Why These Shark Tank Investments May Not Have Much of a Bite

In August 2009, ABC premiered a business reality series called Shark Tank. It is based on the international format Dragons’ Den, which originated in Japan as Money Tigers in 2001. To date over $200 million has been invested in the various products and services by the Sharks. The show has become a worldwide phenomenon to say the least.  

We at System1 decided to dig a little deeper, dare I say take a bite out of some of the products the Sharks invested in this past season and see how they fared with our Test Your Idea (TYI) platform. 

TYI predicts the in-market success of ideas using ‘Wisdom of the Crowd’ methodology, which involves surveying a diverse group of people to understand the collective opinions about a topic or idea. Essentially what we do is blend our understanding of human psychology and behavioral economics expertise to unearth the emotional resonance and predicted acceptance based on how fluent the idea is. 

From here a single 1-5 Star Rating is created based on the above metrics with 5-Star ideas being 3 times more profitable than 1-Star ideas. 

The Top 15 & How They Fared

For our exercise, we focused on the 15 products which drew the largest investment from the Sharks on season 14 of the show. The products ranged from a pest control system to sustainable and refillable medicine pouches and containers, to a concierge breast milk freeze-drying service.  

A wide, eclectic group to say the least.  

As for how each of the 15 scored in our Test Your Idea platform, see for yourself. Spoiler alert, there are NO 5 Star ideas. Moreover, there are no 3- or 4-Star ideas, either. In fact, only 3 of the 15 barely made it over 2 Stars!  

You can read all the details on the testing we did for all 15 products here. But before you do that, keep reading as we delve into why none of the products that received the biggest investments from the Sharks scored well in our testing.  

Let’s look at a couple of the specific products and the reasons why they may have scored so low in Test Your Idea.  

The first product is Milkify, the aforementioned concierge breast milk freeze-drying service.  

This is the image shown to the Crowd (US Gen Pop 18-64).

As you can see from the report findings below, this idea fared very poorly across the board receiving the lowest Star Rating of all of the products tested (1.2). For Milkify, it’s more about the lack of relevance to people coupled with concerns of contamination or having others handle their breastmilk (i.e. not trusting that they will really get their own breastmilk back) that makes it backfire. It’s a novel idea but lacks the consumer need to make it a successful idea. 

Some of the specific feedback received speaks to this: 

  • “I wouldn’t know if it was really my breast milk.” 
  • “I wouldn’t trust a service to handle breast milk.”  
  • “It’s too personal and too subject to contamination.” 

The next product is Tia Lupita Foods, a line of healthy, Mexican-inspired food using clean and sustainable ingredients.  

By contrast this idea fared better, albeit nominally, compared to Milkify as seen by its higher overall Star Rating and Predicted Acceptance rate. In the case of Tia Lupita, the product definitely piqued curiosity, however, people are apprehensive about the taste.  

Here’s some of what consumers had to say about it:  

  • “The packaging looks appealing.” 
  • “Mexican food is very popular and this one seems healthier than others.”
  • “Food made out of cactus is not something people would buy unless it was cheap.” 


The Other 80/20 Rule  

So why did all the 15 products we tested score so low? To answer that we need to look at the 80/20 Rule.  

Most people, when they see or hear the 80/20 rule, they immediately think of The Pareto Principle. You know the one which states that 80% of outcomes are derived from 20% of your actions. Or in the context of marketing and business, 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. Of course, we all know this rule has been debunked, right? Of course, we do.  

Be that as it may, allow me to introduce you to The Other 80/20 Rule. This particular rule states that any new product or service, etc., should be 80% familiar and 20% new or novel.  

In other words, consumers for the most part, like having some sense of familiarity with anything new. They prefer to not be overwhelmed with something completely off the wall, which can make a concept difficult to process or understand. Another way to put it is we think much less than we think we think.  

For example, did the world need or was it even ready for a product that freeze-dries breast milk? In our research, in addition to asking what emotions someone feels while reviewing an idea, we also ask for specific reasons behind these emotions. As you recall, Milkify received a fairly high score for Contempt and Disgust and among the reasons given were:  

  • “I wouldn’t know if it was really my breast milk.” 
  • “This is an unnecessary product and revolting.”  
  • “I wouldn’t trust a service to handle breast milk.” 

In other words, Milkify went way beyond the 80/20 Rule; more in the 60/40 camp or even more weighted to the new side.  

As for Tia Lupita Foods, while this idea did fare better than Milkify, the specific reasons behind the low scores speak to perhaps why this product also fared poorly:  

  • “Nothing stands out for this product.”  
  • “Food made out of cactus is not something people would buy unless it was cheap.” 
  • “I really don’t think it’s something that would sell.”  


Rules Are Meant To Be Broken  

I could have very easily titled this section one size does not fit all. Whether you look at it through the 80/20 Rule of familiarity vs. New, or there is no one and only way of creating an idea or product that is guaranteed to succeed – the premise is basically the same.  

To illustrate this point, let’s look at some of the most successful products in the history of Shark Tank. Each of these products have generated a minimum of $100 million in sales each.  

The Comfy: Billed as a blanket with a hood, the Comfy exploded onto the scene in 2018, amassing $20 million in sales in its first full year in business. Does the Comfy fit, pun intended, comfortably, in the 80/20 Rule? I can make the case that it does for we all know what a blanket is. However, this product falls more in the 70/30 or even lower range as it took two familiar products – a blanket and a hoodie – and made them into singular novel item.  

Scrub Daddy: A reusable sponge in the shape of a smiley face that is now just one part of an entire family of brands with lifetime revenue of over $1 billion. I wrote a piece for my Forbes column years ago as the brand was taking off. I caught up with the inventor Aaron Krause and asked him what was it about the original Scrub Daddy that appealed to consumers. He told me there are many appealing aspects including no odor, no scratches, texture changing and ergonomics and of course, the smiling face.  

Squatty Potty: A toilet stool that promotes easier bowel movements or, as the Washington Post put it, provides “the finishing touch to pooping properly.” Obviously, this is a topic some folks are uncomfortable talking about but with lifetime sales over $175 million, the idea clearly struck a nerve. Why? Well for one thing, it is something we all do as per the classic children’s book. No matter how uncomfortable it may make you feel, it is still a fact of life. So, yes there was most certainly the familiarity factor at play here.  

As for the novelty factor, I would say this goes above the 20% line. It would probably fall in the 80/40 range. Yes, I know that adds up to more than 100% which makes no sense. But that’s part of the point. Sometimes the most-successful products or ideas don’t make sense, on the surface anyway. 

So, what’s a marketer to do?  


Go Test, Young Man  

American history buffs will pick up on my play words. The original phrase, “Go west young man” was coined in the 1850’s during America’s expansion westward. In this case, it’s all about testing a given idea or concept before it hits the proverbial streets.  

In a piece written earlier this year, my colleague Will Goodhand, highlighted the 80/20 Rule and answered the “elephant in the room” question: How can marketers be sure they’re on the right track, getting the balance about 80/20 for a concept which meets consumers’ current needs? 

“Inevitably, it calls for testing – but keeping it light and early stage,” says Goodhand, adding that at System1 we advocate testing a number of concepts to home in on the sweet spot, AKA the one to go to market with.  

To learn more about Test Your Idea, just click on that big button below. We’d be more than happy to show you and tell you all about it so you can predict the in-market success of your next innovation.  

And as for which, if any, of the 15 ideas we tested will become successful, that is to be determined, of course. Based on our findings many will have trouble finding success. However, some in fact may be successful as a niche-type product. The next season of Shark Tank debuts later this month, and we’ll be sure to highlight the products that consumers predict will win big.