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Shark Tank’s Original Shark, Kevin Harrington

We're talking with a shark, not just any shark. He’s the original shark, Kevin Harrington. If you're just getting to know Kevin, he's been a successful entrepreneur for over 40 years. He was on Shark Tank as an original shark. If you didn't know, Shark Tank is an Emmy-winning TV show.

He also is the inventor of the infomercial and As Seen On TV pioneer. He did something cool. He co-founded the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, EO. Kevin has some crazy accolades. He has launched over twenty businesses that have grown to over $100 million in sales and 500 products launched on infomercials online and offline that have generated more than $5 billion in sales.

I'm excited and fired up for you to hear his wisdom on this episode. Specifically, what we get into is what most people don't know about Shark Tank. I also asked Kevin to boil down over all his experience selling all those products. What essentially are his key steps to selling? He actually breaks that down into something incredibly memorable.

It's going to add a lot of value. There are some golden nuggets there. Whether you're starting your own business, whether you want to increase sales, whether you want to be a better person, you are going to love this show.

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Dustin
You've had enough incredible success, launching over 500 products and generating more than $5 billion in sales worldwide. I want you to take us back to that first product you launched. How did you come up with the idea to put it on TV?
Kevin
I was very entrepreneurial and I went to a lot of trade shows. I was at the Philadelphia Home Show. I'm watching this huge crowd around this one booth. You walk into a show and you see one booth over in the corner there with all these people. This guy, he was peering over the shoulders of people probably 30, 40 people surrounding this one guy. He had a knife in his hand. He was cutting through a Coca-Cola can, a muffler and a pair of sneakers. He was selling the Ginsu knife. I saw him collect thousands of dollars over a 30-minute period of time. I'm thinking this is one of the greatest salesmen I've ever seen. What was very interesting is I've listened to him do it several times and it was the same words every time.
After I heard it the third time, it was like, “This guy has the same jokes. The same tempo, the same everything.” That's when I thought this guy's been doing this obviously for a while. What if you filmed that and instead of 10, 20 or 30 people, take it to the masses? I saw some TV channels that were ending at 3:00 AM. They were dark for six hours until 9:00 AM. This was the Discovery Channel. I went to Discovery and said, "If I filmed this, will you put it up?" They said, "Absolutely. We'll run it 30 times for $800." We did the deal. It did tens of thousands of dollars in sales and the rest is history because I'm like, "I've got a new business, buying products and putting them on dead air time." That gentleman's name was Arnold Morris. He brought me Billy Mays. He brought me mixers, blenders, woks, all kinds of kitchen stuff. This was the beginning of the industry. It’s the birth of the infomercial industry. It wasn't even called an infomercial. That's how it all started.
Dustin
I find there's always a set of events or crazy circumstances that led up. Sometimes they prevent entrepreneurs or people that have great success stories from achieving that success. Was there anything stopping you along the way in that first infomercial product? Yanking the thing off TV or someone being sick or anything like that?
Kevin
We had tons of challenges. One is I had no money. I had financed the production, the media, the inventory. That was a challenge. I had to get a merchant account and that was a challenge. I had tens of thousands of dollars when I say no money, but I didn't have millions. I was a young entrepreneur, this was back in the early '80s. To make a long story short, I got past a bunch of different hurdles and got the show on the air. Got shipping the product, got some terms from the manufacturer. Running this all through the merchant account. Then we were having issues with some people obviously. We said, “Money back guarantee in 30 days.” We were running probably 8% or 10% returns. It’s not a big deal. The bank got nervous and they were like, “What is this? You're not getting a signature. These are people. You're selling this over the phone. What do you mean over the phone?” We were doing millions of dollars. I had walked in to get a merchant account they thought it was like a retail store. They didn't even know what I was doing. I'll never forget, one day we had done $10 million in sales. We were running 8% or 10% returns. I got a call from the bank and they said, "We're in the middle of a board meeting over here at the bank. Could we all come over to your office and ask you a few questions?"
I got eight people from the bank that came over because they realized they had processed $10 million in credit cards for me. I had $1 million in returns. Then they were thinking, "What if this guy isn't shipping the other $9 million or something?” It was a small little bank in Philadelphia. The big banks didn't want anything to do with this. I found this little savings and loan that was willing to take the deal. To make a long story short, we ended up surviving through all of that. Merchant accounts from the very beginning was always a headache for entrepreneurs in this direct response space. One day at a later time, I had a bank grab $2 million out of my account because they wanted extra security against returns and chargebacks. That put a big crimp in our operating style for a few weeks also.
