I just watched an hour of television in which not one but two toilets were used as props on stage, and the two toilet segments were buttressed by two food products. Food, toilet, food, toilet. This is why Shark Tank creator Mark Burnett is a television savant and you’re not.
Pizzapreneur Italian Stereotype is selling the idea that he can singlehandedly kill off New York’s reputation as having the best pizza in the country. How? He’s flash freezing coal-oven pizza by the slice and then wants to sell it everywhere you don’t want to eat reheated frozen coal-oven pizza: bars, stadiums, your house. Coal-oven pizza is good the second it comes out of that 900-degree oven, and I understand why the guy that even The Sopranos would have deemed offensive to the community is doing $3 million in revenue at his two pizza restaurants. That thin-crust pizza becomes a soggy mess in any other context, and I should know because I used to wolf down a whole large pizza by myself once a week.
There’s actually an interesting conversation here—well, not actually on the show, but in my head while watching—about focus versus opportunity. Because Dr. Vinnie Boombotz, who’s been doing this for like a year, does seem all over the place. He’s got the restaurants and now the frozen business. He’s selling whole pies and pizza by the slice. He’s in grocery stores but also moving big into on-demand grocers such as Fresh Direct and maybe Amazon Fresh. He wants to sell to bars and arenas. What’s his truck stop strategy? Is he also working on 3-D printing his pizzas? Alas, we’ll never know, but credit to Mark Cuban for suggesting he focus on “being the godfather of the on-demand economy” and to Barbara for trying to rein in Johnny Drama Sr. to only sell by the slice where he’s charging $4.99 versus $9.99 for a whole pizza. Having to settle for half the pie is un-American, though, and Lori swoops in says he can do it all and takes 18.5% of his business for $250,000.
The second this poor sap from Tampa with a puntastic potty-training toilet prototype called EZ Pee-Z referred to himself as a “Dad-trepreneur,” I would have shouted, “I’m out.” It’s dadpreneur, and I have 5,000 email pitches, each one worse than the last, to prove it. No need to get hung up on semantics, though, when you have a product so terrible that I imagine long-time fans of the program will put EZ Pee-Z in its pantheon of worst-ever Shark Tank pitches. The guy flips his lid to reveal a child’s toilet seat hidden within a regular one, and Kevin, Mr. Sensitivity, immediately notices that that hinge could pinch and really hurt a child. It’s over, and everyone but Willy Loman 2.0 knows it.
Shark Tank fans like to talk about how the show is inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs, and even four episodes in, I believe it . . . when there are good businesses on offer, even if they don’t get a deal. But this guy, who even Arthur Miller would have thought was a bit too on the nose as an American loser, is the dystopian flip side of that argument. He’s so sweatily overprepped in Shark Tank lore—comparing his formative years to several of the sharks, quoting their autobiographies—that you sort of wish Kevin wasn’t so entertaining in telling this guy to “take this behind the barn and shoot it.” This is one case where Mr. Wonderful was not harsh enough. When the Father of the Year reveals that he was flipping houses during the financial meltdown and lost everything, you start to think that someone should hammer home the idea that entrepreneurship is not for everyone. What will it take to get through to that cadre of wantpreneurs sitting at home thinking, “That’s not going to happen to me,” and then 15 years from now, I’m getting augmented-reality messages with toilets floating in front of me? The only redeeming moment here comes from Kevin, the last shark standing, saying, “All toilets lead back to Mr. Wonderful.” Meanwhile, I’m left to wonder if we do need to make America great again.
Cookiepreneurs Milk + Brookies are next up, and at first they’re also a bummer, but for different reasons than the dadpreneur. Everyone loves these cookie-brownie mashups, but the three partners, who are asking for $200,000 for 10% equity, don’t seem to have any idea how to turn their pay-the-cable-bill hobby into a $2 million business. They’re not full-time, they’re doing out of a home kitchen, they offer 750 custom configurations. As Cuban says, this is a bake sale, not a business. No deal, though everyone’s relatively nice about it except for some cringeworthy moments between the five white sharks and the three African-American browniepreneurs.
Redemption only comes when visiting the Milk + Brookies site. Not only did it not appear to crash this weekend as Barbara ominously warned that it would, but the brookiepreneurs have also limited selection to a handful of cookies and eliminated custom orders, and they’ve almost doubled the price, as the sharks recommended, from $14 to $24 for six. Maybe there’s hope for America yet.
But then our food-to-toilet-to-food-to-toilet journey continues, as it inevitably must, with Dude Wipes, a flushable baby wipe marketed at overgrown male toddlers. I’m already haunted by Kevin sitting on the EZ Pee-Z toilet earlier in the show; now America gets treated to a conversation about the bathroom habits of a trio of tushiepreneurs, Cuban, and Barbara Corcoran’s husband, who must have demolished a healthy number of water closets in his day because Barbara is immediately unimpressed with the size and tensile strength of the wipe vis-a-vis her husband’s power colon. Cuban reveals helpfully that “I just don’t see me as a wipes kind of guy” (or did he say that he didn’t see himself as “a wipe kind of guy”?) as his way of saying he’s out.
In yet another statement on our clearly hanging-by-a-thread culture that I wasn’t prepared to face in an hour of escapist television, Dude Wipes is on its way to 1,500 to 2,200 Kroger stores nationwide, at $6.49 a package, a mere 2x standard baby wipes. There’s clearly some interest in this poo-powered rocket ship. But Robert wants 25% rather than 10% for his $300,000. Kevin offers the same deal. Lori seems into it but she’s out, because she’s a lady, inspiring Barbara’s scorn. The dudepreneurs try to get both sharks for 20% total, splitting the deal, but you have to pay extra for two sharks, not less. Thirty percent for “the bully and the pretty boy,” as Barbara says. They counter with 27.5%. Cuban and Barbara start sniping the deal. “They’re not that into it,” Cuban complains, while Barbara suggests they’re greedy. Cuban and his lower GI have merely been playing ‘possum, though, and Cuban stands up, offers them their desired $300,000 for a mere 25%, and it’s over. Deal. As the crapreneurs say, “Mark’s the Dude.”
Next week: I’m on a Something Wonderful anniversary junket on Kevin’s cigarette boat. Guest shark recapper Max Chafkin takes the wheel.