Which businesses went bankrupt? What’s Mark Cuban’s biggest weakness? Does Robert Herjavec ever wear those ugly Christmas sweaters he invested in?
Just in time for season six, the sharks of Shark Tank answer our burning questions.
EW: What’s the biggest misconception about Shark Tank?
ROBERT HERJAVEC: That it’s not really our own money. I know we’re in Hollywood making a TV show, but I’m writing my own check!
Which product do you use most in real life?
HERJAVEC: Tipsy Elves, the inappropriate, ugly Christmas sweaters. I wear them all the time. In fact, I sent my daughter to school wearing an ugly Christmas sweater, and I forgot that there were three reindeer having a ménage à trois on there!
MARK CUBAN: I personally have made Nuts ‘N More products part of my diet and have kept the pounds off as a result.
DAYMOND JOHN: Bubba’s ribs. I had, like, 100 slabs at my barbecue. We’re discussing sending millions of pounds to certain cruise lines. I believe Bubba’s has the potential to be the biggest deal I’ve ever done, not on Shark Tank but in my life.
LORI GREINER: I use the Scrub Daddy every day. It is the most amazing sponge. How can you fall in love with a sponge? Easy! It doesn’t hold odors. Plus, it’s a smiley face, so what’s not to like?
Tell us about a time when a deal turned out to be a disaster.
KEVIN O’LEARY: I had a bad feeling about Toygaroo, and I should’ve listened to my gut. I can’t remember how much we lost, maybe half a million bucks or something, but it really sucked. It was a great idea: the Netflix of toys. But the team overbought in the toys. They couldn’t deliver on time. They really pissed off a lot of moms, and that business went to zero within six months.
Not all of the TV deals are legally binding. After the show airs, the companies are vetted, and TJ Hale, who hosts the Shark Tank podcast, has estimated that two-thirds of the deals fall through after vetting. Is that accurate?
CLAY NEWBILL, executive producer: No, that percentage was based on a very limited sampling. The percentage of deals that have closed has steadily increased since season one. In our most recent season, nearly two-thirds of the deals actually closed.
What are the other sharks’ weaknesses?
O’LEARY: Emotion. When you see a mother with a child, for example, which happens all the time on Shark Tank now, you have to have the steely discipline to put that aside and ask, “What are the merits of this business? Does it deserve an investment?” You can’t let people think that if you come on Shark Tank and you start crying, that you deserve an investment. You start crying, you’re weak. Some people say, “You’re cruel.” No, I’m not. If you think I’m tough, wait till they work in the real world of business. They’ll be eaten alive.
HERJAVEC: If you have a bad business and you don’t understand your numbers, Barbara [Corcoran] is going to invest in you. That woman is nuts! But as much as we all make fun of her math ability, she’s invested in businesses that none of us would’ve touched and she’s done very well with them. She is a great operator. [Barbara Corcoran declined to be interviewed for this piece.]
Mark can be a bully, be he can also be very compassionate. Daymond can be hesitant to go outside of an area that he’s not in, but I’ve also seen him investing in stuff that’s got nothing to do with his expertise. Kevin is too financial-bottom-line driven, but then he invests in cupcakes. That’s the magic of the show: We are really unpredictable.
JOHN: Robert isn’t a soft, warm, and fuzzy guy, so don’t believe the crap. Robert leaves himself in a deal even though he may be out. His approach is, “I’m going to leave the friendly door open, even though I’m going to saw your legs off right now and you’re not going to see it coming.” Lori is very rigid. If you say anything about QVC, you know that she’s going to get a feather up her butt, which is great! Of course, she’s a real-deal operator with a very strong skillset. [She takes] an idea all the way from the shelves to the bank. Barbara is “Let me add some celebrity influencer.” [She is] a one-trick pony. But she’s a brilliant marketer. Mark is the ultimate team player and a great guy. But he thinks he knows it all, and he doesn’t.
CUBAN: We all have the same basic weakness: figuring out how to go out of a deal. I try to add insights when I go off. The other sharks hate that. The other sharks, with the exception of Kevin, try to offer some feel-good message. That drives me crazy.
Do you believe, as Barbara suggested, that the male sharks are hesitant to make deals on products geared toward women?
GREINER: No, I do not believe that. There are just some products they don’t relate to as much as we do, so they don’t get why they might be necessary on the market. But I’ve also seen them go for a good product whether it is female-oriented or male-oriented.
O’LEARY: I bought Barbara a new broom this year so she could get to the set on time. [Laughs] Look, here’s her thing: She uses every angle she can get. She’s smart. She’ll throw that in, if it’s to her advantage, to do that men-versus-women thing. That’s a load of bunk. I have more deals with women now than I have with men.
Are the companies that get deals with the sharks contractually obligated to pay royalties to ABC and Disney and Sony on future sales? The Washington Post reported that at least one company, Pork Barrel BBQ, does.
NEWBILL: The details of the agreements between the entrepreneurs and sharks are confidential. Both parties have the chance to go through due diligence, and the producing companies are not involved in that process.
How many people audition for the show, and how many actually make it into the tank?
NEWBILL: This season, it was 45,000 [auditioning], and last year, I think we shot about 160. Obviously, we’re most excited about the “wow” ideas, something that, when you see it, you think, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
How many pitches do the sharks hear in one day of shooting?
HERJAVEC: It’s usually about a 12-hour day. People often come up to me on the street and say, “If you have so much money, why do you always wear the same suit?” The reason is for editing. When you watch the show, the person that comes out first could’ve been from the first day of filming. The person who comes out next could’ve been from the last day of filming.
How long do the entrepreneurs get to pitch before it gets edited down?
NEWBILL: It varies. The sharks are spending their own money, so they’re gonna be thorough in their questioning. They know nothing about the business before the entrepreneurs tell them. So it could range anywhere from 20 minutes to almost two hours.
Have you ever suspected that an entrepreneur might be on Shark Tank, not because he has a great product, but because he’s a little crazy? I’m thinking of the guy who said he could make gold from seawater.
O’LEARY: I used to feel that way, like “Okay, this is being shown for entertainment value.” But then, if you had been on Shark Tank one hundred years ago, and somebody walked in with a sticky liquid full of caramel and cocaine, you would have said he’s crazy. That’s Coca Cola. So I don’t think of them as crazy anymore.
HERJAVEC: The line between genius and insanity is very, very fine. Even the guy who said he could do gold from water, there is a legitimate scientific background to it. It’s just not applicable because you need seven miles of water for a half ounce of gold.
Can you give us a preview of what’s new this season?
JOHN: We’re really nasty to each other now. We get into one of our biggest fights, Lori and I against Robert and Mark, about “What’s a charity case?” It gets heated. Of course, Kevin’s sitting there, yelling, “Save the money!” Kevin couldn’t care less where the morals are.
O’LEARY: The size of the deals—we have several multimillion-dollar deals—and the way those deals are structured is more complex, because real companies have existing products in distribution and have seen the Shark Tank effect. We beat out a venture-capital firm on a deal this year. They took our money instead of a VC’s money.
HERJAVEC: I will tell you this: Whenever you think you’ve seen it all, the next crazy one walks in the door. And I’m not talking about one of the sharks.