Of Sharks and Inspiration

I like to watch ABC’s “Shark Tank.” It’s a day brightener, even while viewing at night. “Shark Tank” is an unapologetic salute to capitalism and the American way. Each week a few brave entrepreneurs enter the Tank trying to convince the multimillionaire Sharks to invest in their business. The Sharks, all successful entrepreneurs themselves, ask tough questions, offer constructive criticism and sometimes make an offer to become an investor. Sometimes the company is so attractive the Sharks actually bid against each other! It’s the best kind of reality television. The Sharks are real, they invest real money – their own – taking chances on new ideas, new products, and mostly on the “contestants.”

There is no favoritism, no sentimentality. Nobody gets a free ride. To win favor with the Sharks you have to show results: a good idea, solid execution, positive sales, and a record of hard work and devotion to your business. Contestants must have their elevator pitch down pat because they only have a few seconds to snag the Sharks’ attention. Contestants will be scrutinized and grilled, expected to answer tough questions without pausing to think.  “What is your customer acquisition cost? How did you arrive at your evaluation? What’s to stop the big guys from competing with you?”

The entrepreneurs are inventors and innovators. Many of them have left the security of their jobs, invested life savings, and work non-stop in every facet of their company. Their stories are compelling and inspiring. They are young, old, black, brown, white, male, female. They are veterans, housewives, teachers, students, professionals, the skilled and unskilled.

“Shark Tank” reflects values and behavior that extend from our free market system, such as hard work. None of the entrepreneurs coasted to their positions. They invested many long hours and overcame obstacles and roadblocks, a demonstration of their faith and confidence. These business owners never stop believing. They demonstrate individualism and self-reliance, grasping the reins of opportunity without looking for handouts. We see the generosity of the Sharks, who don’t have to give away money or risk investing in small family businesses. But they do. It’s a constant occurrence I see in successful people, the desire to help others. No favoritism, no prejudice. The Sharks are white, black, male and female. They invest in entrepreneurs based on their work ethic and results, not because they need to meet quotas or feel sorry for somebody.

Watching one hour of “Shark Tank” will put you in a good mood. You’ll feel good about yourself and about our country and its system of free enterprise. You’ll cheer for the success of others.

Watching “Shark Tank” reminds me of my experiences as a four-time judge of the Hagerty Small Business of the Year Award from the Traverse City Chamber. Judging takes a lot of time but it allows you to meet the owners, their employees, get behind the scenes and learn their about their business philosophies. I walked away pumped up and wishing that everybody could experience what I just did. We are so fortunate to have these entrepreneurs in our midst. They followed their dreams, worked their butts off and created good jobs. They care deeply about their employees and their community. They contribute to a tax base that allows us to have good schools, safe streets and clean neighborhoods.

If you grow tired of politicians (many who have no experience in the private sector or in balancing budgets) claiming businesses don’t pay their fair share of taxes, or pay their employees too little, or don’t care about the environment, try looking at the positive side of the business world. You can attend the TC Chamber’s Meet the Top Ten Breakfast on May 5. It features the ten finalists for this year’s Small Business of the Year. On May 28, you can attend the awards and recognition event and find out who wins. You can tune in to WTCM NewsTalk 580 every Wednesday at 8:30am for the TC Chamber “Weekly Entrepreneur Focus.” And, you can swim with the Sharks on Friday nights on ABC and look for re-runs on CNBC. It’ll brighten your life!