Nothing gets you to stop and lift your head up like traveling. You pick up more newspapers and magazines, you sit in more hotel rooms, you flip through the TV channels, you have more client/prospect/partner/recruiting meetings, and you dive into your laptop, tablet, and smartphone. With my new gig, happily entrenched in Edelman, I now have a home away from home in New York City (by the way, check out the James Hotel in Soho – it’s fantastic and unlike other places in Soho, they are not into themselves to the detriment of the guest…but I digress).
Tuesday nights, for about 4 hours, CNBC runs episode after episode of Shark Tank. Somehow, I have more energy Tuesday nights than Monday nights (perhaps it’s the 4am wakeup on Mondays to head to NYC), and after drinks and/or a dinner meeting, I return to my hotel room to check email and turn on the TV.
And I have become completely, utterly, maniacally infatuated with Shark Tank.
It has everything.
A panel of investors/judges who are successful entrepreneurs, with the right mix of brainpower, track record, wealth, cockiness, and egos.
Mark Cuban is a fascinating character. When the NBA was a client of Digitas (my old stomping ground), Mark was applying to become the owner of the Mavericks. I remember those discussions with David Stern vividly. He’s got incredible insight, is completely steeped in technology, and loves the underdog. Here’s his Twitter handle @mcuban.
Barbara Corcoran is great. She’s got this wonderful balance of aggressiveness with a sympathetic ear for the right CEO pitching his or her business.
Robert Herjavec is a smart, balanced, interesting individual who cares deeply about family. He speaks frequently of his parents coming to the US and working in the factories. He always has a soft spot when the inventor or company exec is family-oriented.
So why is this brilliant, and a must-watch moment for everybody in the business world today? These four, and the other judges before them, have a pattern in their questions. And it’s pretty clear what it is.
- Talent: They care about the individual, about his or her passion for the business, knowledge, and track record
- Customer Insight: Why would anyone want this or pay for this? Why is it filling a gap that exists? Why not use something else already out there?
- Marketplace: What’s the competitive set? What’s the current way of doing business in the category today, and why is this better?
- Trajectory: Is it an idea, or are there customers? What’s the pipeline? Why is there real momentum vs. an idea someone cooked up?
- Operations story: How will this get produced, and where? Have you thought about the supply chain, and partners, and legal rights?
- Financials: How much debt do you have into this? What are the economics to produce it? Where are there issues?
- Investment thesis: If I give you xxx, what do I get? Is it a bet on the future or a payment for past successes?
- Secret Sauce: What is it that pops and makes this stand out?
I saw Cuban fall for someone who charged $9 to draw a cat in a situation they asked for. Literally it was a website where people posted requests for a cat picture (playing basketball, meeting the Pope, whatever), and paid $9.50. The guy created the picture and sent it back, and posted it to the website. All of the investors declined, but Cuban loved the premise, and made an offer. He felt there was a track record, he could add some smart technology to help scale and diversify, and he loved the secret sauce.
I saw a couple of the investors skewer two overly-cocky kids who proudly touted the success of their current business while offering up a piece only on their new, untested business. It got nasty, and the co-CEOs laughed at the offer. Two of the investors resoundingly said no, and even added “never, ever, laugh at money.” Herjavec tried and actually offered a creative solution. The co-CEOs dismissed the offer, made a completely unrealistic counter-offer which was rejected, and then left. As they walked out, one turned to the other and said “did we just make a mistake?”
There are more and more of these stories out there. It’s engaging, powerful, yet the message to me is actually so, so simple. Simple guidance for anyone in my business, or in the services business overall, or in a leadership position. Or even starting out or about to graduate from college and join the workforce (if you know me, you know how much I truly love working with that group):
- It’s all about the customer
- The devil is in the details of the business model
- Tell a story — the classic elevator story I have long discussed. Simple, focused, clear.
- How confident you are as a storyteller will translate to how much confidence your audience has in you
- It’s about connecting — are you someone they want to spend time with? Someone they’ll enjoy being with? Someone they can learn from and learn with? Or are you self-centered, detached, and ill-prepared?
I truly believe the lessons are profound and simple. You will not come away from an episode without learning something, either what to do, or just as importantly, what NOT to do.
And if nothing else — Shark Tank is ridiculously entertaining.
Dive in. You’ll get hooked. “I’m In.”
I'm Glenn Engler, Global Director of Corporate Strategy & Chief of Staff at Edelman. Husband, father, sports junkie.