By Ben Holcomb on July 20th, 2012

(NOTE: All companies featured in this piece are hyperlinked to their official websites. If you’ve ever seen a product on the show that you were interested in owning, just click on the company name and check out their online presence.)

Deep down a scantly lit corridor, lined with the low-budget animations of circling sharks, beyond two oaken doors that open when approached, is the opportunity of a lifetime. Five angel investors, sitting on piles of cash, itching to make the piles disappear for awhile in hopes that, like the prodigal son, it someday returns bigger and better.  The only things you have to have are a great product and the suave to pitch it correctly.

It’s ABC’s popular Friday night reality show, Shark Tank, and it’s a ratings homerun. Each week Mark Burnett1 allows us to be flies on the wall in the boardroom’s of some of America’s wealthiest moguls; there’s Mark Cuban2 (AKA “The Cubes”), Daymond John3, Robert Herjavec4, Barbara Corcoran5 and Mr. Wonderful himself, Kevin O’Leary6. All have made millions of their own in the private sector, and all are on the show battling each other to convince earnest business owners to accept their investments. It’s what’s great about reality television – the idea that what we’re watching is in fact, real.

As viewers, we’re given peaks into the lives of struggling business owners or wide-eyed young inventors, convinced their product is the next big thing in America. As they themselves are fed into the proverbial shark tank, we can feel the tension of that one last moment, before the jump, on the precipice of a cliff whose fall could lead both to one’s wildest dreams or biggest failures. It’s a moment made for television, as the pressure and repercussions of what lies beyond those doors, for these people, is quite literally life changing.

Sometimes they walk away with lucrative deals; other times they leave empty-handed, knocked down a few pegs on their journey to the top. Often, they leave feeling like they’re the last one who still believes in their product7. But the most common outcome on the show is that the Sharks win. It’s basic math, there’s five of them and one (or 2-3) of you.  With the red light of the camera beaming towards you, the overhead lights seeping into your exposed skin, and millions of ethereal viewers somewhere beyond the confines of the tank watching your every move, there can indeed be a tendency to cave under the pressure. Besides, it’s not every day that someone stands in front of 5 multi-hundred-millionaires. And although we see the dramatic 44-minute edit, these people have to endure 8 hours of a grueling taping day somewhere out in Century City, California.

The most brilliant aspect of the show, beyond the obvious choice of letting the sharks gamble with their own funds 8, is that the show itself acts as a one-hour infomercial for whatever products end up getting picked during the episode. That means by show’s end, or perhaps even before, people are rushing to their computers to Google the products that interest them and get one for themselves 9. You couldn’t buy that kind of advertising anywhere else. And so, every product the Sharks invest in is bound to reap a profit, just by virtue of its’ outlet to prime time America.

But even though a lot of Shark Tank’s fun comes from being introduced to new and exciting products, many which aim to solve our daily problems, the greatest fireworks occur in the realm beyond the products, where giants fight giants, moguls flexing their muscles at each other in various states of fiscal overcompensation. To hear Daymond John tell QVC magnate Lori Greiner10 that he’s forgotten more about business than she’s ever learned is to know malicious, unforgiving aggression on an intimate basis 11. These people will skin a bunny and drain the blood out of its warm body at the mere suggestion of the word ‘profit’. And, as a viewer, what else can you ask for?

The competition in the show is palpable before and after every commercial break. The sharks might not hate each other, but I doubt they’re all grabbing dinner together after negotiations. After all, it’s nothing personal, but when you’ve built a livelihood off the obsessive, near-psychotic pursuit of money, how can it not sting just a little when an inventor drops your deal in favor of the shark sitting next to you? The simple answer is it does hurt, and nobody holds a grudge like a shark.

A lost deal means lost money; same goes for the wrong deal. Tantamount for these sharks, more so than producing a show that’s watchable, is securing the next big thing. And that’s precisely why the show’s so addicting.

On any show where there’s competition, there’s an innate urge to figure out a hierarchy of success. We’re creatures who enjoy structure. It’s nice to know where people stand, devoid of the clutter. And if there’s one place Shark Tank drops the ball for it’s viewers, it’s failing to update them on the success (or failures) of each shark’s investments. And yes, they do a good job with their “Shark Tank Updates” but those packages are neatly shot and full of agendas. Disagree? We’re still waiting for an update about how a product, despite funding, ended up being a commercial bust.

Most important, we’re left out of the conversation spanning not just episode or episode, but season to season, the conversation about which Shark’s investments have paid off the most over time, and who’s been the smartest with their money. It’s not like the Sharks don’t throw their net worth at each other like they’re identification cards. But Wine & Cheese is here for you, and we didn’t let the mere lack of transparency to stop us from figuring out just who is the greatest Shark in the tank, or in cheesier terms, who is the Great White…and who is the minnow.

