“Shark Tank” can teach viewers a crash course in business building. You learn how to persuade investors and understand the foundation of valuations and offers. More importantly, you figure out what separates the best startups from the worst.
The Another Bite podcast looks back at “Shark Tank” episodes and asks: What worked, and what didn’t? For this episode, hosts Jorie Munroe, Leslie Green, Ariel Boswell, and Jon Dick analyzed three companies: Scrub Daddy, Cougar Energy Drink, and GrooveBook. The quartet breaks down each “Shark Tank” pitch into major takeaways for entrepreneurs, from tips on pitching to picking your target audience.
For more details, check out the Another Bite episode to get the complete rundown.
Scrub Daddy: More Than Just a Soapy Smile
Scrub Daddy founder Aaron Krause took an infomercial-style pitch to the sharks in 2012. He used a glass stovetop to show how Scrub Daddy — a kitchen sponge with a face — tackles different substances.
Unlike regular sponges, Scrub Daddy adapts to the temperature of water used. If you plan on washing a cup, you can use warm water to make it soft. If you need to scrape dirt off the floor, cold water makes it durable and rigid.
Since Scrub Daddy is pricier than the average sponge at $2.80, Krause needed a way to demonstrate the product’s unique value. In the end, Lori Greiner — nicknamed the “Queen of QVC” — invested $200k for 20% equity in the business.
Since then, the business has driven $400m+ in retail sales across 30k+ locations in 17 countries.
The Another Bite hosts note, however, that the sponge looks like a normal sponge. The company’s success is dependent on conveying their product’s premium value to customers. In the age of virality and social media, Scrub Daddy has leaned into the quirkier aspects of their sponge by posting memes and out-of-pocket content on their Instagram and TikTok.
Scrub Daddy’s success demonstrates the power of communicating the value of your product clearly. Any entrepreneur pushing a technical product should prioritize getting their messaging right, especially if they intend to sell them for a premium.
Cougar Energy Drink: A Lesson in Targeting
In 2012, Ryan Custar of Cougar Energy Drink presented the sharks with a gender-specific, functional energy drink for middle-aged women. As the name suggests, the company’s branding centers on cougars — or middle-aged women seeking relationships with younger men.
Besides the energy boost, the product also helps keep consumers’ nails and hair strong and has some anti-aging properties.
But do women want to identify as cougars, and do they want an energy drink made especially for them? Custar thinks so — but with no data or significant sales to back it up — and the sharks smelled that from a mile away.
Cougar Energy Drink received no money from the sharks. Kevin O’Leary pointed out that big brands “get paid to crush cockroaches like you,” a nod to the extremely competitive beverages market.
Robert Herjavec added that he doesn’t believe women would even buy the product. Though Custar persevered and hustled, Cougar Energy Drink closed down for good in 2014.
“When you don’t do your research and cultivate a product you think people want,” explains one of the hosts, “you’ve already lost the game.”
Entrepreneurs cannot rely on their intuition alone. Conduct research and make data-backed decisions, especially when it comes to crafting a user persona or audience segment.
It made sense for Cougar Energy Drink to niche down in a highly saturated market — but the founder had no research to justify his chosen set of customers.
GrooveBook: Watch Out for Threats on the Horizon
Julie and Brian Whiteman brought the sharks GrooveBook, a company that sends subscribers 100 of their smartphone photos printed in photo books every month. The pitch occurred in 2014, a time when people had smartphones but still wanted to print their photos.
The sharks spotted an opportunity, prompting a frenzy between the investors. Eventually, the Whitemans settled on a deal from Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary — $150k for 80% of licensing rights.
GrooveBook’s appearance on “Shark Tank” increased their total users — their sales tripled in less than a week following their show. Later that year, Shutterfly acquired GrooveBook for $14.5m — making it one of the biggest deals in “Shark Tank” history.
However, the rise of social media meant people were using Facebook, Instagram, and other sites to chat with friends and upload photos. So, GrooveBook had an immediate problem: the threat of substitutes.
As smart devices grew in size, it was easier to look at photos on a screen versus a printed version. In 2022, Shutterfly shut down their GrooveBook service — citing undisclosed reasons.
While entrepreneurs cannot predict the future, they should strive to keep a pulse on trends. Remember to read the news, check on up-and-coming products, and see whether they threaten your business.
GrooveBook’s founders made a wise choice selling their business when consumers wanted to print out photos. If they waited without innovating, they could have lost their opportunity.
Think of ways to improve your product — such as creating add-ons or new features — or sell when the time feels right.