This is the first year that the Sharks have been submitted for Emmy consideration for hosting the groundbreaking investment-pitch series. The sharks were elated when they collected the coveted nomination.
O’Leary spoke to Awards Focus about the show’s immense popularity, Emmy history, and how filming the latest season in Vegas was unlike any other.
As a bonus to our exclusive interview with Kevin O’Leary, we invited Shark Robert Herjavec to share his insight and answer questions:
Awards Focus: This season is the first-time you guys have been submitted for hosting and you get the nomination, you’re 100%. The show is previously won Emmys on the backbone of your personalities and the hard work investing in people’s dreams. Talk about how that hosting push, and process evolved.
Kevin O’Leary: Well, I think it’s a valid category, given the success of all formats in reality. We’re very proud of shark tank, it’s turned into an iconic platform that celebrates entrepreneurship. It’s even gone beyond that, it’s an iconic element of American business, because you can launch a company on Shark Tank, we invest millions of dollars and create jobs. So, it just makes sense to recognize the work of the hosts on platforms like Shark Tank.
AF: With the pandemic we’re seeing new businesses and markets emerge while others are bottoming out and closing show. Can you discuss what you’ve seen in that regard?
O’Leary: Well 80% of my companies have turned profitable because they’re selling to their customers directly. Our businesses in travel, food services, and entertainment are going to zero, there’s been no return to those businesses… the wedding industry for example.
But it’s not just the pandemic, it’s a change in preference and in consumer behavior. Retailers that sell wine, we were 6% direct to customer and now we’re 24%, so we won’t be going back to those retail stores.
AF: Are some pitches so industry specific that you need to read up on them prior or is everything always presented pretty cold.
O’Leary: No, we never get to read up on them prior. In fact, the game show rules are very strict about that, we can never meet these people before they appear. We go through the journey to discovery the same way the audience does. We do due diligence afterwards, but the first time we ever see the idea is the moment they walk on the carpet just like everybody else does at home.
AF: If a deal is made on air, what sort of due diligence remains? Have there been deals that have fallen through because some detail may have been misrepresented?
O’Leary: Yes, that happens from time to time, but that’s no different than the real world of venture capital. In fact, the ratio of closings are much higher on Shark Tank, because the producers do so much due diligence before they get on the show.
I have my own venture capital firm now, I run 50 portfolio companies, and so I have a whole team to do due diligence, but I know I also have the backbone of the platform. Shark tank is probably the most successful venture capital firm in America, because it has elements that no other VC firm has. It has 10 million eyeballs through syndication, it’s got a whole bunch of partners that actually operate in multiple verticals of the of the economy. Our customer acquisition costs are practically zero. No VC firm can do that for you.
AF: When it comes to the new season of pitches, contestants had to quarantine for eight days. In addition, there’s a much different economy, and several entrepreneurs would potentially go under if they don’t form a deal to stabilize and move forward. Can you talk about that added layer to the new season?
O’Leary: You’ve described every business in America, every one of them are under tremendous stress. Everyone is working remotely. Every one of them in many cases, maybe 20-25% are going under, we’re going through incredible digital pivot right now.
But there is optimism that’s emerging because we’re starting to see such efficiency in selling direct to customers or being able to work remotely and cut our real estate costs for office space.
I always think the hardest thing to do is that you’re going to practice your pitch 1,000 times. Most of the people that show up on Shark Tank have watched every episode, and they often have a target shark they want to work with. They’ve been working on this, but nothing can prepare you for when you walk in there. It’s just a different magic that occurs, and it can go very well or it can go very badly. The best prepared pitch falls to pieces for reasons you didn’t anticipate, and vice versa.
AF: We had a couple of questions we fielded from our readers that are intended to be entrepreneurial and leadership oriented in nature. Can you name one mistake or behavior that you witness leaders or entrepreneurs making more frequently than others?
O’Leary: Valuation, valuing your business at a ridiculous price. We’ve been doing business for decades, we’ve been investing for decades, we’ve seen everything. You can’t pull the wool over the Shark’s eyes, it’s impossible.
AF: Can you name a person or thing that has had tremendous impact on you as a leader and entrepreneur?
O’Leary: Yes, Keith Richards autobiography, it’s the best business book I’ve ever read. It talks about perseverance, endurance. It has nothing to do with business, but he talks about his life in a way that I think everybody can learn from.
AF: What do you do? Do you have a routine to ensure that you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
O’Leary: I’m a big believer in this concept of yin and yang. Businesses are very binary in the sense that you either make money or you lose it, so you have to combine it with the chaos of the arts.
I’m an active photographer, a guitarist, I’m in the wine business. There’s an art of mixing science and art.
Lately, I’ve been writing country songs. I’m trying to do things that take my mind off the grueling day and the drama of having 50 companies of which at any one time, there’s euphoria and catastrophe happening on a daily basis.