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Real-World Lessons From “Shark Tank”

I really don’t watch TV. In my humble (read: correct) opinion, TV is the chief reason people end up living what they feel are unfulfilling lives. In fact, I am strongly considering not buying a TV for my new room next year (I don’t have one now). However, I do make one exception to my TV-is-stupid attitude, and that exception is Shark Tank. Shark Tank is a show on ABC that features five really rich magnates who are pitched by entrepreneurs hoping to secure funding for their inventions. Basically, it’s American Idol for self-starters (and I don’t mean car engines).

That’s the reason I like the show – I consider myself to be a self-starter, so watching entrepreneurs pitch their products and succeed in getting funded is inspiring. Oh, and I suppose another reason would be that I work with one of the show’s successful contestants, Cactus Jack. He’s the guy who invented the push-up assistance machine and snagged a cool $180 G’s from Kevin Harrington and Barabara Corcoran back in Season 1. If there’s a testament to the benefit of responding to your e-mail, it’s that… but I digest.

Anyway, the focus of this post are the three life lessons I took away from last week’s episode, which happened to be the season finale (don’t worry, it’s coming back this fall). Now, I’m not talking about sappy life lessons like how all dogs go to heaven, or even practical life lessons like how springing a prenup on your girl the night before your wedding is probably a bad idea. Au contraire, I’m talking graduation and career lessons. That’s because cash rules everything ’round me.

Jokes aside, you really can derive some important life lessons from Shark Tank, particularly from the second contestant’s interaction with the sharks during the finale. In case you were asleep, drunk, or taking a calculus final at the time, I’ll recap:

Kim Preis, owner of Samson Martin, created these “nifty” t-shirts for pregnant women that said things like “Due in March” and “Coming this Fall” on them. Pretty clever, huh? Apparently so, because she’s made $1.4 million doing it. She sells these shirts for anywhere from $40 to $60 dollars a pop (yeah, I had to put my eyeballs back in too), and she’s been running the business out of her basement.

So Kim goes on Shark Tank to ask for $50,000 in exchange for a 15% stake in her company. After her pitch, you see the desperation slowly creep into her eyes as, one by one, the sharks pass on her proposal. Barbara Corcoran thinks that Preis’ trademarked “Due in…” phrase isn’t clever enough to sell. The rest just aren’t interested or don’t like the numbers. In the end, she walks away empty handed. It is from this result that we can find our life lessons, and here they are:

1. You Can’t Feel Entitled

It was pretty apparent that Preis felt her $1.4 million dollars in sales warranted an investment. While this is quite an accomplishment, it wasn’t a guarantee that she’d get funded. There are other factors; therefore, she wasn’t entitled to an investment.

Americans are very “entitled” people, or so they believe; they feel entitled to drive their five-person car by themselves and not have to wait in traffic while everyone else does the same, they feel entitled to gigantic houses even though they can’t afford them, and they feel entitled to only having to pay for one seat on an airplane even when they take up two. It’s not surprising, then, that many college students in our great nation feel entitled to a $60,000/year job with a free day spa and company car just because they pulled a 3.6 and volunteered in a soup kitchen for three hours back in freshman year. So here’s the first lesson: you’re not entitled to a job, no matter what your accomplishments are. Getting a job is akin to buying a bag of jalapeno chips at Wal-Mart for immediate and total consumption – they’re both exchanges between two parties who both get value out of giving away something in order to get something else (as long as you find value in doubling over with intense abdominal pain).

Even if you graduated Summa Cum Laude, have six books published, studied abroad in Chile and Japan, won the Heisman Trophy, and interned at Google, you’re not going to get a job if you don’t bring to the table the specific aspects a company is looking for. Great achievements will certainly increase your chances, but they are not a guarantor. Find a job opening that you feel you would be a good fit for, and give it your best.

2. Your Long Past Achievements Mean Nothing

True, “nothing” may be a stretch; still, a great past achievement doesn’t mean much if you haven’t done much recently. This is the true problem that plagued Preis. A few years ago, she sold $400,000 worth of t-shirts; last year, her sales were down to $90,000. This downturn in sales is what turned off most of the sharks, and it also compelled Canadian shark Kevin O’Leary (Shark Tank’s Simon, but more Dr. Evil-esque) to get downright mean in his response to her pitch. At one point, he even said this:

“This is the t-shirt deal from hell.”

Kevin can be a pretty big jerk on the show, but he does provide proof of this lesson – you really need to be accomplishing things regularly and building a proven track record of success. You can’t rest on your laurels (even if you knew where your laurels where). Just keep swimming.

3. Failure Can Have A Silver Lining

This one is really important to learn. If you’re turned down after a job interview or anything else, don’t immediately throw in the towel or decide the whole endeavor is a waste. Often, you’ll find that you can benefit even from an unsuccessful interview. You’ve still got the connections you forged with company recruiters, and they now know what your interests are. Stay in touch and make sure they know that you’re still looking. Sometimes, people you’ve met from one company might refer you to others who have openings.

These benefits of failure can be seen on Shark Tank as well. The guys behind the Voyageair Guitar saw these benefits; the first time they went on Shark Tank, they weren’t able to get an offer they liked, so they walked. However, the exposure they gained through being on the show made their sales go through the roof (check out their update). I would assume that Kim Preis will also see increased sales simply because of her TV appearance. That’s the value of trying something with risk – there can be benefits even if you don’t “win”. Remember – everything is an opportunity if you see it that way.

Alright, those are the lessons I got from Shark Tank. If you saw it and derived other divine truths or revelations of an otherworldly nature, please do share. Peace out girl scouts.