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Negotiations galore on Shark Tank

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the episodes shown on TV. I am not aware if these points are discussed or addressed behind the scenes.


I have been watching Shark Tank for a long time now. I enjoyed watching Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O’Leary, Daymon John, Robert Herjavec and Lori Griener in the US. As a result of my keen interest developed from watching this show, I have shared some instances and learnings in my book on negotiation, Negotiation Quotient.


Of late, I have been watching some episodes of the Shark Tank India show that was launched in Dec 2021 and recently concluded Season 1. It is interesting to see how vibrant some people make their pitches while others are fairly straightforward. The primary objective for entrepreneurs is to share their pitch to the sharks on the show with hopes to raise some early stage funding in exchange for a percentage equity stake in the company. As an example, Rs.5 Million (Rs.50 Lakhs) in exchange of 10% stake of the company equity. So, this values the company at a total of Rs.50 Million (Rs.5 Crore).


Shark Tank is a show that is brimming with important learning. The strategies, behaviours and tactics are pertinent for anybody who wants to learn negotiation in addition to getting valuable business and entrepreneurship lessons. I am a negotiation enthusiast and teach negotiation. Negotiation is as much an art with behaviours and developing connections as it is a science with numbers and facts.



In this article, I share my observations from the show to appreciate that negotiation goes way beyond just discussing the amounts and percentages.


Interests

While the primary interests of all entrepreneurs is to get some funding from the sharks, they might have other important interests such as to receive the expertise and mentoring from the established entrepreneurs. This is evident in the pitch that entrepreneurs make and the results of the pitch. They are ready to accept a lower offer for the expertise. So, it is important for the entrepreneurs to clearly focus on their interests in the negotiation. If expertise, knowledge and mentoring are the primary interests, they should prepare well to understand which of the sharks they would like to work with and accordingly make the pitch.


Trust and connection

All negotiations require that you build trust and connection. Entrepreneurs can do this via the following:

  • Develop interest with a strong pitch. Many entrepreneurs do it via wonderful storytelling.

  • Use emotions to develop the connection. Share a dream with the sharks.

  • Identify a decision maker, i.e. a shark that you are convinced will be the best for you. As an example, a group of entrepreneurs were seeking funding for their online sports league and platform. They clearly did not do their homework to identify a shark to work with because one of the sharks was also running a similar sporting league. Ultimately, this shark was the one who showed the most keen interest. Address the decision maker.

  • Negotiation is effective if you demonstrate the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) for the sharks.

  • The connection is a great first step but don't overly rely on the connection to get you an offer. You need to demonstrate credibility through your pitch also.


At the same time, the sharks need to demonstrate connection also. Sharks could be negative and demotivating to the entrepreneurs or could be professional and polished. If I was an entrepreneur standing in front of the sharks, I would not go with the former even if I get an offer.


Anchoring

Anchors are the initial amount that the parties mention in a negotiation. This becomes their starting position. Many entrepreneurs come with a big ask (aka a high anchor) and accept a much lower offer from the sharks. This tells me a few things:

1. They came prepared to start with a highball (a very high anchor) but probably expected lower or were okay with a lower offer,

2. They did not really plan their anchor properly, or

3. They did not know how to handle the offer and ended up just accepting it, or

4. In some cases. they genuinely missed the opportunity to negotiate after the tough offer from the sharks.

On the other hand, I have also seen instances where the sharks lowball (a very low anchor from the sharks) the offer. In the case of a team of entrepreneurs, the ask was for Rs.1 Billion. But the entrepreneurs received an offer from a shark for Rs.40M (25 times lower than their ask), a huge variation in the anchors. The final accepted offer after a series of negotiations was Rs.250M.


Entrepreneurs need to plan their anchors extremely well and come prepared to justify it as well as handle anchors from sharks adequately.


Demonstrate the “why” comprehensively

Negotiation is effective if you communicate proactively and clearly.

  • Entrepreneurs should come prepared with all relevant facts, calculations and data points. As an example, all entrepreneurs state their offer as an amount for a % of equity. I would go a bit further to help the sharks avoid a calculation and also state the total valuation.

  • I would also present some numbers on revenues and profits right upfront. You Entrepreneurs should also come prepared with growth numbers. This should be part of the pitch. Shows the sharks that you are credible.

  • One team of entrepreneurs received an offer from a shark and then disclosed that they had received a previous round of funding at a much higher valuation. It would've helped if this was disclosed earlier and the shark would have got a chance to consider this vital piece of information in her offer.


Make up your mind and be confident

Walkaway is a solution. Many entrepreneurs have a strong product and demonstrate a strong passion. However, they tend to accept an extremely low proposal that doesn't justify the valuation. In one case, a shark stated later that he would have accepted a lower equity stake also. This was exactly my thought too as I was watching the pitch, the negotiation and the final result. Be confident to walk away if the valuation of the offer received from the sharks is not justifiable.


These are some observations from watching a few episodes. Every episode presents important learning. I am happy to hear your thoughts or address any questions regarding points stated above.


To learn more about me or my venture, connect with me, follow Propelurs on LinkedIn and visit my website.


This is a personal opinion of Anuj Jagannathan, CEO Propelurs, Negotiations trainer, Author and coach



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