy is too capital-intensive; Lori Greiner is troubled by the lack of licensing interest; and Barbara Corcoran is appalled that neither Brian nor Kyle appears to have much salesmanship.
That leaves Mark, who's willing to make a highly conditional offer in which Brian and Kyle will need to confirm the uniqueness of their braking system, hit their sales projections for the year, and hire a PR professional before they see a cent of his $500,000. Should all that come to pass, Mark will hand over a check and take his 15 percent, thank you very much. Brian and Kyle accept that offer -- it's better than the counter-offer of "well, thanks for coming" -- and high-five as if they weren't just told by the school prom queen that she'll gladly go out with them this weekend if they can just grow to six-foot-10 by Friday.
3. Guard Llama
Nick Nevarez and Joe Parisi trot out a llama to help pitch their product, a panic button that pairs with your smartphone over Bluetooth and sends out an emergency call to the police when you press that button twice. It says something about how the pitch is going that the Sharks are visibly disappointed that they won't be bidding on the llama. It says even more about the pitch that, about midway through the segment, the llama decides it's time to void its bowels...like, for a really extended period, almost as if it had eaten some bad soup. One imagines that this was not how IBM got its start, downwind of a pile of llama shit.
Myself, I don't really see how Guard Llama stands out from multiple mobile apps that do essentially the same thing, but then again, I wasn't charmed by the llama or dazed by the smell of its excrement. Multiple Sharks are willing to make a bid, even if they pooh-pooh (you know, like the llama just did) the $100,000-for-5% equity deal Nick and Joe propose. Kevin unveils one of his royalty deals, in which he'll get $5 on every Guard Llama panic button sold until he gets $125,000; from then on, the royalty stops and Kevin get his 5% equity. Like Kevin, Barbara will hand over $100,000, but she just wants a $2 royalty until she gets her money back; then she'll take a 20% stake in the company.
It's a nice little A or B decision: do you give up more equity to work with Barbara, or do you hold onto a larger share of your business to endure working with Kevin? That Nick and Joe eagerly make a counter-offer to Barbara suggests that they've made their choice, and she eventually agrees to take only an 18% stake after her $100,000 gets paid back. The llama is silent on the whole matter.
Sam Agboola and Savannah Cowley have an ingenious plan to boost their photo-printing service. They're not going to charge you a thing to print your photos. This would seemingly impact something called "revenue," but Sam and Savannah are one step ahead of you: they are going to festoon your photos with ads.
Don't worry -- that doesn't mean the Flag photo service takes that lovely shot of you and your spouse standing in front of the Eiffel Tower and superimposes a Waffle House behind you instead. ("Waffle House: C'est Magnifique!") Rather, the ads are printed on the back of the photos. If you are asking, "But, Phil, aren't the backs of photos typically hidden behind things like photo frames and walls?," then you have seized upon the same questionable part of the Flag business strategy that the Sharks zeroed in on. Kevin, in particular, wants to know why, if this is such a great way of making money, other larger photo-printing services haven't tried it.
And the truth is, it's pretty early days for Flag to prove its business concept: it's bagged a relatively minor $150,000 in sold advertisements for its first three months of operation, with no indication yet that initial advertisers will re-up. What Flag has excelled in, though, is raising money from investors, which is good since, as Chris Sacca notes, they seem to be spending a lot of that money at the moment. Flag has already raised $1.6 million in funding, and it's in the process of trying to get another $3 million in this round, and you can see the interest visibly draining from the Sharks' faces as that detail emerges. Out, out, out, they cry one after the other, leaving Sam to grouse that he and Savannah "didn't get a fair hearing." As I'm awfully fond of saying whenever this complaint comes up on Shark Tank, I think they heard you just fine, my man.
Validated starts with an very good premise -- finding parking for an excursion downtown is just too much of a complicated hassle! -- and then adds a series of involved negotiations with local merchants, hateful QR codes you have to redeem, and escalating deals that seem to make the process even more complex than it ever was in the first place. I try to maintain a thin veneer of fairness when I summarize these pitches, but if heading to the Big City were as involved as the fellows behind Validated want to make it, I would never venture outside of my house for fear that someone would demand to see my QR codes before I could take another step.
The Sharks seems to be in agreement with me. Barbara's confused by the whole thing, Mark's trying to explain things with a complicated central banking analogy, and -- shocker of shockers -- Chris Sacca is reduced to talking about the glories of Uber. (This is your tipoff that this episode was likely taped several months ago, because Uber's 2017 thus far? NOT GREAT, BOB.) "I hate this," Kevin declares at one point, and for once, he's not just being a crab. The Validated brain trust are ushered off set without a deal. Hope the Disney studio offers validated parking, QR codes or no.