In a sense, reality TV has been taking up-and-coming talent in one way or another and putting them in touch with entrepreneurs for years. For instance, you could consider the finalists on American Idol as individuals who have a product ready to be mass distributed to make money. It was only a matter of time until a show came along that put “no name” entrepreneurs directly in touch with investors. The results have made for entertaining and inspirational TV in the form of two shows: Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank.
The Show’s Concept
The concept remains the same: Very wealthy venture capitalists listen to pitches by entrepreneurs and if they are interested in the product or service, they invest their own money to help the business grow.
Dragon’s Den originated in Japan, hence the show’s name. Variations of the show then spread to several other countries including the UK, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Israel, Finland, Ireland, the US, and several other countries.
People living in Canada have access to the Canadian Version of Dragon’s Den as well as the American version called Shark Tank. The Canadian show started in 2006. It is one of Canada’s most watched shows with some 2 million people tuning in weekly.
Dragon’s Den has had several people come and go as Dragon but the main ones have included:
Kevin O’Leary: In 1999, he held the position of President when his company sold The Learning Company (which created educational software) to Mattel for $3.8 billion. Yes, billion. It’s thought to be one of the worst acquisitions in corporate history but it made Kevin a billionaire. He went on to work in the investment field. He currently co-hosts The Lang and O’Leary Exchange on CBC News Network with Amanda Lang.
Aside from being the wealthiest Dragon, he has the most dominant personality, the strongest opinions on many issues as we see them on the show, always pushes to see how he’s going to make money with his investments, and is by far the most entertaining to watch. He is like the Simon Cowell of the show.
You can learn a lot from Kevin. He makes valid point about investing as a venture capitalist, and perhaps most interesting are his stories about money being alive. For example, he’ll say something like “I’m trying to protect my money but by giving it to you, I need to be sure that when I send it out into the world, it’s going to find its friends – other dollars – and bring them back to me where I will protect them all.” (Not a direct quote).
Arlene Dickinson: In 1988, she became the owner of Venture Communications. She turned the company into a multi-million dollar, cross Canada marketing firm with offices in Toronto, Calgary, and Ottawa. Arlene is in-touch with what women want in terms of products and services, and knows what she can market to them. She’s the only woman on the show and the other Dragons turn to her for a woman’s perspective. She’s sharp and clearly against any sexual-related products. Unless you’re selling swimwear, don’t come on the show with models in a bikini for no reason other than to dazzle the male Dragons if you expect to get her interested as an investor.
Robert Herjavec: He sold one of Canada’s top Internet security software companies for over $100 million. Robert often talks about bringing items that were pitched home to his kids and is influenced by what he thinks his kids will like or not like. That shows good values. He has an “I could care less” attitude about deals that got away which makes some people think he’s arrogant. Let’s face it, he’s super rich and as a venture capitalist, he doesn’t need you so if he doesn’t invest, so be it.
Jim Treliving: He use to be an Royal Canadian Mounted (RCMP) Police officer and now owns Boston Pizza and Mr. Lube. His restaurants have generated hundreds of millions in sales. Like other dragons, Jim also owns several other businesses which come to light based on the episode. For example, he is involved with a promotions/touring company so when someone came on looking for financial support for their soon-to-be touring dog show, he was the one to potentially get involved (although if he didn’t close th deal).
Brett Wilson: He founded founded FirstEnergy Capital Corp which provides investment banking services to the iol and gas industry in Canada. He is a part owner of an English football team (Derby County Football Club). Brett is known for being involved with various philanthropic endeavours. He had medical problems several years back and sought non-traditional medicine to help him, which comes out on the shows. He tends to give money to the underdogs who are trying hard to move their products. The other Dragons have stated that he’s too lenient with his investments on the show.
While other countries have been enjoying the show for years, the US only got their version of the show in 2009. Better late than never for the world’s most capitalist company.
