Friday night's broadcast was a recap of the eighth episode from this season, which originally aired Nov. 7 for Veteran's Day. It's was an all-veteran lineup of entrepreneurs, including soldiers, Marines and sailors. Even a rerun offers valuable lessons to entrepreneurs in how to woo investors, and how to think about the basics of business success. Scalability and market size both were big issues in this episode. The sharks passed twice and bit twice.
The pitch: Ashley Drake is an active-duty Army captain in the Corp of Engineers, and a CrossFit fanatic who's come up with a better way to protect the palms of your hands from tears and rips during weight lifting and pull-ups. Natural Grip is a customized cotton re-usable tape grip based on your ring-finger size. Capt. Drake lives in Kentucky, where her husband has left his job to run the business full-time. She wants $100,000 for 20 percent equity.
Shark bait: Robert "Sporty Shark" Herjavec tries some pull-ups with Natural Grip and pronounces them "amazing." After one year, Ashley has $178,000 in sales to distributors only, at $10 apiece. The cost is $4.43 of which $4 is piecework labor from students, retirees and housewives. She predicts $1 million in 2015 sales, noting that the product wears out in three to six months, and needs replacement. Lori Greiner and Kevin O'Leary pass; Lori's not passionate about it, Kevin thinks it's too much of a niche. But he is impressed with Ashley's GI moxie: "You are one motivated cowboy," Kevin says. "Alright, somebody give this woman $100,000!"
Feeding frenzy: Robert and Daymond John are interested, but are also tired of Mark Cuban lurking during pitches and then jumping in with a last-minute bid, so they put him on the spot. Mark wants Ashely to diversify the product line but focus on selling to CrossFit clients. He passes when she wants a broader market. Robert likes the product and offers the full $100,000 for 30 percent. Daymond wants 40 percent and will partner with Reebok. Robert ups his offer to $125,000 for 25 percent. Daymond counters by lowering his stake to 33 percent, and Ashley takes Robert's deal.
Bite marks: Differing ideas on how to grow the business were behind the offers. Mark wanted to diversify products solely in the CrossFit market, but Ashley wants to save weightlifter palms wherever they may work out. She balked at Daymond's idea to partner with Reebok out of fear that it would overwhelm her capacity. In the end, Robert was the most enthusiastic about the product, offered her the most control with his valuation, and seemed most compatible with Ashley's vision.
"You have tremendous credibility, and you're a great operator. Every business I've invested in on 'Shark Tank' that had a great operator has succeeded," Robert tells Ashley. Still, it's hard not to think that Daymond, who owns a Reebok CrossFit in New York, has wide clothing manufacturing experience and can distribute with Reebok, didn't seem like the better fit.
Priority One Canine
The pitch: Wade and Lori Morrell of Columbus, Ohio, offer a business that hand-selects and custom trains guard dogs that can also live in the family home as a trusted pet. They are looking for $75,000 for 15 percent of the business. He is a former Marine and a police officer, she's a corporate refugee.
Shark bait: With training packages at $20,000, $30,000 and $40,000, including the cost of the dog, Priority One has placed 11 dogs in a year-and-a-half, netting $70,000 on revenue of $150,000. The Morrells seem mostly interested in business expertise and guidance.
Feeding frenzy: The nearest thing to feeding was an attack demonstration with a Belgian Shepherd that definitely put the bite on Wade. If only the sharks could've been as enthusiastic. Their objections came down to the inability to scale the business. With the amount of time and involvement a shark would have to invest--as well as the necessary return on capital--a high-end dog-training businesses simply wouldn't offer the needed growth potential. The sharks all passed. As Kevin asked: "How do I turn this into a multi-million-dollar business?"
