What do a smiley-face shaped sponge, a toilet training device for cats, and a hands-free umbrella have in common? All of these products, while perhaps silly in inception, have become wildly successful from being featured on Shark Tank, the show where hopeful entrepreneurs pitch their products to a panel of millionaire and billionaire investors.
Who are the sharks? Mark Cuban owns a company worth $2.5 billion, and is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Barbara Corcoran turned a thousand dollar loan into a five-billion-dollar real estate company. Lori Greiner, aka the “Queen of QVC” is a prolific inventor, having created more than 400 products. Daymond John is the creator and CEO of FUBU clothing, a brand that revolutionized sportswear in the 1990s. Kevin O’Leary, more commonly known as “Mr. Wonderful,” is often portrayed as the ruthless and cold-blooded shark, when in fact, O’Leary made his millions by helping children learn to read. Robert Herjavec, the son of an immigrant factory worker, is a fan favorite on the show, often revealing his softer side by offering empathy for entrepreneurs who enter the tank.
At a recent taping of Shark Tank, The Daily Beast sat down with Robert Herjavec to get all the dirt on what’s ahead. “You’re seeing real businesses, bigger money, guest sharks, you’ll see two women on the panel which was never seen before, it just feels like everything is more amped up. We’re playing in the big leagues now,” he said of the current season.
Because of the success of the show, entrepreneurs who make it on screen, whether they score a deal or not, see a substantial increase in sales of their product. “I look for the entrepreneur to capture my attention. If you don’t come out with a great presentation, you’re dead. That’s a big red flag,” Herjavec said. “The other red flag we’re seeing this year, because of the success of the show is, because of the success of the show, people will come out just for the publicity.”
But Shark Tank wasn’t always a hot commodity. Herjavec, along with O’Leary, both starred on the Canadian version of the show for seven years. In Canada, it was the highest-rated show said Herjavec, but you couldn’t make “real” money. “Americans are very good at clicking a button to buy stuff,” he said of his rationale on joining the American Shark Tank.
So why is it so popular? Clearly, not every person with an idea will make it into the tank. “Everybody wants to improve, it’s just human nature,” Herjavec said. “Who doesn’t want to be successful in life?”
And success is something Herjavec is well-versed in. Being one of the first people in the world to sell an internet firewall, he knows a thing or two about making a good investment. “Some of the deals this year, I think are going to blow up,” said Herjavec, quickly pointing out that “blow up” is “cool, hip wording for ‘good.’ I learned that from Mark Cuban,” he said. “Most people don’t realize this, but Mark wears a wig, it’s not really his hair, and he wears platform shoes. When Mark takes his shoes off he’s shorter than I am, he’s way shorter than Lori,” Herjavec joked.
But the roasting didn’t stop there. “He makes more deals than all of us for the first five seasons combined. He has so much money, he doesn’t care if he gets his money back, so he just throws it at anything, it’s really embarrassing,” Herjavec said, cracking a smile. “I feel bad for him. He used to be a billionaire, and now he lives in my basement…with his platform shoes and his wig.”
Clearly, Herjavec knows how to joke around and have fun. “I love LA,” he mused. “There’s always stuff to do, parties, premieres. This is as good as it gets,” said Herjavec, who resides in Toronto, Canada. “The only problem with LA, I don’t have one of my cars here—I race Ferarris,” he said nonchalantly. “See?! Just saying that sounds so cool!” But racing cars might be equally as dangerous as investing in start-up businesses. “Kevin always says, ‘I don’t race cars, I crash cars.’ I’ve had a challenging season. I spent a few days in a Brazilian hospital, but you know.”
He may sound like a daredevil (and he may be one), but Herjavec is also a family man, he has been married to the same woman for 23 years and is the father of three kids. And as a tech-savvy dad, he has words of wisdom for his children, “I always tell my kids, ‘That photo you’re about to upload? Keep in mind, you’re 16 now, one day you’ll be 21 and looking for a job.’ I don’t think you can prohibit kids from going online today. You just have to be careful.”
Outside of his children, Herjavec offers advice to optimistic inventors every Friday night on ABC. “It sounds so corny and syrupy, and the other guys make fun of me, I really think that you have the ability to impact someone else’s life in a positive way,” he said. “If we can do it, anyone can,” Herjavec said, as starry-eyed as the young entrepreneurs who seek his council, and his coin. “You don’t need a fancy degree, you don’t need to come from wealth…The American dream is alive and well.”
“I don’t think anybody builds something of greatness for money. I don’t think anybody wakes up 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, to make an extra buck. You’ve got to love it, and you’ve got to be an expert. My kids always say to me, ‘Daddy, what’s the definition of an expert?’ I say: ‘When you know something so well, somebody else will pay for your opinion. It’s all about being great at something.’”