The punchline: I am going to be a Guest Shark on Shark Tank this season.
The setup: Many of you have asked me over the years whether I would ever consider being a Shark on Shark Tank. My answer was always clear: No.
Why? It struck me as a dime-store version of my current job. A circus of kitchen gadgets and stocking stuffers optimized for infomercials. A few years ago, my buddy Daymond John invited me to come by the set and watch a taping. I arrived just in time to see “Cowboy Ryan” pitch his Cowboy Abs fitness program. I didn’t understand then that it would go on to be considered to be one of the worst Shark Tank pitches ever. However, it solidified my impression that Shark Tank was far afield from what I do for a living.
Last Fall, I caught an old Shark Tank episode on repeat. By coincidence, it happened to feature another of the show’s worst pitches of all time: The Carsik Bib. The minute I saw the entrepreneur pour pea soup and corn onto the floor of the studio, I started teasing my pals Daymond and Mark Cuban on Twitter. I posted this:
Daymond quickly retorted:
Mark and Daymond retweeted me to their followers and triggered a torrent of passionate replies from their respective tribes. The ferocity was evident. Their fans insisted that Shark Tank was inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs and even questioned what I had ever done with my life. Cuban and I kept jabbing each other in reply messages. But, all the while, it became clear to me that I had underestimated the impact of the show.
That night, Mark and I direct messaged about his experience as a Shark. He told me how much the show’s success had actually caught him off-guard. Even when he originally got involved, he wasn’t fully convinced of its promise. Now he realizes that it is beyond a mere timeslot. Shark Tank is a movement.
He is right. For starters, the audience is huge. Seven to eight million people watch each episode. It is Friday night’s biggest show with the 18-49 demographic. Among households with income over $100k, it’s is in the top 25 of all programs on TV on any network (broadcast or cable) on any night of the week. Plus, Shark Tank reruns are syndicated to CNBC where they draw another 500-600k viewers in their primetime slot. Episodes of the show are essentially evergreen and can be replayed many times over and still be captivating for viewers particularly when update segments are taped. Shark Tank itself is an incredible business.
Yet, even with those numbers in mind, it was only after talking to people around me that I grasped the reach of the show’s platform. What I had thought was a carnivalesque send-up of the world of venture capital is actually wildly popular among my investing peers. I had no idea. My investors? They love it. The Wall Street guys I work with? Many of them never miss an episode.
The best part? All of these people watch the show with their whole families. Kids are huge fans of Shark Tank and love playing along at home. My own niece and nephew stay up to watch it with their parents and debate which deals are worth doing. Yes, that’s the same nephew who successfully pitched me to invest $35 in his smoothie business, no doubt inspired by the show.
The more I asked friends and neighbors, the more emphatic support I heard for Shark Tank. People lit up when reminded of specific episodes. They said they love the drama of the pitches and proudly buy the products featured. More importantly, I heard more than a dozen times that folks were working on projects they hoped to bring on the show one day. Young viewers noted that Shark Tank showed them the value of knowing how to code and understanding the engineering and design principles behind innovative product creation.
I came to see that Shark Tank embodies the American dream. It is crispest illustration of how ingenuity, determination, storytelling, and a dash of luck can lead to spectacular success. As viewers, we stand right there alongside the entrepreneurs and nervously sweat out what may be the single most important moment in the history of their business, and their life. Shark Tank restores our faith in hustle and reminds us that optimism wins.
I had been so wrong about the show.
How serendipitous then that on Halloween night in Los Angeles, while my family and I were dressed as bottles of sriracha, I bumped into a ninja who was chasing his kid around near mine. In the midst of small talk, he mentioned he was the executive producer of Shark Tank, Clay Newbill. Clay asked me if I would ever come on the show and I let him know right away that I wasn’t interested. So he broke out some ju-jitsu…
If you ever want to get an entrepreneur or investor involved in your project, right off the bat, ask us what we would do to make it better. We can’t help ourselves. We can’t stay quiet. We have too many opinions and derive too much pleasure from building and fixing things. We stick our noses into things as a profession. We know we should be spending our time on some other project in which we are invested. But, if you ask us for our opinion on virtually anything at all, we can’t refuse.
Thus, Clay asked me to come visit his office and talk through some ideas I had for the show. From there, we dropped in to see some honchos at SONY so I could share a couple of recommendations. I went home from that meeting energized and started binge watching all the episodes I could find. In another get together, Clay had me pitching some of my suggestions to execs at ABC. I also found myself at Mark Burnett’s house engrossed in a conversation that ranged from Shark Tank improvements to charity:water to the viability of sea mist condensation systems for fresh water production. (He is a fascinating dude.)
Shortly thereafter, when Mark and Clay called with the offer to be on the show, I looked back and realized all those meetings had been recruiting sessions. They had reeled me in using the sound of my own voice and my inability to shut the hell up when given the chance to toss in my two cents. By that point, I had come to deeply enjoy hanging around with these guys and felt personally invested in seeing Shark Tank realize its potential. So, I accepted their offer on one take-it-or-leave-it condition: I would get to choose my own wardrobe. :)
I agreed to be on Shark Tank because watching the show reminds me of the early days of my investing career. Today, at Lowercase, we manage more money than we ever imagined. That certainly has its upside, but it also comes with a ton of politics, conflict, complication, distraction, and ugliness. Shark Tank takes me back to the times when I was sitting around a table at Brickhouse Cafe in San Francisco with just two or three founders, excitedly chewing on what could be the next big thing. There was never any talk of board director dynamics, accounting idiosyncrasies, nor earnings call scripts. Instead it was all about the product itself and musing about how to make it awesome. I have missed that simplicity, focus, and purity so much.
Plus, Shark Tank has introduced me to entrepreneurs that I would never otherwise meet inside the tech bubble. As you have likely read or experienced firsthand, Silicon Valley startup founders tend to be male, and many ethnicities are very underrepresented in our industry. Yet, Shark Tank has already given me the chance to mix it up with brave women and men from across the country and from staggeringly diverse backgrounds. It has been so refreshing.
From this point on, I have to be stingy with details because this upcoming season’s episodes are still being shot and who am I to spoil damn good television? I will say this much:
1) I have already taped a couple of fantastic episodes worth of Shark Tank pitches.
2) The quality of the entrepreneurs and companies is higher than ever.
3) I have done a couple of deals in the Tank so far. Good deals I am proud of and that I know are going to be big.
4) I lost a deal in some very heated bidding that included a fair amount of trash-talking with a fellow Shark. I have no doubt you’ll all bust my chops when when that one airs.
All told, this has been quite an adventure. I have been dying to tell you for months. To experience all of this without being able to Tweet? Consider me, sitting on the Shark Tank set, teasing the hell out of Kevin O’Leary and Mark Cuban and not even getting the chance to Periscope it. But as of today, ABC is taking the covers off and I am free to share this journey with you. By the way, my good friends Ashton Kutcher and Troy Carter have taped Guest Shark episodes too. Keep your eyes peeled for those two.
So, stay tuned. Much more to come in the months ahead. We will do a Periscope Q&A about it soon and I will definitely broadcast the next time I am on set. This is going to be a lot of fun.