A new season of Shark Tank began Friday night, but the lessons for entrepreneurs seeking capital were two old ones: to attract investors a business must be able to scale, and that when it comes to making a deal, the person pitching counts at least as much as business being pitched.
And while Ashton Kutcher made a big splash as the guest shark -- calling out Kevin "Mr. Wonderful" O'Leary when he felt O'Leary was berating one businesswoman -- it was a veteran of the tank who sank her teeth into two interesting deals Friday night.
First up was Martin Hill, looking for $200,000 for a 20 percent stake of Beebo, a foam baby bottle holder worn over a parent's shoulder. This product frees up a hand and allows the parent to read, massage their infant, or even feed themselves during bottle-feeding (but please, no selfies).
Hill adds that he originally wanted to call it the Boobie, but his wife nixed that idea.
An engineer by trade, Hill came up with the product when he found his own son struggled with bottle-feeding, but relaxed when his dad read to him, which prompted the need for getting one hand free to hold a book. Hill says he's sold 20,000 since February, doubled sales from February to March and isn't in store now but has been contacted by big-box retailers.
He sells each Beebo for $39.95 and the cost is less than $11. Hills has invested $180,000 and projects 14,000 units sold for year one, but has only one set of molds, restraining his output. He has a utility patent as well.
All the sharks hate the packaging, but O'Leary likes the product and offers $200,000 for one-third of the company. "I like it," he says. "It's very simple."
Mark Cuban and Robert Herjavec don't see the problem the Beebo solves, while Kutcher likes the product but doesn't have an expertise in manufacturing to bring to the project. They're all out.
QVC queen Lori Greiner does like the product and has all the expertise needed to make it a go, in manufacturing, packaging, and retailing, but she wants Kutcher to come in with her. She offers $200,000 (check) for 30 percent.
Ashton jumps in, scoring his first deal, and Hill is thrilled, since Kutcher and Greiner are the sharks he wanted. Says Greiner, "It's a match made in heaven."
Next up was Peter Treadway pitching Acton, electric motorized skates, or "wearable transportation," that look like mini-Segways, one worn on each foot. Acton is seeking $1 million for 3.5 percent of the company.
Acton offers three models, selling for $499 to $699. Treadway is cagey about costs, saying he doesn't want to reveal details to potential competitors who might be watching, but says cost is about 40 percent of sale price. This evasiveness loses Cuban.
Treadway says sales were 1.5 million for the first year, and estimates 10 million for this year. Acton already raised $2 million in venture capital and $2.5 million in seed money on a valuation of $20 million. Burning $100,000 a month, the company is close to breaking even.
Most sharks pass: Cuban doesn't feel confident about the info he's getting, Herjavec feels it's too pricey, Lori feels Treadway isn't really dying for a deal from the sharks, and Kutcher doesn't feel compelled by the product.
That leaves O'Leary, who thinks it's a risky bet, but could work if Acton takes off, and offers $1 million for 15 percent of the company. After some back and forth, Treadway counters at 8 percent, and gets the O'Leary treatment: "You're dead to me."
Next, from Detroit, comes Jess Sanchez-McClary, pitching McClary Bros. drinking vinegars, a modern version of a Colonial-era cocktail and soda mixer made with natural and organic ingredients. She came up with the product while studying preservative techniques at culinary school, and aims the mixers at the growing craft cocktail movement.
Since 2012, sales are $305,000 and the company is profitable.
The sharks like Sanchez-McClary and the packaging, but see the product as too limited to a niche right now. Cuban wants to see her grow the company and then pivot to expand the brand. Herjavec feels she'd be risking a business that's supporting her family and making a tidy profit if she takes money now to grow the company.
O'Leary also doesn't see an opportunity, but take his criticism too far for Kutcher's taste when he tells Sanchez-McClary, "Let's be honest -- it's four guys and dog that drink this stuff. Why are you doing this to yourself?"
Kutcher tells him to back off: "You're belittling people and that's not OK," he tells O'Leary. "She gave you an answer, and if the answer's not suitable that's fine, but you don't have to belittle people."
Kutcher goes on to advise her to create a broader vision for the company and not limit McClary Bros. to just the vinegar mixer space.
The final pitch comes from Chris Gilpin for SignalVault, which makes a card-size device to protect credit and debit cards from hacking by being remotely scanned while inside a wallet or purse. He's seeking $200,000 for 12.5 percent of the company.
SignalVault has the best backstory of the show: Needing $8,000 for the prototype, Gilpin bought a lottery ticket for $1 and won exactly $8,000.
Even better are the numbers. SignalVault has sold 45,000 units, netting more than $300,000 -- and here's the best part -- the product sells for $14.95 but manufacturing cost is just 75 cents.
The sharks love this pitch, except for Kutcher, who sees the fact that another company has 80 percent of the current market as a big problem. Cuban bows out in favor of O'Leary's offer of $200,000 for 20 percent.
Greiner offers $200,000 for 18 percent, saying she could sell 1 million in a month on QVC. Herjavec, who founded a huge computer security company to start his fortune, offers $200,000 for 15 percent.
Gilpin counters, asking if Greiner and Herjavec will go in together, giving him the best of both worlds -- access to big retail outlets as well as the enterprise security market to financial institutions and other card providers. The two sharks agree, but want 25 percent in exchange, a deal Gilpin takes.
"They are my dream sharks," he tells the camera on the way out. "We are destined for huge things."
Sounds like he just won his second lottery.