Forget the MBA…Just Watch a Season of Shark Tank

by David Heitman

The reality TV show Shark Tank has been a boon to ABC’s prime time lineup as well as CNBC’s, whose airing of reruns has jolted some much needed life into the flailing network. But ratings and audience share aside, there is a lot to learn by watching the show.

Like any other reality TV show, Shark Tank is highly scripted. Yet a number of valuable business lessons emerge each week. Any entrepreneur can relate to the folks pitching their ideas to the “Sharks.” The advice and critiques that arise from the discussions are actually pretty darn real.

Shark Tank

So if you don’t have time to go back for that MBA, a couple seasons of Shark Tank will reveal some important real-world lessons in business, including:

  1. Passion for Your Product is necessary but not sufficient. Customers and investors will appreciate it, but they are looking for value and substance.
  2. After you Close the Sale, Stop Talking. This is a lesson every rookie sales rep eventually learns…usually after blowing a sale or two.
  3. You Need More Than a Product. You Need a Company. Innovators and inventors can be so in love with their products, that they miss the forest for the trees. The Sharks have rejected a lot of really cool products because there wasn’t a company there to build the brand and extend the product line.
  4. Practice Your Pitch. When pitching new business, the first few minutes—seconds even—can be determinative of success or failure. Constantly refining and practicing your pitch is worth the effort. From the CEO to the entry level sales rep, the pitch is everything. A seasoned CEO just makes it look easy. She or he has learned over time how to stay on point and keep it simple, while adjusting in real-time to the response of the audience. As Eminem put it so eloquently:
    Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity

    To seize everything you ever wanted.
    One moment.
    Would you capture it or just let it slip? Yo!
  5. Your Critics Are Your Best Friends. Sure, your spouse and your mom think your idea is wonderful; but it’s important to find critics who will tell you the truth, look for the flaws and expose the weaknesses. Be prepared. It’s hard to hear someone critique an idea you’ve labored to develop, but it’s important to seek those people out. The biblical book of Proverbs (27:6) says it succinctly: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

As a marketing and branding firm, we have learned over the years to be two things to our clients:

  1. Passionate advocates of their dreams
  2. Trusted advisors who can point out vulnerabilities

This, of course, goes way beyond website development, ad campaigns and logo designs. Those are the eventual fruit of the process. But perhaps the best favor we do our clients is to be truthful and objective.

We’re just a lot nicer than the Sharks.