This year saw the debut of Shark Tank Australia, the latest version of a reality TV franchise where entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to wealthy entrepreneurial investors, seeking funding and partnership. Starting in Japan (Money Tigers), most versions are based on the UK version (Dragon’s Den).
My initial reaction to hearing about the Oz version of Shark Tank was “oh no, here we go again”. This was primarily informed by the sometime raucous, loud and adversarial nature of the US version. While entertaining at times, the voyeuristic reality angle was overplayed and the action was too often over the top (for me).
I enjoy talking business, life and startups with James Crawford, CEO of Beanhunter (world’s best app to find the best coffee) — and I listen to his counsel. He urged me to watch Shark Tank, which I did and now regularly do.
And here’s why I think everyone should watch it.
Welcome to Business 101
Shark Tank covers a number of fundamental business concepts, complete with examples and counter-examples of execution. These aren’t theoretical: they’re actual practice, giving rise to real questions.
Where do I start:
- Business model
- Costs / Revenue / Profit / Cash flow
- Assets and liabilities
- Equity structures
It’s all wrapped up in real pitches and conversations around real products, real entrepreneurs and real investors.
I tell friends and family to watch so they can understand what’s up with all those startups and business. I tell aspiring entrepreneurs to watch it to learn what’s being asked and what you should be able to answer.
And I watch it to learn how the sharks reason about opportunities and respond to them.
How business is
In terms of pitching your business and investment: this is how it is. These are the types of great products and services being put out there, the work put in by the entrepreneurs, the questions that are asked of them, the business models, and the excitement and caution felt by investors.
It’s a great way for everyone to understand a bit of what’s actually happening in business out there — not just the wave of tech startups, but all the different types of businesses. It’s a small but vivid window into the world of entrepreneurs and business.
(The sharks don’t decide on the basis of a 10-15 min pitch; it’s more like a 60-90 min pitch — which is reasonable — that’s edited down for TV drama and shock value. Which could explain some of the sudden turns in the conversations.)
Great school of sharks
I love our sharks. They are complementary and complimentary towards each other. They’re also honest with each other and the entrepreneurs. They’ll tell you when they’re moved — or when they’re not impressed — and they go straight to the real questions without messing around. They’re respectful and constructive in their advice.
The hero shots on the promos and episode lead-in feel over the top. I understand the motivation behind making the sharks intimidating, but they’re actually passionate, gracious entrepreneurs who get on with it. In contrast, the US sharks can appear overblown and predatory.
I’m asking myself: which example do I want to emulate?
Business = People
Shark Tank sinks the common misnomer that business is about this clever product, or making money, or living out your passion – in fact, it’s all of these things.
Most importantly, it reminds me that business is about people: buying from people, selling to people, working with people, dealing with people and overall, how you treat people.
Nowhere is this clearer than in pitch sessions where the business gets a big tick, but the sharks have questions around how the entrepreneurs are behaving: from how they’re being respected in the deal (or not) to whether they’re simply listening to the shark’s advice (or not).
And sometimes it means none of the sharks want to make a deal.
Fundamentally, business comes down to an investment in people. Shark Tank reminds me that how you deal with — and think about people — is absolutely crucial.
Hey, this is what I do!
At a completely self-centred level, Shark Tank gives me a handy reference that I can sling out in conversation that explains a chunk of what I’ve done and continue to do.
“If you go watch Shark Tank …”
These are the questions I’ve had to answer and also ask. These are the types of businesses that I’ve seen or maybe tried. These are the concerns that investors reasonably have.
And we pitch. Always be pitching.
Going back to basics: I think of a pitch not just as a presentation to give to investors to win money. It is a tight story of your product and business: where it’s been, how it works and where it’s going.
It’s just sometimes that you’re asking for money.
Most often, you’re pitching to hires, partners, suppliers and customers. And yes, you’re also pitching to yourself and your co-founders. What is this business we’re trying to do? No – what is it, really? And are we really convinced there’s something there? To pitch well is to know your business.
I like to think that pitching is good, not because you can get up and spruik your business, but that the work needed to compile a pitch, understanding all facets of the business and summing it up succinctly, pays off well beyond the pitch.
Striving for the best of business
I enjoy Shark Tank’s tone and hope it continues like this.
It tilts towards business behaviour that strives to be fair, emotional, sound, personal and professional. Sometimes, people and products are tested by fire — this is how life and the market works — but I haven’t seen sharp or predatory practice. However, I have seen a lot of advice handed out.
I hope others will take away something each week, as I’ve been able to – ideas that challenge and that appeal to the better angels of our nature.
Life’s too short to not strive to do our best to build things that matter and in a way that matters.
Dr Daniel May is a serial entrepreneur. He co-founded LIFX and is an advisor to Beanhunter, EnergySolaris and Chuffed. He is the co-founder of Launch48 Australia startup events (WeTeachMe, Shark Tank season 1, episode 8, was founded at Launch48). His next startup thankfully does not involve hardware.
This article originally appeared on Medium.