One of the most notable points about Shark Tank is that Kevin and Robert from Dragon’s Den are on the show. In fact, they dominate the show! The other investors are:
Barbara Corcoran: Her claim to fame is that she had “straight D’s in high school” yet when she borrowed $1,000 from her boyfriend to start a real estate business, she made millions. She’s also a columnist for several magazines and has written several books.
Kevin Harrington: He’s the co-founder of OmniReliant Holdings which is in the “infomercial” industry. He has financed hundreds of products using direct TV marketing as his vehicle, with sales in the billions of dollars.
Daymond John: He’s a fashion designer who’s best known as the founder of the company FUBU (“For Us By Us”) where his clothing line made him millions. Details Magazine once ranked him among the 50 Most Influential Men standings.
Which Show is Better?
First, I’d like to state that both shows are very interesting to watch. If you run your own business, you can actually learn something from seeing how the millionaires and billionaires choose to spend their money. That said, I don’t always agree with their assessment or investment in some products or services.
Here are some comparisons on several levels of analysis (perhaps too superficial in some cases):
Shark Tank took a little bit of time to find it’s own. The first episode had everyone sitting behind a large desk and the doors that entrepreneurs walked through to enter the “tank” were awkward. That was a little surprising since Mark Burnett (producer of Survivor, Donald Trump/The Apprentice) produced the shoe but these issues were fixed within a few episodes. Perhaps the boardroom style table was to emulate the Apprentice. Regardless, each “shark” now has their own chair like in Dragon’s Den.
Dragon’s Den as a show has matured and there have been Christmas episodes and special feature episodes where they go behind the scenes, discussing how the deals really go down, the ones that get cancelled after the show, the due diligence to see if the entrepreur was lying in any way, and of course the successes.
Dragon’s Den has Diane Buckner describes the situation (and we actually see her). The show wouldn’t be the same without her. Shark Tank has a boring voice-over that isn’t particularly pleasant.
The Dragon’s actual “den” is a large, bright basement. It also has a clear room set aside for the entrepreneurs to go into to think over the proposal. The Shark’s “tank” is a dark room with a somewhat tight space for people to present. Even the graphics and music for the show are clearly better on Dragon’s Den.
Dragon’s Den is filled with interesting activity, investor reactions, fun (or aggressive) interactions with entrepreneurs, in-fighting, brief post-deal discussions, and you get a good feeling when watching it. Kevin often takes the lead and others follow. Everyone has a clear or fairly clear personality and they all have something to say.
If Shark Tank didn’t have Kevin and Robert, there would be no show. The business potential of Kevin and Daymond makes you think of one-trick ponies in that if it’s not a single SKU product or in the clothing industry, these guys are out. Barbara is more daring but like Kevin and Daymond, barely speaks.
Dragon’s Den is much more entertaining. There are a lot more investors packed into one hour slots than Shark Tank. Shark Tank spends a lot of time showing people’s family life which nobody really cares about. We want to see lots of products with lots of deals, and follow-ups.
Shark Tank has Dragon’s Den beat when it comes to follow-ups. It looks like the Shark Tank investors are able to fulfill and close the deals much faster. But, this may be due to a pre-screening before people get on the show. For example, people who come onto Dragon’s Den sometimes have nothing but an idea but they still get on. The entrepreneurs on Shark Tank typically already have something going on and perhaps they had to prove that before the show aired so it’s easier to rush it into production. To be fair
Greed & Criticism
Both shows have been criticized for making shotgun deals where people have 3 minutes to give away 20% of their companies and then give up 51% because they are under the gun and want to money and talent of the investors. In real reality, these types of deals are not made so quickly. Then again, it is the chance you take for coming on the show.
Also, giving up so much makes the investors look very greedy, although some entrepreneurs walk away from deals out of complete ignorance as to the great deal they were being offered.
The Bottom Line
Both shows are entertaining to watch but I think Dragon’s Den is a much more well-rounded and interesting show.