Currently in the midst of its eighth season, ABC’s Shark Tank has seen hundreds of pitches come and go. Many regular viewers have wondered if they might someday be in the same position; not necessarily on TV, but in the office of a potential investor somewhere under similar circumstances.
With that in mind, we’re taking a look at some of the most successful pitches in the show’s history today to see what can be learned from them.
1) The Breathometer (Season 5)
The Breathometer is one of the neatest electronic gadgets ever seen on Shark Tank. It plugs into the headphone jack of most smartphones, and functions as a portable personal breathalyzer for situations in which you’re not sure if you had too much to drink. It not only displays the user’s current blood alcohol level, but gives them an estimate of how long it will take the alcohol to clear their system and can even be configured to call a cab at the push of a button.
Yim ended up getting half a million from Mark Cuban in return for 15% equity, and $125,000 from each of the other Sharks for an even split of another 15%. As of mid-2016, the Breathometer had brought in $2 million in sales.
WHAT MADE IT WORK: Inventor Charles Michael Yim has the distinction of being one of the few people on the show to get all five of the Sharks to buy into his product. It certainly helped that he had a really strong invention, but his professional presentation and masterful baiting of the Sharks by suggesting he had outside angel investors lined up really pushed the deal over the top. His best tactic was to get the Sharks competing with each other to go into business with him once he realized they were all in on his product.
2) I Want To Draw A Cat For You (Season 3)
Much like the bad singers that American Idol used to wheel out intentionally for comedy value, Shark Tank sometimes throws in completely ridiculous pitches just for the sake of entertainment. Steve Gadlin’s “I Want To Draw A Cat For You” has the distinction of being the only one that actually managed to land an investor. Though Steve admitted in his pitch it was a ridiculous idea, he also pointed out that “there is an economy for stupid, and i am overflowing with it.” He actually had a thousand previous sales of his on-demand cat drawings to back his pitch up, and sealed the deal by opening with an awkward shimmying dance and rap that left the Sharks in fits of laughter.
Mark Cuban was notably grooving along to Gadlin’s beat, and while several Sharks showed some level of interest, Cuban seemed to be all in on the idea from the jump and ended up buying 33% of the cat drawing venture for $25,000 … with the stipulation that he had to personally draw one of every 1000 cat pictures ordered. The funniest part of it all is that the venture actually turned out to be quite profitable, with Gadlin only giving it up in 2015 because he was getting hand cramps from drawing and wanted to focus on his new television show, Steve Gadlin’s Star Makers.
WHAT MADE IT WORK: While this is hardly the greatest product the show has ever seen, Gadlin came out with no shame in his game and some hard numbers to help support his case, and ended up defying the odds. He managed to combine self-deprecating humor with an actual viable and tested product, odd though it might have been. And as Gadlin himself put it, once you see his dance, you’ll be thinking about it before you go to sleep at night.
3) The Unikey (Season 3)
This electronic locking system allows users to open their doors with a smartphone or keyring fob, along with advanced features like setting locks to only open at certain times of the day or on select days for certain keyholders.
Inventor Phil Dumas actually came in to the show with ongoing negotiations in place with Black and Decker, but needed immediate funding to start development. To reiterate, he really had nothing more than the concept on paper and a basic prototype using his own phone. This and his exceptional presentation and marketing of the concept to the Sharks was enough to whip them into a frenzy, with all five making offers on it. Dumas ended up settling on a joint offer from Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary, in which each got 40% of the company and two seats on the board of directors in exchange for $500,000.
Though this was an extremely successful pitch, the deal later fell through off the air during the due diligence process. Unikey still ended up being a success story, however. Dumas partnered with major lock manufacturer KwikSet, who now sells his device under the name Kevo.
WHAT MADE IT WORK: As with the Breathometer, Dumas knew he had a killer product and had both the mastery of technical details and the polished presentation to get the Sharks smelling blood in the water. Even though he didn’t actually have anything more than a basic prototype, seeing his phone open a lock was more than enough to convey the product’s potential.
4) Lumio (Season 6)
Who would have thought a book lamp would end up being one of the show’s hottest items? Inventor Max Gunawan basically sold the Sharks on the power of his invention alone, which literally had them gaping at it in wonder.
His USB-powered Lumio device, an LED book-shaped light able to open up to 360 degrees and stick to any magnetic surface, wowed the Sharks so much with its high-tech appearance that they felt compelled to get into a bidding war for it.
The net result of his killer product and articulate presentation? After a flurry of offers, Gunawan partnered with Robert Herjavec at $350,000 for 10% equity in the company, a significantly better deal than he had expected coming in. The Lumio has since racked up over $1 million in sales.
WHAT MADE IT WORK: Of course, these are the Sharks, so financial questions did come up once they got over how cool the product was. This is where Gunawan closed the deal by having a detailed business plan and profitability estimates ready that he clearly knew inside and out. His extensive public speaking experience, including a TedX presentation, really shone through once it was time to talk numbers.
5) Element Bars (Season 1)
Inventor Jonathan Miller came up with Element Bars as a response to mass-market nutritional bars that contained unhealthy amounts of sugar and processed ingredients. His response was not only more nutritious, but also allowed buyers to customize the contents of their bars online.
Miller already had the product in the market when he went into the Tank, but was only shipping about a thousand per week and was looking for financing to expand. His final deal ended up being $150,000 for 30% of his company along with a 4% royalty in perpetuity.
Current estimates show that Element Bars is valued at between $10 and $20 million.
WHAT MADE IT WORK: Miller’s complete confidence in himself and hardball negotiating tactics won the respect of the Sharks. His presentation is still widely regarded as the best ever seen on the show, as the Sharks even interrupted him to comment on what an excellent salesman he was.
So what are the lessons to take from these presentations? Having a killer product certainly helps a lot, but confidence, polished public speaking ability and a complete command of your numbers can take you a long way.