Outside a lighthouse in Portland, Maine, there's a truck that sells lobster.
This, in and of itself, should not surprise you. Everyone and everything in Maine sells lobster. The dive bars here sell lobster. Vegetarian restaurants here sell lobster. The highway rest stops in this state sell live lobsters, cramming tanks in between unmotivated Starbucks SBUX employees and the Auntie Annie's booths.
More surprising is the pedigree that this truck advertises. Directly on the top is a banner claiming that this business grew from a pitch on Shark Tank. Somehow, someone came onto ABC's wildly successful investment show and convinced a millionaire that they'd had the groundbreaking idea to sell lobster in Maine.
If nothing else, we should give this food truck credit for sheer marketing moxie.
Shark Tank first aired in 2009 based on similar shows from Britain (called the Dragon's Den) and Japan (Tigers of Money). It features a team of investors billed as some of the sharpest, most successful business minds around (the "sharks"). Regardless of their actual success, ranging from Richard Branson to Ashton Kutcher, certainly, these investors have a talent for finding the right PR agents.
Aspiring entrepreneurs come on the show and pitch business ideas to the sharks who decide whether or not to invest in these startup companies. While offering feedback on someone's line of Whoopsy Kitten handbags may not be quite up to Gordon Gecko's standards, this show has launched several very successful businesses. It's the American Idol of capitalism, and here are 10 of its biggest success stories:
Most Successful Shark Tank Products:
1. The Scrub Daddy
Now and again a reality show hits it big. Not just Instagram influencer/music festival promoter/part-time Applebee's host big either (although that last is a respectable profession). They legitimately get the fame and fortune that these shows promise.
For Shark Tank, that's the story of the Scrub Daddy.
The company behind this happy little sponge had seen some limited success but had mostly struggled for nearly six years before appearing on Shark Tank in 2012. The company had barely cleared six figures of revenue in the previous two years, but they had a good product in their durable sponge designed to clean without scratching. So good that since investor Lori Greiner bought in, the company has sold more than 25 million sponges and is today worth $170 million.
Greiner's stake in that fortune? Twenty percent. Perhaps we shouldn't have been so quick to poke fun after all.
As you will see, we had no idea what we were talking about up there in the introduction. On Shark Tank, they don't kill themselves researching and hustling and chasing investment opportunities all over Wall Street. The sharks sit back in comfortable green rooms and let multi-million dollar opportunities compete for the chance to come to them.
Case in point: Bombas.
This little company brought nothing more to the table than a better way to make a pair of socks. An item that people wear almost every day. An item that you don't notice until it itches, scratches or has a hole in it. An item that can make you look quietly foolish if it clashes with your pants or shoes.
There's a reason the old saying is "build a better mousetrap." That reason has brought this "little" company more than $100 million per year in sales.
3. Tipsy Elves
Tipsy Elves is the result of two different universal truths working at the same time. The first is that people love wearing ugly clothes. It's an odd fact of life that has transformed into several different beloved holiday traditions (lookin' at you, ugly sweater parties). The second, a truth universally acknowledged that a corporate lawyer in possession of a soul must be in want of a different job.
Tipsy Elves is the result of a former corporate attorney (tip of the hat from one reformed lawyer to another) and a former dentist who founded the company before quitting their jobs. It sells ugly, garish, wonderfully tacky clothing to people in need.
Over $70 million worth of the stuff.
4. Squatty Potty
This falls into the same category as Bombas. While most entrepreneurs dream of ways to change the world, while they feverishly work on hydrogen-powered cars and the script for "Say Anything 2," perhaps the most effective path to success is in the simple things. Businesses that make everyday tools better, cheaper, or more efficient will virtually always thrive.
This, we can't stress enough, is what the saying means to "build a better mousetrap." It comes from an era when everyone needed mousetraps. To build a better one meant that you could regularly make a customer's life easier.
The same can be said of a toilet. Little has been done with the modern toilet in a long time, which is an odd period of stagnation for a product that everyone relies on every day. The market agreed, and this Shark Tank bathroom accessory saw more than $33 million in sales by the end of 2017.
