Marketplace Scratch Pad

Swimming with sharks

Scott Jagow Aug 10, 2009

When it comes to reality TV, I believe moderation is the best policy. Sure, I’d like to think I could abstain from its harmful rays completely, but I’m human and occasionally fall prey to reality TV’s siren song. Last night, a new one got its hooks into me.

It’s ABC’s new show, Shark Tank. The premise is this: entrepreneurs and inventors present their ideas or business plans to a group of angel investors. The angels are self-made millionaires willing to sink their own money into good businesses.

For example, there’s Barbara Corcoran. She turned a $1,000 loan into a $5 billion real estate company. Other panelists include infomercial king Kevin Harrington and fashion designer Daymond John.

The “contestants” range the gamut, but they’re all businesspeople looking for their own personal stimulus package. In the first show, there was the likable guy trying to save his sweet potato pie business, an absolute kook who wanted to surgically implant a bluetooth device into people’s heads, a Georgia mom with a great little idea for giving medicine to kids, plus the founders of College Hunks Hauling Junk. They want to start a second business, College Foxes Packing Boxes.

Only one of the five investors can go in on an idea, so if more than one is interested, they have to fight it out. In some cases (like the bluetooth guy), no one was interested. In one case last night (the College Hunks), the contestants turned down the offer — $250,000 for a 50% stake in the new business, 10% stake in the old one. They might regret that decision.

Yes, Shark Tank has your typical reality show over-the-top dramatic tension, and one of the panelists kept trying to land reality show one-liners like “Don’t cry for money, it never cries for you”. Lame. But I actually learned a few things about seeding and marketing a business. And I didn’t get the sense the contestants were being humiliated at all. In fact, some of them clearly needed a lot of business education.

The panelists aren’t really household names, and that’s good. They’re real investors with knowledge to share, and that came across. I don’t know how long it’ll be interesting to see a parade of hopeful entrepreneurs try to get their money, but the show could certainly extend its longevity if it followed some of these people as they succeeded or failed in making a profit for the investors.

I’d watch that.

Here are a couple moments from the show:

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