In the venture capital world, securing investors can be an uphill battle with a summit next to no one reaches. According to Robert Herjavec, of 100 potential deals, 10% make it past initial negotiations, with an understanding that about one or two will ever amount to anything. On Shark Tank, about 33-50% of those securing a deal with a shark on TV amount to legitimate business deals. “Sometimes the information isn’t real…sometimes something bad happens, sometimes there’s a disagreement in terms,” said Herjavec. Regardless of the harsh reality, it’s hard to dispute the tank’s superiority to roughing it in ‘the real world’. And even a failed deal on the show could spark numerous phone calls and leads from interested investors tuning in from their couches.

Over the course of three seasons, the moguls on Shark Tank have invested in dozens of businesses, some good, others bad. From a strict quantity standpoint, the most prolific Shark on the show is Barbara Corcoran, which might surprise some. She’s pulled off 26 deals in three seasons, with a high propensity for using her “Gender” card when at all applicable. Of the female entrepreneurs that enter the tank, a majority end up making a deal with Barbara, and zero leave without at least hearing her give out the classic line of, “Us women…we get each other.” In order to steer clear of misogynistic debates or pontificating, I’ll leave that subject as is. But there is something to be said about the show’s repeated showcase of women innately trusting women more than the male counterparts. As they say, stats don’t lie.

The rest of the numerical crunch looks like this:

  • Barbara Corcoran (26)
  • Daymond John (21)
  • Mark Cuban (18)
  • Robert Herjavec (15)
  • Kevin Harrington (12)
  • Kevin O’Leary (10)
  • Lori Greiner (5)
  • Jeff Foxworthy (2)

From the fiscal investment standpoint, few can step into the same cage as Mark Cuban, whose bankroll weight-class in comparison to the other Sharks is the equivalent of Butterbean fighting Daniel Son. In just about half the time, Cuban’s invested upwards of 3.45 Million dollars, about a million more than anyone else. In a Forbes article earlier this year, Cuban himself admitted that he’s hardly ever left out of a deal he wants a part of. Plain and simple, the guy’s treasure trove is just bigger than anyone else’s, and like Violet Beauregarde or George Clooney, when he sees something he wants, he has a tendency for getting it. Other Shark’s monetary dumps play out as:

  • Mark Cuban (3.45 M)
  • Daymond John (2.525 M)
  • Barbara Corcoran (2.305 M)
  • Robert Herjavec (1.53 M)
  • Kevin O’Leary (1.44 M)
  • Kevin Harrington (975k)
  • Lori Greiner (550k)
  • Jeff Foxworthy (75k)

It’s best if we just get this out of the way and reveal Jeff Foxworthy was the worst Shark to ever appear on the show…by a long shot. And who can be surprised, coming from a guy who’s built a career on jokes about losing cars in overgrown front lawns and cousins with single digit teeth. About the only people Foxworthy had a chance of besting in the tank would be Yaakov Smirnoff, Louie Anderson, the guy behind the fence on Home Improvement and maybe Andy Dick.

The last true piece of quantifiable data from the show is the average equity the Sharks secure in landed deals. Now the stat alone may be a bit skewed, as 1% equity in Apple is far greater than 95% equity in your daughter’s lemonade stand on the corner, but keeping all other things as controls, it does provide a helpful glance into each investor’s negotiating abilities. When compared alongside each other, you do get the opportunity to understand who’s good at pushing for that extra 5% and who lacks that kind of fight. Her deals are few and far between, but when Lori Greiner pounces, she gets a large piece of the pie (43% to be exact). Other Sharks came in as follows:

  • Lori Greiner (43% avg.)
  • Kevin Harrington (34.375% avg.)
  • Barbara Corcoran (31.75% avg.)
  • Jeff Foxworthy (28.5% avg.)
  • Mark Cuban (27.645% avg.)
  • Kevin O’Leary (22.8% avg.)
  • Daymond John (20.476% avg.)
  • Robert Herjavec (20.5% avg.)

Other possible fluctuations in data may be in part to deals revolving around royalties, a common practice with Mr. Wonderful Kevin O’Leary, deals that ignore overall equity in the company. The aforementioned stats are all of what you get from the show itself. Any other information comes from each business’ financial records and quarterly reports, which isn’t the easiest public information to attain 12 The rest, beyond lists of which companies specific Sharks invested in, is conjecture based on research and the most fiscal reports from said companies.

