Shark Tank: The Most Successful Scam In History

By Will Caraccio 

For 12 action-packed seasons, entrepreneurs from around the globe have flocked to ABC studios with one thing on their minds: making money. Portrayed on television as a golden ticket for entrepreneurial success, the hit-show Shark Tank depicts the trials and tribulations of ambitious business founders as they pitch their creative products to a panel of millionaire celebrity investors. However, as one hopeful CEO after another dives headfirst into the tank, an ugly truth floats to the surface: in the vast open ocean, the shark always comes out on top.

While advertised as a mutually-advantageous partnership, deals on Shark Tank almost always favor the cutthroat sharks. After making their pitch to the panel of investors, the nervous entrepreneurs, if successful, are accosted by a flurry of competing deals from the different investors. Although the different sharks all employ their own unique negotiation techniques–Mark Cuban, for example, gives his offer before any of the other sharks and cavalierly asserts, “take my offer right now or I’m out”–all of the investors integrate the same nefarious tactic into their bargaining: give the entrepreneur as little time as possible to think about their options. By applying so much pressure to comply with their ridiculously lopsided demands, the sharks force the inexperienced entrepreneurs into one-sided deals that would never have been made with a clear head. Of all the greedy sharks, Kevin O’Leary, ironically given the nickname Mr. Wonderful, is perhaps the most belligerent of them all. With a snide grin and cold, calculating eyes, O’Leary forces his targets into submission through raw aggression and well-timed threats. Without fail, O’Leary’s deals offer significantly less money for significantly more equity in return; only Mr. Wonderful can scam an entrepreneur for all their worth by offering $100,000 for 40% equity.

To add insult to financial injury, a deep-dive into successful on-screen deals (when an entreupreneuer is dumb enough to succumb to the laughable demands of the shark) done by Forbes revealed that 43% fell apart after the show. Shark Tank business owners overwhelmingly attributed this staggering figure to “sharks pulling out of the agreement or changing the terms to ones that didn’t work for [the entrepreneurs]” (Forbes). Thus, even when a savvy business person manages to negotiate their way into a favorable on-air deal, the odds are that the mercenary sharks will end up changing the conditions of the partnership at the last minute.

While the individual tenacity of the sharks in their pursuit of money contributes to the countless glorified robberies, or “deals,” that take place in every episode, perhaps my most grievous concern lies in the premise of the show itself. Entrepreneurs that appear on Shark Tank are fooled into believing that their success is contingent on making a deal, no matter the terms. Those who fail to reach an agreement with the sharks exit the show in ignominy, forever deemed as entrepreneurial failures in the eyes of the show’s audience. While Shark Tank captures the hardships and triumphs of starting a business with gripping entertainment value, by subliminally asserting that making a deal is always the best route to success, the show maliciously tricks optimistic entrepreneurs into relinquishing control of their companies. And for that reason, I’m out.