Reality shows in India have turned into a cultural phenomenon captivating audiences across the nation. Offering a fascinating glimpse into the lives and talents of ordinary people, these shows serve as a sort of inspiration for the common man watching. ‘Shark Tank’ is one such show that has joined the ranks of many of the other popular counterparts like ‘Indian Idol’, ‘Dance India Dance’ and ‘Bigg Boss’ which successfully blur the boundaries between scripted entertainment and real experiences. Originally an internationally acclaimed reality show that brings together aspiring entrepreneurs and seasoned investors, the Indian rendition of Shark Tank shows and focuses on the spirit of Indian entrepreneurs and business acumen of investors such as Peyush Bansal – Co-Founder and CEO of Lenskart, Namita Thapar – CEO of Emcure Pharmaceuticals, Anupam Mittal – Founder of Shaadi.com, Vineeta Singh – Co Founder and CEO of SUGAR Cosmetics, Ashneer Grover – Former Co-Founder and Managing Director of BharatPe, Ghazal Alag – Co-Founder of Mama Earth and Aman Gupta, Co-Founder and CMO of boAt. And while the phenomenon of Shark Tank in India has undoubtedly had an impact by highlighting the potential of India’s startup ecosystem and inspiring aspiring entrepreneurs by showcasing success stories, it also has a dark side.
The show creates a high-stakes environment, with intense pressure and a certain scrutiny that is faced by entrepreneurs during their pitches. Oftentimes, the entrepreneur’s goal to impress and align themselves with the values of the “Shark”, overshadows the long-term goals and sustainability of their startup. The emphasis on dramatic narratives and flashy pitches tends to represent a highly curated and condensed version of an entrepreneurial journey, often leaving out the real challenges and failures faced by startups in the real world. The show also often places a heavy emphasis on the personal brand and story of the entrepreneur, rather than focusing on the actual business and its viability – personal branding is important but an excessive focus on it tends to undermine the significance of sound business strategies and strong market potential, leading to a disproportionate evaluation of entrepreneurs that is based on their personal charisma and charm, rather than the substance of their business plan.
Recent information coming to light raises even more concerns with regards to the shows approach and integrity – some contestants have experienced the frustration and disappointment of not receiving the promised funding, negating the entire experience of coming onto the show, creating a compelling pitch, and doing their best to secure funding to fulfill their business’ short term and long-term goals. The reasoning behind the delayed funding lies in the deliberate tactics employed by Sony and the Sharks to avoid accountability.
According to a tweet by Anmol Sharma – an entrepreneur and content creator who shares stories related to finance and economics over social media – the Sony team wraps up post-production of the show between December to January to get it ready to air. Since start-ups and entrepreneurs are promised funding between the months of August and November, their funding ideally should be secured within two months since due diligence and legal proceedings do not exceed that timeline. However, the timeline of the show reveals that after the physical pitches, there is a significant period before the show airs and during this time, the Sharks wait to gauge the impact of the “Shark Tank Effect” on startups by monitoring website traffic, sales, and interest shown by other investors. In case the response is not favourable or up to the expectations they prolong the process, leading to further delays in the investment and potentially try to get out of the agreement altogether.
A situation such as this has lasting effects on the entrepreneurs that go beyond fiscal issues. Since the show is nationally televised, many other investors are aware of certain entrepreneurs appearing on the show and receiving the promise of an investment by an established Shark. The lingering association with the show and its unfulfilled funding ends up overshadowing the true potential and viability of the startup, with these other investors being wary of engaging with a venture that is perceived as having missed opportunities or encountered setbacks on a nationally recognized platform. This further creates a sense of dependency on the Sharks, making it difficult for entrepreneurs to explore any alternative funding options or convince other investors to commit capital to their venture.
On the flip side, the Sharks are the ones who continue to gain more social recognition and brand benefits, despite having an established and decorated career in their domains.
Peyush Bansal, for instance, has gained popularity and is now starring in a television commercial for his brand Lenskart along with renowned director and producer, Karan Johar. Anupam Mittal and Aman Gupta have also gained massive recognition and popularity since the show, and are frequently invited to conferences, podcasts, and red-carpet events. Ashneer Grover, despite stepping down from the show, is a fan-favorite due to the way he would command himself during pitches, and as a result has launched a book with record-breaking sales. The show seems to be designed in a manner that dramatizes entrepreneurial activities and gains traction and viewership, which ultimately benefits the Sharks and promotes their personal brands – its focus on elevating the Sharks and the show’s Target Rating Point (TRP) has overshadowed the intended goal of benefiting the aspiring entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship is a multi-faceted and grueling journey that is already riddled with setbacks and obstacles, and the entrepreneurs appearing on Shark Tank India face the added challenge with the perils of delayed funding. Shark Tank India can be a transformative platform that fuels the growth of India’s startup ecosystem and elevates entrepreneurship, but overshadows the true essence of entrepreneurship and reduces itself to a reality show spectacle that ends up diminishing the significance of the main concept altogether.
Words by Esha Aphale.
Cover Image via Tumblr.