8 financial lessons from the profits and losses of ‘Shark Tank’

Eric McCandless / ABC

“Shark Tank” has been on the air on ABC for more than 13 years. It’s where hopeful entrepreneurs go to see their business dreams flourish, or possibly die, according to the response from a team of venture capitalists known as the “Sharks.”

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This year’s sharks include regulars like Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban, as well as guest shark Kevin Hart and seven others. On the show, entrepreneurs present their business models and plans and hope to walk away with an investment that can propel their business to success. Just as often, though, they walk away with a scathing critique and plenty of tears, because the business world can be ruthless.

Despite its entertainment value, the show also lends itself to many useful business lessons if you know how to read between the lines. Here we identify eight lessons from the wins and losses of “Shark Tank.”

Female founders bring a better return on investment

One surprising theme that emerged from O’Leary’s 13 years on “Shark Tank” is that the companies that offer the best return on investment (ROI) are overwhelmingly those run by women. She told CNBC’s “Make It” that 75% of her earnings come from women-led businesses, regardless of industry.

He suggested some lessons that emerged from this data, which we will now address…

be a good listener

Probably as a result of cultural conditioning, according to O’Leary, women tend to be better listeners. This is a crucial skill in customer service and leadership roles of any kind, but especially when it comes to managing employees and helping them grow to improve your business. And it’s a skill that anyone, regardless of gender, can improve just by drawing attention to it.

Set realistic financial goals

Another area where women behave more effectively in business, O’Leary said, is setting more realistic financial goals for success than men. Specifically, she found that women set their sales goals 30% lower than male-led businesses, making them more likely to hit them. O’Leary referred to the tendency for men to outsell as “testosterone bravado.”

Learn to multitask better

Another way that women are socialized differently from men is that women are taught to multitask, which extends to their work. O’Leary also noted that women are more generous and concerned about how employees’ time is spent, which leads to better staff relations and reduced turnover. This may have to do with the fact that women often multitask around the home when they have children.

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Look for substance, not just glib talk

There are lessons to be learned from both failure and success, and one of “Shark Tank’s” biggest flops came in its first season.

An infomercial star named Jack Jack Barringer convinced two sharks to invest $180,000 in his device, The Body Jac, to make push-ups easier. Despite the investment, the company did not fly, and Corcoran later told Forbes: “My worst [Shark Tank deal] I was investing in a fast-talking cowboy selling exercise equipment who needed to lose 50 pounds.”

Sometimes you have to look past a slick talker and determine if an entrepreneur really has what it takes to be successful.

keep your promises

Another “Shark Tank” flop actually raised $1 million from five sharks in 2013, but the venture flopped in a number of ways.

The Breathometer, founded by Charles Michael Yim, was a portable breathalyzer device that was supposed to measure blood alcohol levels on an app. Despite its huge investment, the company struggled to fill orders and the device was not as accurate as promised. The Federal Trade Commission forced them to refund each customer and stop selling the product.

The lesson here is pretty simple: make sure you can deliver on your promises as a company before you take people’s money.

Receive constructive criticism

The criticism provided by the sharks can be quite harsh, and as Reminder Media points out, many contestants walk away in tears. While some of this is dramatized, there is truth behind the devastation, but it all lends itself to an important lesson: It’s better to listen to honest criticism before spending more time and money investing in something that can’t succeed. Absorbing constructive criticism can also lead to making the right changes for success.

Work shouldn’t make you miserable

Perhaps the biggest lesson anyone in business can learn, hopefully soon, is that if your job makes you unhappy, it’s probably not worth your time.

Sometimes a “no” to “Shark Tank” can save people from years of drudgery or futility. According to Reminder Media, shark investors have pointed out that happiness and money are not the same. Some people may be happier earning less money than those earning more. It may take some time to figure out what kind of work makes you happy, but most of us know right away what doesn’t.

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