Hello, sharks! David Lidsky is out of town, so you’ve got me, your sulky second-string recapper, in a bad mood because this was the second straight episode with no guest sharks.
This week’s episode opens, promisingly enough, with beef jerky—really, really good beef jerky that is made exclusively from filet mignon. The guys behind Three Jerks Jerky are looking for $100,000 for 15% of the enterprise. Confusingly, there are only two entrepreneurs present; they explain that the third cofounder was fired.
“Who wants to be the third jerk?” one asks, as they dish out hunks of meat.
“Oh my God, that’s so good,” Robert declares, chomping down. “It’s amazing.”
Mark Cuban seems impressed too, offering, “I love your business. I love beef jerky.”
Weirdly, Mark then declares himself out. “The problem is, the jerky market is brutally competitive [and] you’re still in the first inning,” he says. “I’m just not ready to take that journey.”
Maybe it was the mixed metaphor or maybe it was the scowl, but I found myself turning against Mark this episode. He leans heavily (but unconvincingly) on business jargon, which is not a good look for a self-appointed maverick, and he wears an expression that says, “Why do I have to be here with these doofuses? Or is it doophi? Who cares? I hope the camera is catching my sweet socks.”
Mr. Wonderful, on the other hand. I recently found out that Kevin O’Leary has been described as the Donald Trump of Canada, which is as good as it gets as far as backhanded compliments go, and you can always count on him to play the heel and make an insultingly low offer. This time he knocks the Three Jerks valuation in half, offering $100,000 for 33%. “I wanna be the shark, not the jerk,” he explains. There’s a bidding war of course (Daymond wins), and way, way too many “jerk” puns.
The next two companies: Dear God, what to say, except that the North Korean politburo should translate this section and distribute it as widely as possible. First up, a pitch for the Skinny Mirror, which is what it sounds like: a piece of reflective glass that is designed to flatter your figure. (Or, as Robert says, cryptically, to Lori when she tries it out, “Your head got smaller.”) It sounds like a feel-good product, but our sharks immediately grok the real story: The Skinny Mirror is sold to clothing stores, and is essentially used to get consumers to buy stuff that may or may not look bad on them.
“I will not be a part of this sham,” says Mr. Wonderful, who has no problem imposing onerous deal terms but who believes there’s something sacred about a retail fitting room. “The truth is you’re lying to people,” he says. He jokingly forbids the other sharks from investing.
If you thought the Skinny Mirror was bad, oh boy, do Salem, Massachusetts’s own Rob Bouley and Laura Riley have a product to sell you. The Switch Witch, is plush toy that is the Halloween equivalent of Mensch on a Bench—a hit on last season’s Shark Tank and, surprisingly to me, also a hit in reality. (Of course, Mensch on a Bench is itself a derivative product—it’s Elf on a Shelf for Jews—but pickings are slim in the Tank and the Mensch might as well be another Standard Oil.) When Rob and Laura disclose that they’ve sold fewer than 1,000 of these things, the sharks show no mercy. “I think you should take a cue from what happened in Salem,” Mr. Wonderful suggests, invoking a particularly brutal form of colonial justice. “I’d take this behind the barn and burn it.”
Lori, the nicest shark on the show, is more upbeat, but notes that unlike Hanukkah’s eight nights—which gives the Mensch a longer period of relevancy—Halloween is a one-shot deal. (Are we still talking about the Mensch on a Bench as if it were a brilliant innovation? Of course we are!) With that, Lori is out, and Mr. Wonderful can’t help himself: “Can I translate what she just said?” he asks. “Your idea sucks.”
It goes on, but you’ve got the gist. These two entrepreneurs have invested thousands of dollars, sold the toy door to door, and now subjected themselves to a brutal public humiliation in primetime for this? A crappy plush toy that is somehow so bad that it can turn an egregious human rights violation into a punchline.
I pause the show to have a drink at this point, feeling bereft, which is, of course, exactly where Shark Tank‘s creators want me. Because, up next: Salvation.
“THANK GOD,” I write in my notes, as the founders of XCraft, JD Claridge and Charles Manning, walk into the tank and present a product that actually seems cool. Not Shark Tank cool; I mean, actually cool. In reality. It’s a drone that can fly 60 mph and go as high as 10,000 feet. Taking advantage of those specs would probably be against the law—FAA regulations require drone operators to keep their drones in sight at all times—but who cares? These guys have a real business. XCraft has taken $173,000 worth of pre-orders, mostly on Kickstarter.
There’s one more thing: In a Steve Jobs-like twist, Claridge, pulls a foldable gadget out of his back pocket that turns a smart phone into a toy drone. The sharks, who seem nearly as into drones as they were beef jerky, are rapt.
Mr. Wonderful, perhaps thinking of adding some aerial shots to his speedboat sizzle reel at the beginning of the show, chomps first. He offers $750,000 for 33%, only slightly below the $2.5 million valuation the founders sought.
“I smell a nasty shark fight,” Daymond says, offering a cool $1 million for 25%, as Mr. Wonderful immediately counters, and Lori jumps in with an even richer offer, $1 million for 20%.
To the sharks’ surprise, it turns out these drone dweebs are very good negotiators. After Robert (jokingly?) intimates that the sharks should collude to lower the value—“Maybe we should go step out in the hall,” he says, which I’m pretty sure would be an SEC violation—XCraft pounces, asking the Sharks to consider going in together as a syndicate at a $10 million valuation, four times their initial ask.
Daymond seems miffed, but almost immediately concedes to a $6 million valuation, and Lori, Robert, and Kevin all agree to join in the deal. So far, getting more sharks in tends to cost a company money, but in this case the drone deal is so hot that it goes the other way. I have a feeling Claridge and Manning could have pushed things further but they seem to want a feel-good moment. Or maybe the producers do. Either way, it works.
The lone holdout is Mark, who sulks his way through the pitch and proclaims his indecision as the sharks mull the five-way syndicate. I was hoping that Mark would swoop in and take the deal himself at the big valuation, just like last week, but instead, he drops the Hamlet act. “That works,” he says. Everybody hugs.
This was a first on the season, and it’s the happiest I’ve felt watching the show so far. For the first time, the entrepreneurs have won an overwhelming victory, avenging the poor souls sacrificed earlier in the hour.
“You guys are gonna own this market,” Mr. Wonderful says. With five sharks on board, how could they not?
Rejoice! Hilariously overqualified Shark Tank recapper (and Fast Company deputy editor) David Lidsky returns next week.