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Illustration By John Ueland.

What I Learned Visiting the Shark Tank With Mark Cuban

Last September, I asked Mark Cuban if I could shadow him on the set of Shark Tank. He said yes. I got a rare, behind-the-scenes look at how the show comes together. What I learned may surprise you.

Sound Stage 25, a cavernous hangar of a building, sits on the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City, California. Seventy-five years ago, it belonged to MGM, which used it to film parts of The Wizard of Oz, but today it’s the setting for an episode of the ABC reality show Shark Tank. Five millionaire and billionaire investors, the Sharks, sit in leather chairs: Robert Herjavec, Daymond John, Lori Greiner, Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary, and Mark Cuban. Behind them, a fake nighttime cityscape peeks through dark wood plantation shutters. Before them is a supplicant, an entrepreneur who has invented an ingenious lighting system for bicycles. (The episode has yet to air, and a nondisclosure agreement prevents sharing more details.) The entrepreneur hopes to leave with $150,000 in exchange for 10 percent of his company.

John strikes first. “I’m going to get the party started,” he says. “Three hundred thousand dollars for 30 percent.”

There’s blood in the water. The other investors snap to attention, and the intensity of the interrogation picks up. The entrepreneur takes a deep breath and remains calm, giving responses so succinct that they almost sound scripted.

“Do you ever watch the show and wonder what we write on our pads?” Greiner asks. “What I wrote was: smart, driven, idea worth millions. I don’t know if I should even throw out my deal. I’m gonna sit back and think about this.”

The rest of the story.