The sharks found three winners on Friday's night's rebroadcast of the 100th episode, and it frequently came down to the personality of the entrepreneur behind the company.
Pipsnacks: What is that really sets a shark to biting into a business opportunity? Sure, good financials and a demonstrated understanding of the market are important, so is a proven concept for the product. But as Shark Tank fans often see is that, when choosing a business to invest in, the sharks are fundamentally betting on the entrepreneur.
It may be a clich to say that investors don't invest in the business, they invest in the people, but clichs are true for a reason. Think about it: What most business owners who pitch on Shark Tank seek is the guidance, experience and vision of a shark who can take what is often a promising start-up to the next level.
Sharks have to wonder: Do I want to spend more time with this person? How will this entrepreneur work with me? Will he or she listen to my advice and accept my mentorship, or fight me at every step because they have a limited vision of the business? If nothing else, the sharks need to consider: How will this person represent me in the business world?
On top of that, the sharks are looking for all the other attributes of an entrepreneurial winner: commitment, enthusiasm, flexibility and an ability to hang tough and solve problems.
Friday's rerun of this season's ninth episode highlighted the importance of demonstrating the right entrepreneurial personality when pitching investors with Pipsnacks, a company backed by a Brooklyn brother and sister team that puts a new, healthy spin on gourmet popcorn. Pipcorn uses miniature popcorn that is all-natural, higher in fiber and produces much smaller shells that don't get caught in teeth or cause digestive problems.
The two, Jeff and Jennifer Martin, want $200,000 for 10 percent of the company, a valuation that gets the sharks gagging a bit as Kevin "Mr. Wonderful" O'Leary returns to one of his frequent objections--that nothing about the product is proprietary. "Just to be clear," he points out," it's popcorn!"
But the Martins have laid all the groundwork. They sold $200,000 in the previous year through 18 Whole Foods stores, and project $440,000 in sales through 65 stores in the current year, if they can expand. Getting bigger also improves their margin; a bag of Pipcorn sells for $4.99 and costs $1.80 to make now, but that cost drops in half as they scale up.
The brother and sister eke a living working fulltime on the business, with Jennifer admitting she even slept in a friend's closet for quite a while. But the Martins also managed to get Pipcorn declared one of Oprah's favorite things in 2012. Obviously, the two have got a knack for getting their product out there, which is good, because they're negotiating skills aren't nearly as effective.
When Robert Herjavec offers the $200,000 they're seeking for 20 percent of the company, they visibly balk, thinking the offer is too low. The Martins repeat a mistake that a number of Shark Tank prospects make: failing to consider the additional value a shark creates by speeding up the business's growth. Their valuation of $2 million for the company is a little less than five times their projected sales, but those are sales they can get only if they find an investor. On their own the company will be stuck at the previous year's sales levels, which is back at a $1 million value.
What they're doing, in essence, is selling the shark's their own value that they bring to the business as sharks.
But that's what the Martins do, countering Robert with their original offer.
Barbara Corcoran isn't dismayed. "I think you're over-reaching," she says. "But you guys are winners--I can smell it a mile away." She gives them the $200,000 for 10 percent, but wants to take 10 percent off any distributions the Martins take from the business, to guarantee she can get her money back. "I can't feel like a fool for working my buns off for no compensation."
Amazingly, the Martins push back and want to phase in Barbara's distributions. Kevin is outraged that anyone with a simple popcorn business is hesitating, but Robert jumps back in, agreeing to the original valuation--10 percent for a $200,000 investment.
"You're overvaluing the company, but it's so clear that is going to be a massive home run," Robert says. "Every now and then we get people on Shark Tank that I really believe in, and you guys are going to kill it."
But, after some hesitation, the Martins go with Barbara, based on her experience doing high-end food deals in the past. And it puts a price-tag on the power of the right entrepreneurial personality: $1 million.
Other fish in the tank
Storm Stoppers: John D. Smith of Orlando was seeking $100,000 for 10 percent of Storm Stoppers, his lightweight, easy-to-install hurricane and storm shutters for windows. Not the best pitch or the best pitchman, especially when John argued with the sharks, prompting Mark Cuban to say, "Dang, that is not the way to sell. Your sales skills and personal skills are awful." The sharks passed. A better presentation could have sold this one.
Squatty Potty: Bobby Edwards and his mother, Judy, have come up with the Squatty Potty toilet stool, a slide-out footrest that wraps around the toilet base and lifts the users knees up "for easier and healthier elimination." They were seeking $350,000 for 5 percent of the company, have been featured on Dr. Oz and sold $2.7 million in the previous year and $2 million in the first two quarters, all online. The product costs $4.50 and sells for $25. "This is the first crappy investment I like," Kevin quips.
Lori offers $350,000 for 10 percent and the Edwards balk, prompting a lecture from Barbara: "If you really want a shark then you would entertain that seriously." After reconsidering, the Edwards take the offer, noting, as Bobby says, "We can make a crap-load of money here."
Heidi Ho: Chef Heidi of Portland, Oregon is pitching her line of plant-based cheeses made entirely from organic vegetables, nuts and seeds. She's in four regions of Whole Foods and can move into another five, but needs working capital. With sales of $140,000 for the past 12 months, she seeks $125,000 for 20 percent. The "cheese" is a huge hit with the sharks and Heidi is an enthusiastic pitchwoman. A perfect fit for Lori Greiner, who offers $125,000 for 30 percent, "Because I love it so much."
Brian O'Connor is author of the forthcoming book, Everything I Needed to Know About Business I Learned From Shark Tank (An Unofficial Guide), coming this fall from Riverdale Avenue Books.