An idea floated, and then torn to pieces, on ABC's Shark Tank usually has Kevin O'Leary's teeth marks on it. The sharp-tongued Montrealer groomed in U.S. business takeovers is straddling the border once again, appearing in the first season of Mark Burnett's adaptation of CBC's Dragons' Den, where he already holds court.
Giving sink-or-swim a new meaning, Shark Tank (Sundays, 9 p.m.) invites five self-made business moguls to put their money where their mouths are to share in the profits or losses of the best ideas from entrepreneurial contestants.
What is the biggest difference between Dragons'Den and Shark Tank?
As I expected, in the American version we're exposed to far more deals involving cutting-edge technology, which the States are very comfortable with. I think [Canada]had more product-oriented deals. That's not bad, but remember in Canada we're dealing with an economy a 10th the size of the U.S. So the opportunities have the same potential, but in a smaller market.
Have some of the ideas you've bought into started to bear fruit?
They certainly have the potential to do so. If you look at 1992 to 1999, one in 10 deals was successful both in increasing the value you invested but also providing liquidity. Between 2000 and 2009, one in 26 deals provided that. You've had a significant increase in the risk of being a venture investor. And yet some of the greatest businesses were started in recessions where the entrepreneurs are forced to work with less, and learn very important lessons from that.
When you're really harsh with someone, are you helping them?
When I see somebody come to me who has never tested their idea in the real market, for example they've mortgaged their home and borrowed heavily from family, and I can see plainly that it's an idea that has no merit, what's the right thing to do? To encourage them to go on when you know it's folly? Or to tell them the truth? Some think it's cruel, but it's not. My vision is I'm the Merchant of Truth - and if you can't deal with it, too bad.