Shark Tank — the reality show where entrepreneurs pitch ideas to a panel of celebrity investors — just wrapped up its 10th season.
That’s 222 episodes, 895 pitches, 499 deals, $143.8m worth of invested capital, and nearly $1B in company valuations.
Looking back at all of this got us curious: How much is the average Shark Tank deal? Are certain entrepreneurs more likely to make deals than others? What types of products are the most successful historically? Which sharks throw down the largest sums of money, and what do they invest in?
Lucky for us, an angel investor (and super-fan) by the name of Halle Tecco has spent hundreds of hours collecting extremely detailed data on every episode since 2009 — and she graciously agreed to share her work with The Hustle.
A small selection of findings:
- 56% of contestants successfully make a deal
- Women are underrepresented on the show and secure smaller deals
- The average deal amount is $286k; the average equity given up is 27%
- Food (20%) and fashion (19%) are the most popular pitch industries
- Mark Cuban is the most prolific deal-maker (151 deals in 10 seasons)
Let’s dive in deeper.
Who are the contestants?
The data we used for this analysis includes: All 895 pitches aired on the show (2009-2019); whether or not each made a deal; industry category; gender of the entreprenuer(s); how much they asked for ($ amount, % equity, valuation); deal specifics ($ amount, % equity, valuation); and which sharks invested.
A big part of any show is who it chooses to include. So, we began by breaking down the demographics of Shark Tank contestants.
Six out of 10 Shark Tank contestants were men, or all-male teams, while less than one-quarter were women. Per the US Department of Labor, women own 36% of all American businesses, meaning that female entrepreneurs are under-represented even in the manicured landscape of reality television.
We’ll come back to this disparity in a bit — but first, let’s take a big-picture look at what types of businesses these 895 contestants pitched on the show.
More than half of all pitches fell into 3 categories: Food & beverage (20%), Fashion/Beauty (19%), and Lifestyle/Home (16%). Booze and cupcakes seem to tickle the Shark Tank producers’ fancy.
Over time, the popularity of certain industries has changed.
Between season 1 and season 10, food and beverage pitches increased by 15 percentage points. In that same period, ideas for children’s products tanked by 10 percentage points.
Now that we have a basic sense of who the contestants are and what they’re pitching, let’s turn to the interesting question: How do these factors affect who gets money?
Who is making deals?
In Shark Tank history, 895 teams have made pitches. Of these pitches, 56% (499 of 895) succeeded in landing a deal.
When we look at the gender breakdown of successful contestants, 57% (284) were men, 27% (133) were women, and 16% (82) were mixed-gender teams — a fairly representative distribution of who makes it on the show to begin with. (Compartitavely, only 2.2% of all VC dollars go to women in the real world.)
But how likely are you to get deal based on who you are and what you’re pitching? The numbers tell a different story when we look at success rates within categories.
Though under-represented on Shark Tank, 60% of women who made it onto the show (133 of 221) got a deal, compared to 53% of men (284 of 535).
Along industry lines, contestants pitching lifestyle/home products seemed to fare the best (61% success rate) — though all major categories had at least a 1-in-2 chance of walking away happy.
Certain niche categories (with smaller sample sizes) had a bit more variance: 75% (9 of 12) of contestants hawking automotive products got a deal, compared to only 35% (6 of 17) in the business services space.
The average deal success rate (56%) has also seen some variance over the seasons.
Ten years ago, only 42% of hopefuls got a deal; this past season, that figure was up to a whopping 68%.
Now more established, the show could be attracting higher-quality, more investment-worthy pitches. But it’s also likely that the show’s producers simply wanted more of the action and positive outcomes that make for good TV.
As it turns out, good TV doesn’t just call for more deals; it calls for better and bigger deals. But certain contestants on the show seem to consistently fare better than others.
What does the average Shark Tank deal look like?
Entrepreneurs come onto Shark Tank with lofty expectations.
