ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’: Lessons From My Time On Set

Last year, I spent a day on the set of ABC’s hit TV show “Shark Tank.” While there, I watched 7 or 8 pitches and hung out with the Sharks between the tear down and setup of the next pitch. In that time, I was an observer: I took in their feedback about deals and got to ask business questions.

Here are my takeaways from those conversations. 

Behind The Scenes Of ‘Shark Tank’

behind the scenes My first spoiler? The pitches really do last for 60-90 minutes. The entrepreneurs are grilled with questions — many times the Sharks simply talk over each other, which must be a TV editor’s nightmare. Of course, the 60-90-minute pitches become the 10-12-minute segments you see on TV. 

Behind the scenes, each Shark has team members who complete due diligence on the investment after a deal is made. Between takes, staff members ask Sharks to record a video or approve something.

Shortly before lunch, Kevin, aka Mr. Wonderful, got a deal for a product. I had lunch with Kevin and his team following his deal. One member ate quickly and left to meet with the entrepreneurs to get the ball rolling on the investment. Kevin continued to hang out and have lunch. 

Work On Your Business, Not In Your Business 

businessThe lesson I took from this lunch and watching the Sharks interact with their teams? The Sharks have fully embraced the mentality of work on your business, not in your business. The Sharks spent nearly all their time doing work only they can do. They created videos for social media, signed contracts, and made side deals. They didn’t do work others could do for them. I can’t say one way or another if this is how they operate in everyday life, but it appeared to be their norm. 

The Sharks’ behaviors got me thinking about how I spend my time. I started evaluating what I’m doing and if others can/should be doing this work. What should I be doing instead? Now, I’m making lists to maximize the time I have leftover from tasks I’ve delegated.

Insight From A Pro: Pay Attention To What You Can Control 

focusLater in the day, I spoke with Mark Cuban about where he sees the economy going. I also asked about where he sees business valuations heading. His response was thought provoking. He told me he doesn’t worry about where the economy is going or which valuation is up or down. Why? Because he can’t control that. 

Instead, he looks at the popular trends of today. He pays attention any time the economy moves certain items up in value and others down. He doesn’t try to predict it, he just moves in the direction everything is flowing

Think about how you and I operate as small-business owners. It’s most likely at odds with the way Mark Cuban operates. It’s likely why he’s a billionaire and we are not. Of course, he’s had many investments and a team of people to help him. But despite the differences, we can still learn from Mark’s insight, even if it’s simply letting go of what you can’t control, and, instead, focusing on what you can control.

It’s Not Over Till It’s Over 

TeamWhile sitting in the background, it was funny to hear Robert Herjavec’s team talk about deals they wanted other Sharks to get. I asked one team member if they were glad when Robert didn’t win a specific deal. “Yeah,” she said. “Those people would have been a nightmare for me to work with.” 

Even when a deal is done on “Shark Tank,” it’s not done. The Shark’s team has time to do due diligence and can back out at any point. 

Sitting there, I was reminded of a lesson I’ve learned over and over as a business owner: Just because the boss says yes doesn’t mean you can forego winning over the team. It’s especially true in a situation like this, where the team is people you’ll be working with.

The ‘Shark Tank’ Effect 

shark tankHave you ever watched “Shark Tank” and seen a product you thought would never get a deal? I saw 2 pitches like that while I was there, and 1 of them even got a deal from Mark. 

What gives? 

At this point, the Sharks know all about the “Shark Tank” effect — the estimated number of a product’s sales on the first night the show airs. Sometimes a deal is made because the Sharks know they’ll make their money back on the first night. It’s why Mr. Wonderful likes those royalty deals. They allow him to re-earn his capital when the show first airs. These entrepreneurs may be on TV, but make no mistake: They are savvy investors.

This is 1 reason you don’t see a ton of successful B2B products or franchise concepts on the show. The “Shark Tank” effect is minimal in those types of businesses.  

Overall, my experience on the set of “Shark Tank” was amazing and illuminating. The Sharks were friendly, and Mr. Wonderful truly is one of the savviest of them all, despite what may come across on TV.

-Shaun 

P.S. People have asked me a number of times if I pitched a product on the show. No, I was simply a guest of Robert Herjavec.

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