Over the years, we've had everything from a terrible product like rusted knives coming in and rusted Chinese woks. I get 10,000 pieces of inventory coming in. It's already sold. I've got everybody waiting for it and it's all rusted. The factory gave me bogus stuff. What do you do? I’ve got 10,000 orders at $40 in order at $400,000 that I'm going to have to refund today. I don't have an extra $400,000 laying around that particular moment. This was back in the early '80s. We learned quite a bit, but we ended up getting lines of credit, establishing relationships and had a lot of fun doing it.
Dustin
Kevin, you discovered one of the greatest pitchmen of all time, Billy Mays. What made him great?
Kevin
He passed away years ago. I did his first infomercial. I did many with him in between, but I did his last infomercial in the face of this Earth. Billy was in tremendous pain in his last days. He had some surgeries. One of the surgeries had gotten infected. He had gangrene in his hip. He was on lots of pain, meds. Some of this might have been what contributed to his passing. To make a long story short, we didn't know it was his final infomercial at the time. He showed up the day of the shoot, he looked terrible. We had to get a lot of makeup on him because he was very peaked. He had no color in his face. He was barely walking into the set.
We started the show and he would deliver a line and everyone was like, "That was amazing, Billy.” He's like, "No, I'm going to do it again. I didn't like that one." He'd do it again and again. Eight times later he did it and then he said, "That one is the keeper. That's one line down. We've got 27 more to go." The guy was a perfectionist. We all were sitting there saying, "That was amazing. We're good with that." Normally talent would say, "You're good. I'm good," but not Billy. Billy knew what it took to make the art of the deal, to make that sale. Down to his last days on the face of this Earth, he would give you everything he had. It was amazing.
Dustin
You were the original shark on Shark Tank. I'm curious to ask you, what do most people not know about the show or the whole Shark Tank process?
Kevin
There are a lot of things they don't know. One of which is a lot of people who film don't actually ever air. People spend years getting on that show. Finally, they get the call, “You're in, get out here.” They've signed the contract already because that's a 27-page document that you sign when you go on Shark Tank. You sign it ahead of time if they decide to choose you. Then they'll call you and say, "We're going to film two weeks from now, get ready.” You fly in. Sometimes they'll pull you before they shoot. Just because you fly in doesn't mean you shoot. If you shoot, it doesn't mean you're going to air. If you weren't good, if you didn't get a deal, if you weren't full of energy, if at the end of the day they didn't think it was good TV, you're out. People would call me and say, "I shot but they won't give me an air date. What can I do?" I'm like, "There's nothing I can do for you. It's up to the producers at that point because they’ve got to mix a good show."
There's one other thing, people have heard this, but not all of the deals happen that you see on the air. A lot of times keep in mind when you're seeing Shark Tank, you'll see five segments in a one-hour show. That's only 40 minutes of content. The average segment is running around maybe eight minutes. That's the pitch. That's the questions. That's everything. They may have taped for two hours so you don't see all the behind the scenes, the contingencies. When someone says, “I'll give you $500,000 for 10%,” they may have been said something afterwards. I want to see a patent or I want to see this or that. They get into the due diligence they change their mind. Things change after the show.
We used to film for five days in a row, take a day or two off and then film another three or four or five days. We're not meeting with the people that we did the deals with after the show because we're filming all day. The next day we follow up at a later time. We’ve got a lawyer on the set that tells you what you pitched, what you agreed to, follow up. We would sometimes never even meet these people and end up doing a deal with lawyers. I always liked to kick the tires and meet the folks especially if I'm in a fund investing. I gave one lady $500,000, another $250,000. There are different deals all over the place. I want to kick the tires, the business before I’m going to write that check. Deals don't always happen the way you see them on the show.
Dustin
Last question about Shark Tank. What was your favorite deal?
Kevin
I had quite a few that I love, but the one that was the most amazing was something that you wouldn't even think it is going to be marketable. I picked it for a reason and I'll tell you why. There's a product called CitiKitty. It's a cat toilet training product. I picked it because they use this for the movie, Meet the Fockers when there’s Robert De Niro and a cat jumps up on the toilet and goes to the bathroom. I picked it because I knew it was going to be a viral spot. This thing went on the Today Show, Good Morning America, The View and Wall Street Journal, Philadelphia Inquirer. We’ve got a huge buzz on it. We took it to the Housewares Show. We got an end cap in Walgreens. We got a free viral buzz to the tune of millions and millions of dollars. This did north of $10 million in sales and it was a $3 piece of plastic that went on your toilet that taught your cat to jump up on the toilet and go to the bathroom. I’d say,“Only in America.” I've sold a lot of great things. A lot of things that people use, Tony Little fitness, Jack Lalanne Juicers and George Foreman. A cat toilet training product is bizarre for me, but it was Shark Tank. It was a viral product and it did some nice numbers.
Dustin
You're the inventor of the infomercial. I think of you as the puppet master of choreography for selling. You've boiled down over your career of orchestrating some massive numbers on TV and offline as well. What are your secrets? I know you've boiled them down over the years into about seven secrets. What are those secrets or the highlights at least of a few of those that people can benefit from?
Kevin
