What Happens in the Shark Tank Stays in the Shark Tank

I have an issue with “Shark Tank.” In case you haven’t caught the ABC show that airs on Friday nights, Shark Tank is a supposed “reality” TV show about entrepreneurs pitching their businesses to potential investors. Each entrepreneur only has a few minutes to pitch his or her business plan and make a deal. Pitching is a nerve-wrecking process by itself; but now imagine doing it in front of a national television audience.

Photo courtesy of ABC: http://abc.go.com/shows/shark-tank
Photo courtesy of ABC: http://abc.go.com/shows/shark-tank

However, that’s not my issue with the show – rather it is with the so-called investors themselves. In a misguided attempt to add “drama” to what otherwise could be fairly boring pitch meetings, they made the investors rude, obnoxious and often even caustic.

Shark Tank is a dream killer. It’s true that in pitch meetings, investors look for all weaknesses and holes in an entrepreneur’s business plan – it is not true that we try to rip the people to shreds! Investors like O’Leary are openly brutal, often bullying entrepreneurs and mocking the fact that they even had the nerve to sign up for the show. For example he screamed at one poorly prepared entrepreneur “Who do you think you are?! You’re nothing but a cockroach. The first thing I would do is fire you.”  An entrepreneur should never let someone like that in the deal.

My issue with this cartoon characterization of entrepreneurial reality is that the hostility exhibited on the show is contrary to the typical real-life experience. Most investors you meet here in the Silicon Valley are veteran entrepreneurs themselves, so they tend to be more on the emotionally supportive side, whether or not they are inclined to invest. It is in everyone’s interest to help entrepreneurs become successful.

Here at Tech-Rx, we are very skilled at analyzing a business plan and finding all of its holes and risks, but we also work hard to help entrepreneurs understand and patch the holes. We help find solutions. We don’t mock those who come to us for help.

When we agree to meet with an entrepreneur, we listen to the pitch and then begin the analysis process. We take a look at the target customer segmentation, the revenue model, the technology, the IP, the team, the plan to scale, the financials, the pricing model – there isn’t much we leave under the rug. However, instead of killing dreams, we try to make them a reality.

 I am reminded of a famous quote by President Teddy Roosevelt about the difference between the critic and the “doer.”  We support the doers.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

Comments welcome.

-Chris Sorensen, Operating Partner, Tech-Rx