Every day, you can find an article about a valuable business lesson or lessons that the hit TV show Shark Tank can teach entrepreneurs. There are articles and blog posts about “Ten Business lessons about this” or “A valuable business lesson about that.” Granted, the Shark Tank is a rare animal in the television jungle; it can teach a business lesson here and there. In fact, you could argue that every pitch in the Shark Tank teaches a valuable business lesson or two to everyone tuning in and to the entrepreneurs on stage. Let us try to remember that it is, after all, still a TV Show.
A Business Lesson in Ratings
The Sharks and ABC are all business when it comes to the show, but they aren't there to provide a business lesson to entrepreneurs, they are there to create entertaining television. That definition changes from week to week and with each entrepreneur who pitches their business to the Sharks. This week, the compelling entrepreneur might have the “next best thing;” the week after, it might be a heart warming story of perseverance; the week after that, it might just be the always entertaining “train wreck.” Whatever ABC and the Shark Tank producers decide they want to highlight is what will be shown on air. The editorial decisions made by the Shark Tank production staff are made with one objective in mind: ratings. If a valuable business lesson in negotiation, business valuation, or marketing slips into the narrative, then it's a bonus for the viewers. As Arlene Battishill, season three entrepreneur and co-founder of GoGo Gear said, “The Sharks are the stars, the entrepreneurs are the props.”
How to get higher ratings is the only business lesson the Shark Tank is ultimately interested in. Don't get me wrong, I know I sound a bit cynical, I do love the show and I like what it is doing for the entrepreneurial spirit in American culture, but I am calling a spade a spade. Season four has seen an explosion of celebrity guests, the embarrassing pimping of T-Mobile, and an increase in producer solicited entrepreneur appearances. This is not done to teach any kind of business lesson, it is done to further the Shark Tank brand and its value to advertisers.
Entrepreneurs Learn a Business Lesson or Two
There are many great success stories that emerged from the Shark Tank and they are showcased every week. Many of these businesses have been given a huge boost from the Sharks, their cash, and their connections. A common refrain I hear from many of the entrepreneurs I interview is the Shark Tank “accelerated” their business. Even the entrepreneurs that don't get funded benefit from the exposure. Whether appearing on Shark Tank opens doors to retailers, as in the case of Chef Big Shake, or it just gives a ton of publicity and exposure to a bootstrap enterprise, as in the case of Gary Gagnon or Shelton Wilder, the value of stepping into the Shark Tank for an entrepreneur is immeasurable.
The key to continued momentum for entrepreneurs is one business lesson all who appear in the Shark Tank should heed. The fifteen minutes of fame an appearance brings are fleeting. The entrepreneurs who seize that moment and leverage their exposure, funded or not, are the businesses that ultimately succeed. The businesses that succeed with the help of a Shark validate the “business model” the show purports, but the continued success of “losers” on the show is an even greater testimony of the scope and reach the Shark Tank has.
The One Great Business Lesson
I often watch a Shark Tank episode two or three times to prepare for an interview or to gain insight into the machinations of the show. I can see how many writers can wax philosophical about the “7 Entrepreneurial Lessons From Shark Tank” or “The Art of Running a Small Business,” and those lessons are certainly there in the context of the show, but the one lesson lost on many is one that I hear time and time again.
The single biggest business lesson the Shark Tank can teach any entrepreneur doesn't come from what is shown on Friday night's broadcasts. It doesn't come from the Sharks (though they do profess it frequently in their various books and websites and even on air sometimes). The biggest business lesson comes from the Shark Tank “props,” the entrepreneurs themselves. It isn't always articulated on the show either. I hear this particular business lesson while interviewing them and I print it time and time again.
It's a familiar refrain and it's an attitude that sets entrepreneurs apart. Every single one of them I speak to says the same thing: “Believe in your ideas, believe in yourself, and GO FOR IT.” That is the most valuable business lesson to be learned in the Shark Tank, or anywhere else for that matter!