I didn’t sign up for this. The idea was to watch three leading early-stage investors, all Fast Company people, act as Shark Tank judges. I am here to see Ashton Kutcher, Chris Sacca, and Troy Carter apply the critical eye that led them to be important funders of Twitter, Uber, Airbnb, Instagram, Zenefits, and Blue Bottle Coffee to the masses who see Friday nights on ABC and not Sand Hill Road as the path to untold riches.
Imagine my surprise then when this week it’s just regular sharks Robert (aka Bobby Hairdo), Lori (Queen of QVC), Kevin (Mr. Wonderful), Mark Cuban, and the season’s first in-tank appearance of real estate doyenne Barbara Corcoran. I did not see this coming. For the first time, I’m confronted with a question that chills me to my core: On how many episodes will the guest sharks actually appear? What if it’s, like, six? How many weeks am I am going to be recapping Shark Tank Classic, like it’s 2011 or something? This is the sort of question I should have asked, say, 12 days ago, when I had plenty of time to back out.
(Putting on a brave face) First up is an alternative hummus slinger who thinks that the 900 year-old chickpea spread, which is more popular than ever, is due for an upgrade. As the founder of O’Dang Hummus says, he refuses to do traditional flavors, because he’s “putting the fun in dysfunctional” and he wants us to “take a joyride to flavor town.” By replacing the chickpeas with cliches, he’s able to offer a hummus with one-third the calories (and IQ points) of the stuff you’re used to. The student-slash-entrepreneur, in his ninth year at University of Central Florida, says O’Dang is an “Orlando sensation,” because it spread (get it?) to 10 farmers markets in three months. There are 10 farmers markets in Orlando? How liberally are we measuring the Orlando metropolitan area? Up to Atlanta? Also, getting to sell at a farmers market is just a matter of paying a fee and showing up, right? I don’t think it’s like getting a MacArthur Genius Grant, though I’m not from Orlando and also not the one who turned hummus into a salad dressing, so what do I know?
No one is asking these kind of hard questions (Mark Burnett, call me!), and the sharks, especially Mark Cuban, love his black bean hummus. He’s going to get a deal, even though Barbara thinks she’s never met a more naive person, though it’s not exactly clear why. The usual nonsense ensues, he gets a coveted two-shark deal with Robert and Lori for $50,000 in exchange for 20%, even though Cuban, who was oddly ignored, stage whispers, “I’m still here. You blew it. [turning to Barbara] I would have given him $100,000 for 25%.”
The second Doug and Chad Clark walked out in tuxedos like they were there to pick up their prom dates, you knew they and their password app Splikity were chum. I just don’t know why it took two segments to chew these dumdums up. Cuban asks them about their security background, and they up the ante: Not only do they not know anything about security (but the ability to spout the names of some industry standards), they have no tech background at all. Cuban’s out. Good for him. It devolves from there. Bobby Hairdo, whom they’re quick to remind you runs a security company, “knows too much,” so he’s out. (Not so much that he’s wasn’t interested in last week’s dumb RFID wallet, but I have a ways to go to sort out the internal logic of the show.) Lori and Barbara know too little (as do Doug and Chad), so they’re out.
Then I see why Wall Street-types love this show: Kevin, who gets called Mr. Wonderful several times during the episode so I now I get it in terms of his character, gleefully asserts his leverage as the last shark standing and says he’ll give these two suckers the $200,000 they want, but instead of taking the 10% they’re offering, he wants to structure the money as debt and they’d have to pay him 10% of sales until he received $600,000. And he wants 5% of the company too. Kevin’s good. Just ask him. Though he’s crazy if he thinks these guys are ever going to do $6 million in sales to be able to pay him back.
No deal. The brothers whine, and then my favorite moment of the episode: Lori says “Good luck” as they turn tail (alas, I do not think they were actually wearing the kind of tux that has tails). It’s the coldest, deadest “good luck” you’ve ever heard and as bone chilling as when I realized there was no guest shark tonight.
If anyone can recap the Mikki Bey eyelash extensions segment for me, please do. I have no idea what happened here except for Barbara revealing herself to be a mesozoic-era feminist, chastising Mikki for tearing up as five white people tried to crush her dream on national television. “You’re giving away your power when you cry,” Barbara tells her.
My faith in this show having some redeeming value in supporting good and interesting ideas that could actually be big businesses comes in the final segment. Loliware is flavored, edible cups made from vegetarian gelatin, created by two female Parsons School of Design grads who wanted to use Jello as a material to create something structural. A sustainable alternative to plastic that’s well designed and creative and going after a multibillion-dollar market? I am still watching ABC, right? Here’s where I really miss not having a big-time investor on the panel, though I am impressed by Bobby Hairdo suggesting they close out their $1 million seed round with the sharks and then Cuban, after being boxed out of the hummus deal, offers to take down the whole $600,000 himself. I don’t quite understand why he didn’t, or why the Loliwomen didn’t try to get all five sharks in the deal, a royal flush, which I assume is rare. Every shark wanted in—again, restoring my faith in the show and maybe in humanity too—yet somehow it turned fractious and competitive and Mark had to choose between going in with Barbara or Bobby Hairdo, and he chose Barbara, though he didn’t explain why. Probably the right call, though, and the night ended on a high after a rough 40 minutes.
Next week: The first appearance of Daymond! And Troy Carter joins the panel! Thank god.