Mark Cuban’s Shark Tank Portfolio:

Lori Greiner’s Shark Tank Portfolio:

Daymond John’s Shark Tank Portfolio:

Barbara Corcoran’s Shark Tank Portfolio:

Kevin Harrington’s Shark Tank Portfolio:

Robert Herjavec’s Shark Tank Portfolio:

Kevin O’Leary’s Shark Tank Portfolio:

Jeff Foxworthy’s (I can’t believe I’m even displaying this) Shark Tank Portfolio:

Prolific, to say the least; the variety of products and industries represented in the list above is astounding. But which Shark reigns supreme within ABC’s Emmy-Nominated Reality TV tank?

From a personal standpoint, looking at sheer quantity is not enough of a barometer, as 1000 VCR companies are just about worthless in comparison to the worst MP3 Company at the moment. From all reports, the worst deal on the show financially turned out to be Toygaroo, a Netflix-style online toy rental company who’s vision proved to surpass logistics. Cuban and O’Leary bit the bullet on $50,000 each, a tough pill to swallow but not an immediate portfolio killer by any means.

O’Leary is also in possession of the hands-down best deal on the show, which came in the form of Talbott Teas, a boutique tea company that sold their product to Jamba Juice within months of appearing on Shark Tank. The deal made everyone involved millionaires overnight. For investing in just five companies, Lori Greiner’s gamble on the ReadeRest paid off in big ways, as the dumb eyeglass holder has made $2 Million in profit since the show aired.

Cutting to the chase, the Official Wine & Cheese Shark Tank Power Rankings (with explanation) look like this:

(1) Lori Greiner: She’s the QVC master, and makes most of her investments based on whether she can sell the product on her highly-watched show, but that strategy has paid off in the money column for ole Lori there. Sure, her resume isn’t a bastion of classy items you’d find at Wine mixers or high class affairs 13, but they also can’t stay on the shelves long enough to warrant stacking them there in the first place, so there’s that. Of the five products she’s invested in, not a single one has proven to be even a middling success. The Show-No is all over Disney Water Parks, The M3 Girl Designs had $5 Million in sales BEFORE she invested, and the Wine Balloon has been the best “better mousetrap” ever showcased on the show. It’s why Lori’s the best Shark, whether any of us want to admit it or not.

(2) Barbara Corcoran: She spends like a motherf***er, which I swear isn’t an indictment on the female race, but it’s hard to sift through her portfolio and just to figure out what’s good and what’s crap. It’s like an episode of Hoarders. From just watching the show, you’d be convinced she was making her business decisions solely on whether the entrepreneurs had a vagina or not, but the truth is Babs is a pretty sound investor as well. Most of her money’s been made in the food industry with companies like Daisy Cakes, who paid off her investments a mere three weeks after they inked a deal. Her BBQ joint and other food-based ventures have proven to be very profitable. And sure, investing in a fat guy selling an exercise product was a worse idea than calling on McGruber to solve a national crisis, but she more than made up for it with companies like Notehall.com and Emmy the Elephant, which in my opinion is the future of pediatric medicinal administration 14. Her extensive portfolio puts her at #2 on our list, which means the top is owned by women…thus kind of sort of just maybe justifying Corcoran’s blatant on camera biases.

(3) Mark Cuban: If this were a Power Rankings on Sharks who get mentioned in Will Ferrell Movies, then he’d be alone at the top, but it seems Cuban’s proclivity for trying to steal deals from other Sharks for the sheer joy of it puts him down a few pegs on our totem pole. The Hyconn LLC and Wine Balloon are without a doubt brilliant moves, moves that could keep the rest of his portfolio afloat by their own. But other moves like “I Want to Draw a Cat for You” leave you scratching your head and wondering why God didn’t bestow 2-3 Billion dollars on you instead. Nevertheless, his investments are rock-solid, and he’s only been on the show for one and a half-seasons, so he’s got to be at #3.

(4) Robert Herjavec: Yeah, he’s the Shark everyone wants to have a beer (or wine) with, the kind of charismatic Billionaire that could stop a city from descending into madness with a costume that costs more than most American’s homes, but the guy is also teeming with business savvy. Grill Charms was a home run, as was the ridiculously likeable Lollacup® baby bottle. But most of Herjavec’s money has been made in the music industry, a hobby passion of his 15. Origaudio, the company that turns bowls of soup into makeshift Coachella venues, and ChordBuddy are by far his smartest moves. And though he’s had some ground singles here and there, by and large his portfolio is one of the better on the show.

