Getting Schooled by Sharks

A few weeks ago, I was watching a show called Shark Tank with my 10 year old son and almost immediately realized that it’s a great way to subtly expose your kids to a subject that wouldn’t necessarily interest the majority of the tween/teen-ager set.  The subject – venture financing – including start-up capitalization, equity negotiations, licensing, revenue sharing, the power of salesmanship and a whole host of other key aspects of starting and building a successful business.  It’s like sneaking spinach into brownies (hey – it’s Mrs. Seinfeld’s recipe).  Airing on ABC on Friday’s at 8pm (EST), the show is mainly comprised of entrepreneurs and business people pitching a wide range of business/product ideas to five “sharks” who decide there on the spot whether or not to invest in the “contestant’s” business.

The five sharks are usually Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, technology innovator Robert Herjavec, fashion whiz Daymond John (started FUBU) and venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary all who usually battle each other for a piece of the action (sometimes they work together to partner on a deal). They actually have a fun repoire with each other but it sometimes can get a bit nasty – which makes for more interesting viewing.

What became clear is that the show’s hook is whether the offer (usually in the form of equity) is worth the risk that the investors take in order to invest in the company. Sometimesthe ideas are really great but the valuations are completely off, sometimes it’s the other way around. During the back-and-forth between the sharks and the entrepreneur, there’s great moments – especially with a young kid (10 years older) watching, where you can pause the show (assuming you’ve got a DVR) and ask them to compute what a company is worth if the entrepreneur is offering 20% of his company for $100,000. There’s a lot of moments like that…

As the sharks react, negotiate and ultimately decided whether they’re in or not, there’s a slew of mini-lessons on the fundamentals of valuing businesses and what is involved to take an idea from inception and bring it to market. Here’s a link to some video clips. It’s a well-paced entertaining experience with the typical reality-show manufactured dramatic build-ups and resolutions but despite the contrived nature of the productions – the real value is the way that kids can develop an understanding of what is seemingly the boring dry financial aspects of business without feeling they’re in a lecture. Think of it as sugar coated spinach.

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The Wealth of Khan…

If this post is the first exposure you’re having to Khan Academy, if definitely won’t be your last (whether you have school-aged children or not). The online collection of over 3,000 “mini-lessons” was started by Salman Khan (an ex-hedge fund analyst) as a way to tutor his niece on some challenging math concepts. He figured is was easiest just to post them on YouTube so she could access them anytime and lo and behold six years later the little simple approach he started has delivered over 135 MILLION lessons to people all over the world and is considered to be having a tremendously significant impact on the delivery of eduction to pupils and how to leverage the internet to do so.

I had heard about Khan roughly a year ago after the press got hold of Bill Gate’s endorsement of Salman and that Mr. Gates uses Khan Academy for his kids. After a recent 60 Minutes episode – I went there with my 10 year old to check it out and can now safely say that it’s a daily part of my son’s homework routine. Two videos per day – one has to be math oriented (currently multi-variant algebraic equations) and the other can be math or something else that interests him. If you haven’t been there – and you have kids (even if you don’t) – it’s a treasure trove a bite-sized 2-7 minutes “lessons” on almost all the major areas of human endeavor including math, physics, history, science, chemistry, biology, economics/finance, computer science, biology and many many more. Hey, if it’s good for Bill….