Mark Cuban’s money has publicly been up for grabs to anyone with the right idea and business plan ever since he joined the cast of Shark Tank. He has invested tens of millions of dollars in dozens of different companies that seemingly have nothing in common with each other. Some of those ventures have thrived and some failed to reach the potential he saw in them, but each piqued his interest with an initial pitch.
Taking a look at some of Cuban’s most noteworthy Shark Tank investments might not show identical patterns—he’s too outside-the-box of a thinker to be predictable with his money—but it might be a glimpse into what a good idea looks like to a man who has heard just about every type of pitch imaginable.
Ten Thirty One Productions
Expanding the next big thing…
Melissa Carbone essentially tried to scare Cuban and the rest of the Sharks into investing in Ten Thirty One Productions, an entertainment company that started with a Los Angeles-based haunted hayride. She brought a zombie and a possessed scarecrow with her to their Shark Tank pitch.
But Cuban wasn’t afraid to partner with Carbone. In fact, he ultimately agreed to what was, at the time, the biggest investment in the show’s history: $2 million for 20 percent of the company. Ultimately, the big motivator seemed to be expansion; what Ten Thirty One Productions had mastered in Los Angeles could someday be replicated in places like San Francisco, Dallas, Miami, New York and Nashville. Some people like to be scared. We’re talking truly terrified, and that’s one thing that you can’t manufacture for yourself. It takes a horrific experience, and for better or worse, Ten Thirty One Productions knows how to provide that to anyone brave enough to step into one of their attractions. Cuban called it the “next big thing,” and quickly convinced them to plan an expansion to Dallas where he lives.
A hustler makes things happen…
Every entrepreneur has their wheelhouse. Cuban’s is technology or software that’s on the brink of becoming ubiquitous. UniKey Technologies came to Shark Tank with the technology and plan to provide customers with a smartphone-based electronic door locking system. It was a product that could render physical keys obsolete.
But as much as he likes good technology, he knows someone resourceful enough to deliver results. Cuban wore a knowing smile on his face when he referred to the company’s founder and pitch man, Phil Dumas, as a hustler. And Dumas, leaning into the role, claimed that his previous title was VP of MIH (Making It Happen). Ultimately he lured Cuban on with a spot on the company’s board.
Owning a good idea…
Cuban wanted to know the history of CoolWraps when Jeffery Miller pitched it on Shark Tanks. It certainly seemed like a good idea—a gift bag that you can put any reasonably-sized gift inside before shrinking the bag with a hairdryer to fit the gift. But why had Miller come up with the product 10 years ago and not made a single sale?
The truth was that he was no salesman. He couldn’t get his product in front of investors, and he couldn’t get adequate loans from the bank. But he did have one thing: a utility patent preventing any other company from taking his idea. So Cuban stepped in, knowing his investment led to stake in an idea with its own cornered market of potential. Cuban’s willingness showed that, while business savvy and salesmanship go a long way, a unique idea is a great place to start.
Making smart moves after the investment…
Cuban isn’t hung up on partnering with the most glamorous of products. He invested in DUDE Products because he saw the vision of its creators to rebrand flushable baby wipes for men. The founders, longtime college friends, were recent college graduates who were brainstorming in their apartment. Perhaps that tugged at the nostalgia of Cuban who made his name as an entrepreneur at the same point in his life. It led to an investment for stake in the company.
He recently applauded DUDE Products in their mid-quarantine decision to amp up advertising while other companies took time to reassess. In a short stretch when toilet paper had become something of a commodity, DUDE Products introduced their business to a broader range of customers.
The Red Dress Boutique
Not looking for hand-holding….
Sometimes the best way to get someone to invest in you is to make it clear that you don’t need them for everything, you need them for something. The Red Dress Boutique was already making millions of dollars when Diana Harbor and her husband Josh came on Shark Tank to pitch their online retailer. “I think the biggest thing is that [Cuban] saw that we were already an established company,” Josh told CNBC. “We weren’t starting from scratch.”
The company wasn’t a finished product, but Cuban was putting his money into something much further along than the idea phase. “We weren’t in desperate need for someone to hold our hand through everything, but we absolutely were seeking his guidance. We wanted a partner that could help us through some high-level decisions during the massive growth that’s coming.”
No one understood Cuban either….
Cuban called the founders of Melni Connectors “delusional” when they told him they valued their company at $10 million. Their product was fairly technical; a faster, cheaper, safer electrical connection technology. The average person might not quite understand its utilitarian benefits. That included most of the Sharks.
Then again, Cuban said that no one really understood his first entrepreneurial ideas in the early days of the internet. The important thing was that they understood how their product could make an entire industry’s life easier. So he invested $500,000 in the company.
Making the investor prove his worth….
iLumi makes color tunable LED smart bulbs that can be turned on or change colors via smartphones. They can be paired with smart speakers and serve as alarm clocks or regular speakers that sync with the light and color of the room. Cuban knew he wanted in because he felt he was the one who could push them forward. “The biggest upside of this company is going to come from ongoing developments,” he said on Shark Tank.
The negotiator that he is, he wanted more than the 15 percent stake in the company. He insisted on 25 percent for his $350,000 investment. So iLumi actually wanted to know how he added value to them. They asked Cuban who he could call on the phone that could “change the game for us?” His answer was simple: “There’s nobody that’s not going to take my call.” It’s all they needed to hear, and the two sides did business.
Photo by Matt Doyle / Getty Images