(5) Kevin O’Leary: He’s labeled the mean shark by viewers, but there’s no better example of prudent decision making on the show. His numbers fall right into the middle of the road with the other Sharks, which indicates a serious thought-process to his investing decisions. It’s made people cry, which is kind of sad, but the truth is for O’Leary it’s all about the benjamins. And that philosophy, while upsetting to the morons entering the show trying to sell interchangeable redneck tops I’m sorry, tank tops, has reaped excellent benefits. Looking past the home run of Talbott Teas, O’Leary’s portfolio includes Unikey technologies, FlipOutz, and First Defense Nasal Screens, all of which have produced great dividends.

(6) Daymond Johns: He made a fortune from selling clothes only Ali G actually wore, so that in and of itself is quite an accomplishment. Is it just me or do you think all the clothes Daymond wears on the show are definitely made by companies other than his own? I just have the strongest inclination that Johns is sitting in his office overlooking New York, looking at his inventory and thinking, “Would I ever wear this shit? Hell no, but I know some morons I grew up with that would. Make a thousand.” EZ VIP was his best deal to date, an Open Table for clubs that got PitBull to be their main spokesman 16 The trash lid thing was another good investment, but the rest of his portfolio is littered with companies that make you want to shout “eh.” 17.

(7) Kevin Harrington: Let me just say this: Kevin Harrington was so boring and vanilla on the show that they took him off and replaced him with Mark Cuban just to avoid a ratings Chernobyl. He was so vanilla that Vanilla Ice was knocking at his door begging to be his spokesman for “…something, anything dammit I need money so freaking bad…” He was so boring and vanilla that Mitt Romney looks like Charlie Sheen in comparison. His portfolio is much of the same, just a bunch of novelty items that don’t push the meter in any direction. I’m mad at myself for even writing this much about it.

(8) Jeff Foxworthy: A gimmick. A comedian whose career was eclipsed by his decision to host a show about being smarter than a 5th Grader 18. His run on the show came to a swift and merciful end a few short episodes after it started, and I assume it was because they couldn’t find anymore companies that revolved around the hillbilly culture.

You may not like it. You may think it’s way off-base and subjective. I may call you a misogynistic, backwater mouth-breather for taking offense to a list with two women at the top. So either way I win. But it’s a list. And it allows us all to peer beyond the thick velvet curtain that is America’s favorite non-competitive Reality Show, if but for a few moments. If you haven’t seen the show, it just got nominated for an Emmy and airs on Friday nights at 8PM or Hulu whenever you please. Season Four starts up in January of 2013, assuming the Mayans haven’t owned us all by then.

Look out for me as I try to sell my world-changing product, the instant-freeze. A microwave, but for making things cold.

 

  1. Though not a Shark himself, the man behind the curtain of the other curtain is worth $400 Million Dollars, according to CelebrityNetWorth.com.
  2. Cuban made about $2.5 Billion during the internet start-up boom, and is now recognized as “that annoying guy who yells at refs behind the Mav’s bench”.
  3. Creator of Fubu Brands, and worth $100 Million according to CelebrityNetWorth.com.
  4. Worth $100 Million according to CelebrityNetWorth.com.
  5. Spend 5 minutes with her and I’m sure she’ll let you know that she turned a $1,000 dollar business investment into a $100 Million + real estate empire. She’s worth a measly $40 Million in comparison to everyone else, according to CelebrityNetWorth.com.
  6. He sold his company to Mattel for a couple billion, but his personal net worth hovers around $400 Million, according to CelebrityNetWorth.com
  7. Alas, perhaps cakes for dogs is a dumb idea.
  8. allowing the tension to seem much more real and urgent.
  9. Apparently so much so that most of the companies’ sites crash when they’re on the air.
  10. Worth $15 Million according to CelebrityNetWorth.com.
  11. or you could go beyond into the lithosphere of ruthless business tactics and hear him drop the wonderfully adept bomb of “a piggy bank with two nickels makes more noise than one full of cash”.
  12. Especially when dealing with companies called “I want to Draw a Cat for You.”.
  13. The kind of affairs you’d find us at.
  14. And can I just say, I’m aware that it’s the worst opinion I have.
  15. Which I guess is better than fighting crime during the night.
  16. Is that cool? I have no idea.
  17. Not to mention he’s funding a company called LITTER.
  18. SPOILER: We’re not. But just for argument’s sake, if those questions came from 5th grade, we’d be a nation-state perpetually stuck in summer school, looking on at 6th grade in the horizon like some intellectual mirage only the top 1% of us could hope to attain. We’d have a bunch of 40 year old 5th graders flooding the streets in protest of the 1%, those snooty SOB’s who think they’re so much better than everyone else because they made it to middle school. Which, when you think about it, isn’t far from truth surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement.