Kevin Harrington and Daymond John of 'Shark Tank' on VC, NBC/Comcast Deal, Recession, Being a Viking and Lady Gaga
Currently airing Fridays on ABC (with repeats on Saturday afternoons in participating local markets), the investment reality show "Shark Tank" continues to provide entrepreneurs and inventors with an opportunity to get financing -- right out of the pockets of the business moguls on the show.
But first they have to talk them into handing the money over. Some succeed; others get eaten.
I recently talked with two of those moguls -- infomercial-industry leader Kevin Harrington (left) and fashion retailer Daymond John (below, right) -- and here are their views on a selection of hot topics...
On why venture capital isn't just for tech firms anymore:
Harrington: "It isn't. Really, venture capital is for everything now, because banks aren't lending. People come to us because we are. ... It's far more challenging for the financial in venture capital (these days). That makes shows like 'Shark Tank' very important, because we give most of these VC opportunities more than they would get from a typical VC. We give them marketing. We give them an audience. We give them attributes that they could never get just taking money from friends and family. We give them a platform."
John: "We also give people who are potentially looking to be acquired the information on what a VC needs, so it cuts out 50 percent of their work. Most of the guys now, the VCs I know, say, 'Listen, go watch "Shark Tank" before you present to us.'"
On how "Shark Tank" helps those seeking investment avoid looking stupid when they ask for cash:
Harrington: "You can't come into the 'Shark Tank' without your numbers. You'll get eaten alive. You've got to understand what works in your business model and be able to articulate it. If you don't know that, bring somebody that does. There's nothing more frustrating than having a great idea presented to you by somebody who can't tell you what the gross margins are or what the break-even unit volume is. I just want to get out there and strangle them."
John: "What's incredible is that the producers say to them, 'Listen, I don't think you should ask for $3 million. Maybe it's more like $300,000.' And the people come in there still with obnoxious numbers."
On the upcoming NBC/Comcast deal:
Harrington: "It's content vs. pipeline. We don't know who's going to win here. You're trying to merge them together, basically. It's been tried before. The greatest non-deal in history, the most unsuccessful, was Time Warner AOL. In a way, it smacks of some of these attributes, except this time it's focused on cash flow, and I think that's going to be much more successful. Only time will tell for shareholders of Comcast how this is going to work out."
On how Comcast subscribers feel:
Harrington: "Here's the question: 'Why can't we buy content a la carte? Why do I have to pay $39 a month for a whole bunch of stuff I never watch?' I'm the consumer, and I want what I want. I'm willing to pay for first-release films on cable. Want to charge me $100? Done deal, because I have to hire a babysitter, sit beside some snot-nosed kid in a theater. Send it to my digital screen, I'll give you $100. I only watch seven channels, I only want to buy those. I want what I want, and I'm going to get it. If this deal can get me that, I'm all for it. If it doesn't do that, it can just fail."
On government bailouts and small business:
Harrington: "Sure, we've taken care of Chrysler and General Motors and most large financial institutions, but ask some guy in back-street Boston right now if he can raise $100,000 from his bank, and the answer is no. That's a travesty. It's a huge mistake, and we're going to pay for it in the years ahead."
John: "My business is actually 40 percent down because of this, because even if the regular consumer off the street wants the product ... the stores don't have the kind of credit to bring the product in. I have my speciality-store guys who were borrowing from Peter to pay Paul and borrowing money on Amex. They were making the money and paying it back. Those guys are almost dead altogether. Then I have my mid-tier guys who can't clear credit, because the credit is drying up in the market. These guys have been doing business for 20 years. So it's the small guy who's hurting the most."
On how small businesses can survive the recession:
Harrington: "My attitude is, now is the time to survive. Do whatever you can to stay alive, because everything you do now is going to make you a springboard when things turn around. If you can get through these times right now, you are going to be a monster success in two years.
"It takes whatever it takes. If you have to beg and borrow from family, you do it. You do whatever you have to. Sometimes you have to cut your costs. What I find extraordinary is some of these people say, 'I've hired my sister or my brother or my mother.' Fire them if you have to. What matters is the business. You have got to be a Viking to survive."
John: "You have to go lean and mean. You have to cut your inventory, not put on any extra expenses. Don't look at the big profit; look at it as survival. Right now, 50 percent of your competition's going to fall by the wayside. The customers are going to be used to dealing with just you after the next two, three years. You're going to have a better rapport and relationship, and you are going to springboard."
On launching a business in a recession:
Harrington: "At the end of the day, this is still America. You have to do what you have to do to survive, because over and over again, it's proven to be the best place to launch a business on Earth. Let's not forget that. That's why guys who launch during a recession learn they have to live on scraps, and they get a culture of success. It's very important. I love to invest in businesses now. This is the time."
John: "I launched in a recession, actually, in '92."
And finally, John, creator of the FUBU clothing line, on the one celebrity he'd like to dress:
" Lady Gaga is the hottest thing right now. She's amazing. Her A&R has worked her like artists when we were kids. They really have developed this person global with two or three songs. She's the only one. We've had some opportunities to work with her, and I will have some other ones, too."