If you swim with sharks, don’t expect a dip in the kiddy pool.
Therein lies a lesson learned by some entrepreneurs who emerged from “Shark Tank” dispirited, broken and not only “dead” to the likes of Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary (whose standard send-off is, “You’re dead to me”) but deep-sixed in a business sense as well.
The most recent example of entrepreneurs claiming to be bitten by a shark are Al “Bubba” Baker, daughter Brittani and wife Sabrina.
Founders of Bubba’s Q Boneless Babyback Ribs, they made headlines after alleging that Daymond John renegotiated their deal — allegedly taking it from $300,000 for 30 percent on-air to $100,000 for 35 percent off-air–and iced Bubba out of key business meetings.
John, according to court papers, called the Bakers’ allegations a “smear campaign.”
A judge granted him a restraining order to stop family members from commenting on him publicly.
While restraining orders are extreme, the Baker family members are not the first to lick wounds after a “Shark Tank” appearance goes less than swimmingly.
In fact, despite all the post-deal hugs, Forbes revealed that, from seasons eight through 13, 50 percent of 112 deals failed to go through and 15 percent of them got altered.
Shelly Ehler, 51, from Oxnard, CA, can relate.
When she appeared on “Shark Tank” in 2012 with her ShowNo towels, which allow kids to change out of swimsuits in public while maintaining privacy, she had high hopes.
Especially since Lori Greiner, making her “Shark Tank” debut, made a deal with her, signed a check, on air for $50,000, and gave it to her.
Greiner even upped her offer on air to $75,000 for 25 percent.
O’Leary pointed out that no shark had ever given money spontaneously, without due diligence, and quipped: “You could be an axe murderer.” Greiner hit back: “I know you’re not.”
The next day, however, brought confusion, including over the check, Ehler told The Post. “My full name was not on it. I didn’t know if it was cashable. My lawyer said Lori should send me $75,000 and that I should frame this check.”
Over the months between the show being recorded and broadcast, the two came to a new deal, Ehler said, but it never went into effect.
“My lawyer laughed. He said that I would never make money off this,” Ehler said.
Ehler did not believe that Lori was serious about the deal and it did not go forward.
Greiner’s spokesperson told The Post the shark had put huge effort in, manufacturing the towels, passing safety regulations, and getting them sold in Disney properties “which is not easy to do” and which cost more than $75,000.
“Lori flew Shelly and her entire family (all expenses paid) to Disney World in Florida, from California so they could also be in the ‘Shark Tank’ follow up,” the spokesperson said. (The follow-up was shown later in the same season.)
“Lori and her team worked very hard for Shelly, as she does for everyone,” the spokesperson said, declining to discuss specific details because of “mutual confidentiality obligations.”
The break-up between Ehler and Greiner was bitter, with the would-be entrepreneur emailing the shark, describing herself as a “desperate person on TV” whose “biggest dream” had died.
Ehler’s spokesperson shared a subsequent letter which Greiner sent the shark with The Post, in which the towel maker apologized and expressed remorse for what had happened between them.
As for Ehler and her towel business, she has moved on, and out of the world of the sharks.
“I don’t think Lori meant for this to happen and I am not bitter,” said Ehler who now has a hypnotherapy practice. “It drove me away from being an entrepreneur. I love being a hypnotherapist.”
She holds no enmity against the show.
“Shark Tank” showrunner Clay Newbill — who told Forbes that dealmaking after the show is “between the entrepreneurs and the sharks” — asked Ehler “if I wanted to speak to the show psychiatrist. I said I would take free psychiatric sessions. They helped.”
As one entrepreneur told Forbes of the negotiations, “It was more like talking to a loan shark. The only time it felt like they wanted to close was the handshake on TV.”
But not every deal gone south leaves the entrepreneur in the lurch.
Sometimes the shark lets a good feed swim away.
When Patrick Coddou and his wife Jennifer appeared with their Supply razors in 2019—he explained to The Post that the single-blade safety razors give great shaves and are cheaper than others—they received a $300,000 offer from Robert Herjavec.
“But our deal didn’t go through,” Coddou, 37 and living in Texas, told The Post. “It’s more common than most people think.”
Nevertheless, appearing on “Shark Tank” had benefits. Within a month of the show airing, the couple sold some $1 million worth of products. Then, in 2022, they sold their entire company. “We still owned 100 percent of it,” said Coddou, “which means that we got 100 percent of the purchase price.”
While the sum is undisclosed, he told Forbes that it was “definitely more” than they would have realized with Herjavec.
When Vladislav Smolyanskyy appeared on the show with his Pinblock, which is a a building blocks toy, things had a less happy ending.
At first, after striking a deal with O’Leary, he thought he had received a lifeline.
Little did Smolyansky know that the serious deal making goes down when the stage-lights turn off and the cameras cease to roll.
“I went on there asking for $100,000 for 20 percent of the company,” Smolyanskyy told The Post. “Kevin O’Leary originally offered to do it for 30 percent” – with, as O’Leary stated on the show, “a contingency of putting it in with a very large toy company.”
Smolynskyy did not initially bite at the offer and wanted to see what would come from the other sharks. “Then everybody dropped out and the deal I made had me giving away 50 percent,” continued Smolyanskyy.
“I was unhappy with the deal, but I made it. I needed the partnership [plus the cash that came with it] and was willing to do it. I thought that was the end, but the end was me getting screwed all the way down the line.”
A big stumbling block was O’Leary’s demand that the deal will only hold if Smolyanskyy could get the product licensed to an existing toy company.
On the show, O’Leary said, “This is your one shot to get in the boardroom of the biggest players on Earth.”
As Smolyanskyy remembered it, “The phrase he used is, ‘they all return my calls.’” But he was told O’Leary went to one major toy firm by himself. “It was without me, and they did not see the opportunity. I never got to go in front of the board.”
Kevin O’Leary did not respond to a request for comment.
True to his word, O’Leary dropped Pinblock.
But what really irked Smolyansky is that, beyond not getting the deal, he didn’t get O’Leary.
He claims to have never dealt directly with the Shark — which, he says, might have allowed him an opportunity to salvage the situation.
Instead, he had all of his conversations with an O’Leary colleague: “He was not O’Leary and he was not the shark I struck a deal with.”