5. Cousins Maine Lobster
Does this sound familiar? It should sound familiar.
Yes, this is the company we made fun of up top. Well the joke's on us, isn't it?
Cousins Maine Lobster is a food truck company dedicated to serving Maine lobsters well outside their home state. And you know what? It turns out that people all around the country love the chance to eat Maine lobster. Running down to a food truck so that you can grab a quick lobster roll in L.A. is a luxury that the city didn't have before.
Now it does, and a grateful nation has rewarded founders Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac with more than $20 million a year in sales as a result.
6. Bubba's-q-Boneless Ribs
I'll admit it's surprising at how many food-based businesses have found success on Shark Tank. It's not that a good restaurant can't make it. Successful chefs and owners have made millions in the service industry. It's that food service is such a volatile, unreliable business, one that depends on many factors well outside of the owner's control. This seems like a surprising choice for major investors looking to grow their money.
But this is why they have millions to invest and my retirement account is a box full of old Magic cards. They see the opportunities that, to me, look like a 20 - 90% failure rate.
Take, for example, Bubba's-q-Boneless Ribs. Thanks to his success on Shark Tank, owner Al Baker has turned his already comfortable business into one with more than $16 million in sales.
7. Red Dress Boutique
Boutiques aren't just about floor space. They're about style and image. They're about how a line of fashion makes you feel, and what it says to you about yourself. They're about access to clothes that make you comfortable, and they're about prices that make you feel smart.
All of this is something Red Dress Boutique knew long before they set foot on Shark Tank, which is why they had to go on the show. The little store based in Athens, Georgia had thrived in an environment free of big box stores. (Who wouldn't?) But they'd gone as far as they could go. A women's clothing shop with a small storefront and a growing online business, Red Dress Boutique needed the money to expand.
They got it, and they did it. These days the company has taken Mark Cuban's money and turned it into more than $15 million in sales.
GrooveBook is a little bit of a different story. This isn't just about a business that did well and turned a steady profit. No, GrooveBook is a company that makes a mobile app. Their subscription service lets you take up to 100 pictures off your phone every month and receive them as a book of 4.5-inch by 6.5-inch prints.
So, as a technology company, naturally, GrooveBook has been acquired.
The company made waves when it received funding from multiple investors on Shark Tank. That made such a big difference that less than a year after appearing on the show GrooveBook announced that it had been bought by Shutterfly for $14.5 million.
9. Wicked Good Cupcakes
Step one: Cupcakes.
Step two: By mail.
This may be the best idea I have ever heard of, and I just finished researching an article about modern antibiotics. Yes, Cipro can save lives, but can it get me a dense, chocolate treat with the buttercream frosting still intact? Can it keep the cake inside moist and the decorations crisp? Because if not, then we don't have much more to talk about.
Wicked Good Cupcakes' core business is shipping its signature cupcakes in small mason jars that keep the product safe and fresh. From that, the company has grown to more than $14 million in sales.
Which, pretty much entirely makes sense.
What is the ReadeREST you might say? A way to not lose your glasses.
That seems pretty useful you might reply! Many people would agree with you.
ReadeREST makes small magnetic clips that people use to hold their glasses. They attach to your clothing, typically someone will place the holders on their shirts, with no need for a pocket. Then they simply slide their glasses in and out as needed without worrying about loss or damage.
Before appearing on Shark Tank this company had reached about $65,000 in sales according to host Lori Greiner's website. Today that number has climbed to more than $38 million. Not bad for a little set of magnets.
Dishonorable Mention: Breathometer
In every success story, there are some faults. In this case, that's the Breathometer.
This product got attention not only for attracting investment on Shark Tank but also for its remarkable claims. According to Breathometer, they could measure your blood alcohol level by harnessing the power of the iPhone. The company's product was a mobile phone-based breathalyzer. It sold the devices on the promise that purchasers could use Breathometer to make sure they didn't drive drunk.
Well, the FTC tested that claim and found it wanting. So much so in fact that the agency has ordered Breathometer to offer a refund to every customer who purchased its Original and Breeze line of products.
With about $20 million in revenue, that might add up to a lot of refunds.