Number one, I like to start with a great product. In the selling process, Zig Ziglar was a mentor to me. He was all about value. One thing to keep in mind is if you're selling prices here but the value is below it, you may not make the sale. You’ve got to create value stacks. This is like the, "But wait, we've got more for you, or wait, there's more.” Some steak knives, a paring knife, whatever, always give good value. Having said that in a selling spot, you’ve got to tease them upfront to get their attention. Tease them with a problem. Start with an attention-getting problem. In our world, you don't have six, eight seconds. Beyond that, people are off to something else. You'll see in the 500-plus deals that I've done, within six seconds I'm giving them some crazy thing that they're now listening, "What was that?" We had a Japanese guy trying to kick his foot through a watermelon. He said, "You wouldn't slice a watermelon like this." That took six seconds. What are you slicing with? A sharp knife, the Ginsu. That was an attention-getter. The problem was you need something sharp to get through something.
Start with that problem, then you please them by solving the problem with benefits and solutions and magical transformations. I don't care if it's a product or a service. You could still use magical transformations and testimonials. You tease them with an attention-getting problem. You please them with solutions, benefits, magical transformations and testimonials. Then you seize them with an irresistible offer. Something that they can't refuse. That means good value, the value stack. You tease, you please, you seize and you’ve got to have lots of benefits and things in the middle of that please section, which are benefits, solutions, transformations and demonstrations. It's about a ten-step process. I summarized it there in three, tease them, please them and seize them. They each have subsets inside of them.
Dustin
Fear and self-doubt often stop people from achieving success. I remember seeing you speak once and you took out a sheet of paper from your wallet. What was your system and what was on that sheet of paper?
Kevin
I love Zig Ziglar and he said, "You can get everything in life you want if you help enough other people get what they want." That wasn't the one I think. This was my belief. I wake up every day and my wife says, "I don't care if you went to bed at 2:00 AM, you wake up like a rocket ship every morning.” I’m like, “I have this philosophy that whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon, must inevitably come to pass.” That was a quote from one of my favorite old guys in the day Paul J. Meyer from the SMInstitute. I believe you can get whatever you want. Napoleon Hill had something similar back in his day. It wasn't quite as extensive as that. In Napoleon Hill's book,Think and Grow Rich was a game-changer for me. Paul J. Meyer and Zig Ziglar, some of the old-time guys, I love some of the things that I learned from those guys. I say back to the future, here we are in 2018 and I'm still listening to tapes and quotes from the good old boys.
Dustin
What has been your biggest defining moment? Here's what I mean by that. Something that you decided now looking back like, "I made this decision and it dramatically changed the course of my life." What would be that thing for you?
Kevin
I'm one of six kids. I didn't come from money. My father was a bartender. He saved up enough money to open his own bar. He said, "Kevin, you’ve got to own your own business, control your own destiny." I was the fourth of six. My oldest sister, she was a teacher. She married a doctor. My next sister was a teacher, she married a lawyer. My brother was a corporate guy. They all graduated from college and corporate world working for Gillette up in Boston. Then I come along and my mom was like, "You're going to graduate from college. You're going to be a doctor or a lawyer." My dad was like, "Forget that. You're going to be an entrepreneur." I said, "Mom, we already have my two older sisters, one married to a doctor, one married a lawyer. We got that covered. I'm going to be the entrepreneur."
I quit college. I continued to build a business that I had. That's when I decided that I could do everything that I wanted to do by building my own businesses, controlling my destiny. I decided the degree that I would get wasn't going to be worth the time away from the businesses that I had when I was in college. I had 25 employees when I was a junior in college. I had a million-dollar business back in the '70s, which is in this world, it's about $5 million a year in sales. Twenty-five people, $5 million in relative sales while I was in college. My mom was saying, "Don't miss class.” I was like, "I'm done." I started from there to be very curious, to find the latest and the greatest, and then I ran into infomercials and the rest is history. Billions of dollars in sales later, I'm glad I chose to go that way instead of the corporate path because who knows where I would have ended up? I think it ended up pretty good in the process. God bless both my mom and dad. They both passed away since but, in that case, I'm glad I listened to my father.
Dustin
Thank you big time for being on the WealthFitNation. I appreciate it. You’re the original shark. Where can folks continue with you and follow your journey?
Kevin
My website is a great place,KevinHarrington.tv. We’ve got lots of stuff there. It's all about empowering entrepreneurs to greatness. My next 30 years of my life I'm spending empowering entrepreneurs. I do a little speaking, I do a little traveling, connecting with entrepreneurs. We seem to run into each other on a regular basis. Congratulations on what you're doing and if we need to follow up with a longer format of this another time, I'm happy to do that. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to your crowd. KevinHarrington.tv, check it out.
Dustin
Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate you and see you soon.
Kevin
Thanks. Two thumbs up to you.
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