Shark Tank (feat. Seth MacFarlane!): Was Michael Tseng the Dumbest Smartest Inventor in the History of the Show?
Even with only three segments, this week's Shark Tank checked off many of the show's favorite boxes: a tear-jerking success story, a twisty-turny negotiation, a dollop of intra-Shark squabbling, and a thoroughly superfluous celebrity cameo. It also culminated in one of the most dizzying double-reversals in the show's history. Here's the prospectus for the evening's pitches—would you have invested in any of the products we saw tonight?
THE PITCH Ginelle Mills offers a twenty-five percent stake in Cool Wazoo in return for $65,000. The product is a diaper bag accessory which shields infants from heat and germs. It combos as a car shade, highchair cover, playground swing cover, shopping cart cover, and changing pad.
SALE OR FAIL? Sale. Lori Greiner accepted the offer as-is.
THE BREAKDOWN Mills didn’t have much of a business case to make: no hard sales, untenable unit production costs, and a couple of costly mistakes in the recent past weighing her down. As Mark Cuban summed it up, she had a product but not yet a company. In short order, all the Sharks passed... until Mills’ tearful emotional appeal saved the day. Lori was impressed with Mills' passion and the amount of energy she’d poured into her invention and decided to jump back in and take a flier on Cool Wazoo. Considering Mills’ suspect business acumen, I’m amazed Lori didn’t ask for a larger stake. As loathe as I am to agree with Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary’s insistence that Lori should’ve gotten a controlling stake makes sense. Either way, the result was the kind of manipulative heartstring-tugger that this show has got down to a science by now.
THE PITCH Bruce Gaither offers a fifteen percent stake in No Fly Cone in return for $25,000. The professional horse trainer has designed an inverted fly trap which collects insects inside a funnel-shaped device, sparing the unappealing sight of normal flypaper strips. The catch is, to attract the flies into the cone you have to place it over your dog’s droppings.
SALE OR FAIL? Fail. Amazingly, none of the Sharks were terribly enchanted by a product that requires a steady supply of doggie doo-doo.
THE BREAKDOWN The No Fly Cone is an ingenious tool if you happen to 1) own a dog and 2) work in a barn where flies swarm by the dozens. Outside of that it’s completely unmarketable. The only reason this guy was even on the show is that one of his horseback-riding pupils is Seth MacFarlane, who happens to be hosting a little soiree on ABC in February.
Shark Tank has trotted out celebrity guests before, like NFL running back Brandon Jacobs earlier this year and Vincent “Big Pussy” Pastore back in Season 2. But unlike them, MacFarlane has no connection to this business whatsoever. He’s not an endorser, an investor, or even a customer. He was, by his own admission, no help whatsoever in the Tank. He was just there to do funny voices and remind everyone that he has like 45 shows on another network. Both he and Gaither milled about uncomfortably as the Sharks shrugged at the product and needled MacFarlane, but there was almost no discussion of No Fly Cone’s business fundamentals—the whole segment was pure novelty.
THE PITCH Michael Tseng offers a five percent stake in The Plate Topper in return for $90,000. The product is a reusable storage lid which forms an airtight seal over dishes, preserving food more neatly than plastic wrap.
SALE OR FAIL? Both? Tseng got a deal from Lori for $90,000 in exchange for eight percent, but not before torpedoing multiple better offers and nearly blowing this one.
THE BREAKDOWN This has got to be one of the steepest free-falls in the history of Shark Tank. Only the fact that he actually, miraculously, walked away with a deal prevents it from being a true tragic failure worthy of Greek drama.
Tseng started out like gangbusters with a well-designed product, a polished sales pitch, and solid sales numbers. Three Sharks jumped in with gusto. Lori offered him a whopping ten times his ask—$900,000—for a thirty percent stake. Daymond John trumped that by offering a cool million for only a quarter of the company. Both offers more than doubled Tseng’s original proposed valuation of $1.8 million. It looked like he’d have his pick of partners.
But the flush of success must've knocked him off his bearings, because his poise rapidly began to erode, and his common sense followed. He got cocky, then evasive, then scattershot, then all three at once. Pretty soon all his offers had evaporated except for Lori’s, which by that point was greatly reduced ($90,000 for 10 percent). After everyone had made it quite clear they were fed up with Tseng, he irritated them further by pleading for more counteroffers anyway.
Tseng embodied the difference between operating under preparation and operating under pressure. His headstrong demeanor and inability to read the Sharks’ reactions didn’t reflect well on him as a business partner or someone you’d trust to run a company, no matter how can’t-miss his product is. Lori called her last-ditch offer of $90,000 for an 8 percent stake—which was better than he asked for but far worse than what he passed up—a “lifeline,” and that’s an understatement.
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