The average contestant asks for $301k, is only willing to sacrifice 13% of his/her company, and seeks a $3.6m valuation. But like most things in life, expectations often fall a bit short of reality.
That reality: Though the average dollar amount of a deal ($286k) comes quite close to the ask, contestants sacrifice more than double the stake in their companies for it and walk away with their projected valuation nearly cut in half.
It’s worth noting that these trends have changed in recent seasons.
When the show first began, the average contestant had to give up half of his/her company in exchange for much smaller valuation. Over time, the equity stake sharks take from contestants has greatly diminished (and valuation has gone up commensurately).
But not all contestants have reaped the benefits of these positive shifts.
Female contestants ask for, and receive, much smaller deals than male contestants ($214k vs. $324k). They also sacrifice more equity (30% vs. 26%) and walk away with 23% smaller valuations.
Some might attribute this to the oft-peddled (and largely debunked) “confidence gap” between male and female businesspeople. But the data reveals a more likely cause: In the earlier seasons, the gulf between deals made by men and women was small; around season 6, it dramatically widened.
This spike was caused by a rash of massive deals cracked in the middle seasons, when the show’s ratings peaked.
A look at the highest and lowest valuations in Shark Tank history shows that from this point onward, deals began to skyrocket in size — and the overwhelming majority (80%) of the show’s biggest deals went to male entrepreneurs.
Of the 22 $1m+ deals, only two — less than 10% — went to female, or all-female teams. More than 7 in 10 (and 80% of the top 10) went to men.
To truly understand these figures, and why they’re skewed this way, we have to turn to the people making the deals: the sharks.
Which sharks invest the most money?
Though Shark Tank has seen a rotating cast of guest investors (ranging from baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez to actor Ashton Kutcher), the panel has largely been made up of 6 people:
- Mark Cuban (billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks)
- Barbara Corcoran (NYC real estate mogul)
- Lori Greiner (the “Queen of QVC”)
- Robert Herjavec (computer and IT security founder)
- Daymond John (founder of FUBU clothing brand)
- Kevin O’Leary (software mogul)
Let’s look at their investment history.
Mark Cuban tops out on deals made (151) and total dollar amount invested ($33.6m). This is impressive considering that he didn’t join as a full-time cast member until season 3, but is also expected since he’s the wealthiest of the lot by a country mile (he sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.7B in 1999).
Lori Greiner, who ranks second in deals made (119), was also a late addition to the show. But since joining the cast in season 4, she’s made up for lost time: Combined, she and Mark account for 54% of all Shark Tank deals.
Favored industries closely align with the investors’ backgrounds: Daymond John (FUBU) has a vested interest in fashion, Lori Greiner (the “Queen of QVC”) sticks to quick-selling home goods, and Kevin O’Leary (an ex-software guy) invests in — here’s a shocker! — software.
For fun, we wanted to see how the sharks’ total Shark Tank investments stacked up to their purported net worth (gleaned from Investopedia).
Here, we see a dramatically different picture: While Cuban’s pack-leading $33.6m ranks last against his whale-sized net worth, Greiner’s investments represent nearly a quarter of her reported $100m fortune.
Of course, there are issues with this (these net worths are current, while the investments were made over 10 years) — but it’s still an interesting way to contextualize the money sharks drop in the context of the show.
Lastly, given the show’s gender disparity, we wanted to check the sharks’ track record of investing in female-led companies.
Shark Tank’s two female hosts, Corcoran and Greiner, have the most balanced investment records.
The men, on the other hand, all fall below the average. Some sport embarrassingly low tallies: Famous for being “The Shark With The Sharpest Teeth,” O’Leary doesn’t seem to have much of an appetite for female-led companies, which only make up 19% of his deals; at 17%, Herjavec fares even worse.
It has been said that Shark Tank is an egalitarian realm, where entrepreneurs succeed only on their merit. But as the data shows, television is not immune from the structural imbalances of reality.