Bite marks: Priority One looks like a good business with great owners. This is the perfect example of a good "lifestyle business:" it allows the owners to indulge their passions, use their expertise, be their own bosses and generate a good income. "You don't need to scale it really huge," Lori told the Morrells. "If you make a great living off it, that's what you need." In the end, the Morrells need to find a good local business coach, perhaps a retired executive, who can aid them in management and marketing details, and they can fetch themselves a good family business. And the Shark Tank exposure won't hurt them a bit, either.
The pitch: Army vet Aaron Tweedie has a new take on the messenger bag: an ergonomic sling-style bag that can hold and organize lots of stuff, doesn't need to be removed to be opened, and can be worn three different ways. He's looking for $200,000 for 29 percent of the company.
Shark bait: Lori was wowed with the utility of the Man-PACK. Aaron says his sales last year were $76,000 and he's on track to hit $145,000 in sales this year, all online. The basic bag sells for $59.95 and costs $22.05 to manufacture. When the sharks probe more deeply, they find out he sold just 40 bags in the previous month, and you can see them all turn against the idea on a dime.
Feeding frenzy: The sharks see a product that needs explanation and differentiation to sell, or else buyers see it as just another messenger bag. Their doubts aren't eased when they ask Aaron to justify his valuation. Besides $50,000 for the design and patent, and a two-year multiple of sales, he includes $18,000 of intellectual property for his YouTube commercials. He's losing them, and then it gets worse: He's also valued $200,000 in good will.
Lori and Kevin see small sales in an unproven market, Mark thinks it'll be hard to scale and Robert thinks it looks too much like a normal messenger bag. They're all out. Likewise, Daymond passes. "We look for small indications of how good this partner would be." Daymond says. Including the online videos in the valuation shows, "you don't have a sense of financial intelligence."
Bite marks: A business might score extra cash in a valuation for good will above and beyond a sales multiple and other hard assets once it's established, but for a start-up that isn't differentiated in the market, the only good will is the Good Will store where the unsold bags could end up. That and valuing his online ads, along with the tough slog a men's bag company faces, added up to shark repellant. The Man-PACK looks like a great product--but it takes more than just a better mouse trap to catch a shark.
The pitch: This product definitely got the sharks circling. Jen and Eli Crane offer "the finest in .50 cal. bottle openers," which seems like the niche of all niches. These are polished bottle openers made from recycled large-caliber shell casings topped with dummy bullets. Eli is a former Navy SEAL, and the couple is looking for $150,000 for 10 percent of the business.
"Most guys like drinking beer," Eli says. "Most guys think that large-caliber bullets are very cool. We've combined the two to make the ultimate manly gift."
Shark bait: The sharks are clearly impressed with Eli, a SEAL candidate who washed out of special forces training, spent more than two years in the regular Navy and then came back to pass the grueling SEAL tests. At a cost of $9.03 (which gets lower as it scales), the Cranes sell their Bottle Breachers for $23.50 online. Plus there are lots of up-sells: 90 percent of their sales are personally engraved, plus there are presentation boxes, larger calibers and more. The product is a big hit as groomsman gifts. Sales are $500,000 online already; they project $840,000 for the year and sold $100,000 in just the previous month.
Feeding frenzy: Lori thinks it's a niche market, and she's out. Kevin says he's made money with ex-military guys in the past, and offers the full amount for 20 percent straight equity, no contingency. Daymond offers $200,000 for 25 percent, contingent on licensing key-rings, paperweights and more, to ramp up fast and block any knock-off products. Seeing those good offers, Robert bows out. Then Eli asks Mark if he'll partner with another shark, and Mark splits the deal with Kevin: two sharks, 10 percent each for $75,000 apiece.
Bite marks: Eli and Jen definitely benefitted from doing their homework. They had noted an earlier pitch where the product was sold without any identifying marks, and revamped their manufacturing to make sure each Bottle Breacher was engraved with the name. They also were focused on getting a two-shark deal--"One is none," Eli said the military believes. So, they invited Mark to join in and scored their two-shark deal with a unique but still impressive business. It's hard not to think that Bottle Breacher is locked and loaded.
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.