Is Shark Tank Good or Bad for Aspiring Entrepreneurs?

I was never really a huge fan of Shark Tank until a couple of seasons ago when I had a few people recommend I give it another try. I did, I liked it, and since then it’s been one of the few shows I subscribe to on my DVR.

The REWORK podcast recently did an episode entitled Life After Shark Tank that explored three companies who did not have great experiences on the show. In doing so, they discussed a lot of the pros and cons that all of the business owners who appear on the show have to face, many of which aren’t obvious if you’re just a fan of the show.

And that sort of brought me full circle and rekindled some of my initial thoughts on the show. I enjoy it because it’s good entertainment and it can be inspiring, but also there are practical things that can be gained. I often put myself in the entrepreneur’s shoes to think how I would react to a line of questioning, or how I would succinctly pitch an idea. They also emphasize knowing your numbers inside and out, as well as the importance of revenue and profitability. All good lessons.

But, they’re still a TV show. What you see is a heavily-edited five minute segment of an hour long meeting. Deals agreed to on the show often fall through. Companies don’t know when or if their segment will air, so they are perpetually stuck being ready for a potentially big wave of traffic and attention that may never come. And, I think the worst aspect of it, is that it promotes the idea that you need outside funding to go big, or that once you get funded you’ve made it and all your problems disappear.

I think those misconceptions can be dangerous for aspiring entrepreneurs, causing them to give up when they shouldn’t, or not appreciate a successful business because it wasn’t accepted on Shark Tank.

2 comments on Is Shark Tank Good or Bad for Aspiring Entrepreneurs?

  1. Rob says:

    You may just have convinced me to give these kinds of shows another shot. I gave up with Shark Tank / Dragons Den years ago. Too much contrived drama and false suspense, too many idiots who didn’t know what they were doing. Remember that guy who tried to get the sharks involved in his MLM scheme, where he wasn’t even the founder? Crazy.

    I agree that it’s good to work out how you would answer a line of questioning and have a solid understanding of your numbers, I think that’s the most valuable lesson from these shows.

    I have a friend who went on Dragons Den years ago. He ran a networking & events company for graduates & graduate recruiters. Really smart, lovely guy. They absolutely tore him apart – I just don’t think he got the pitch right.

    > “I think the worst aspect of it, is that it promotes the idea that you need outside funding to go big, or that once you get funded you’ve made it and all your problems disappear.”

    So much this. The silicon valley/startup culture is absolutely pervasive. Because their products and services rely on widespread adoption and the network effect, they have to shout really loud which distorts everything. I HATE the way tech startups act like they’re gods, come in and annihilate profitable companies, burn through their capital and then just disappear – potentially taking your data or customers with them. I have much more respect for the guy running a small landscaping business, or independent fabric shop, or computer repair business or ecommerce business or mountainbike tours or whatever else who is actually able to pay the bills through their work, not just burn through VC money.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Remember that guy who tried to get the sharks involved in his MLM scheme

      Yes! I saw that, it’s unbelievable.

      I have a friend who went on Dragons Den years ago. He ran a networking & events company for graduates & graduate recruiters. Really smart, lovely guy. They absolutely tore him apart – I just don’t think he got the pitch right.

      I knew someone who went on Shark Tank (really, I knew the co-founder who didn’t go on the show) and the same thing happened. They tend to just jump on some people and tear them apart, but then there’s other wacky people with horrible ideas that they kind of like. It must be for the drama, or there are parts we’re not seeing.

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