‘Shark Tank’ judge visits campus

Author: Jennifer Flanagan

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Addressing a maximum-capacity crowd in Mendoza’s Jordan Auditorium last Friday, investor Kevin O’Leary of the hit ABC show “Shark Tank” shared his thoughts on great entrepreneurship and judged three business proposals pitched by Notre Dame student entrepreneurs.

Before transforming the auditorium into a mock ‘shark tank,’ O’Leary first explained what the show reveals about entrepreneurship.

“The American Dream is alive, and we watch it happen on Shark Tank,” O’Leary said. “Watching Shark Tank is watching the pursuit of freedom.”

O’Leary shared clips from a previous episode of Shark Tank in which mother-and-daughter team Tracey Noonan and Danielle Vilagie pitched their cupcake-in-a-jar business called Wicked Good Cupcakes to demonstrate how the show acts as a platform to such freedom.
Noonan and Vilagie were put to what O’Leary calls the true test — taking a commodity that is ubiquitous in America and building a national brand. O’Leary said the addition of a platform like Shark Tank to a business like Wicked Good Cupcakes substantially contributes to its success and made it possible to build a national brand on something with little proprietary value. Wicked Good Cupcakes is now the fastest growing cupcake company in America.

“Shark Tank is a giant platform, is a giant infomercial worth about $12 million,” O’Leary said.

Following its appearance on Shark Tank, O’Leary said Wicked Good Cupcakes saw sales increase to 15 times what it was before the show aired.

“The Shark Tank factor is very much alive, and I think America has figured that out,” he said.

Shark Tank and entrepreneurship are all about personal freedom, and that’s why O’Leary said he came to Notre Dame — to discuss how that personal freedom can be achieved by future entrepreneurs.

O’Leary organized his thoughts into three different lists that exhibit key traits necessary to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

The first list he shared with the audience stated the three commonalties of all deals ever funded on Shark Tank.

First was the ability of the entrepreneurs to articulate the business’ vision in 90 seconds or less. Second was their ability to convince investors that they were the right team to execute the business plan, and third was a complete comprehensive understanding of their business models and numbers.

The second list elucidated six attributes of what it takes to make a great entrepreneur.

The first attribute is one’s preparation to make a “life/balance sacrifice,” O’Leary said.

“There will be no balance during the period you are growing your business because you have to fall in love with your business,” he said. “It must consume you. It will eat your hours. If you don’t have the passion, your competitor will.”

O’Leary said great entrepreneurs have a little knowledge about everything but a lot about what they are selling. Put shareholders first, have a passion for what they sell, use technology to improve efficiency and understand business is a global competition.

An entrepreneur’s concept of a global market is one of the most important attributes to have, especially in the modern business world, O’Leary said.

“For the first time there are more than a billion market cap companies outside the United States … so in every industry there is a giant competitor,” he said.

Addressing the students in the audience, O’Leary said when “when you graduate, think global because your competitor is, and they want your share.”

After being an investor for a long time, O’Leary said businesses that sustain and maintain profits understand the following rules: employees are the primary assets and are to be anchored by culture, the customer always come first, service trumps price, the boss does not necessarily make the most money, everybody is replaceable and business is war.

O’Leary said knowing business is war is of utmost importance for any entrepreneur hoping to preserve a business, and he warned prospective entrepreneurs to not be distracted by a desire to solve all of society’s problems.

“Your job is go out into the world and understand who you serve, but not solve all of society’s problems,” he said. “Your job is go into war everyday and win. Stay focused to the mission that business is war.”

Next, O’Leary entertained three business pitches from three groups of student entrepreneurs, and he only had harsh remarks for the first business pitch called Aerofit, a chain of airport fitness centers.

“The truth is some ideas are inherently flawed and this [one] is,” he said.

The second team, seniors Joe Mueller and Federico Segura, pitched their business called Sessa, a social investing app, and O’Leary said he was interested and would be in touch.

The final student entrepreneur was freshmen Michael McRoskey who pitched his business called Red Bag, which sells $5 homeless care packages.

O’Leary said he was reluctant to invest in the company for fear it would become more of a charity than an actual business.

Audience members then voted for their favorite business idea via Poll Everywhere. Sessa won the audience vote and walked away with a $100 cash prize and an expectation of a phone call from O’Leary.

O’Leary concluded his lecture with the cheer “Go Irish!” and spent the following day tailgating with fellow Irish fans before attending the Notre Dame vs. Louisville football game.

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