How I Stayed Calm When Mark Cuban Called Me a ‘Gold Digger’ on ‘Shark Tank’
Editor’s note: Entrepreneur Yunha Kim failed to get the $600,000 investment (for a 5 percent stake) she had hoped for, for her meditation app, during Sunday’s Season 9 premiere of Shark Tank. What Kim did get was some sturm und drang between the sharks: When Mark Cuban dismissed Kim as a “gold digger” — meaning a well-heeled entrepreneur who comes on the show purely for the publicity — Branson took offense on Kim’s behalf. He lobbed a glassful of water at Cuban, who was less than amused and angrily returned the insult.
Here, Kim, who admitted she had previously raised $2.8 million from other investors, offers advice to other entrepreneurs pitching investors and what it feels like to be caught between two investor-sharks bloodying the waters.
On Sunday night, I turned down a $600,000 investment offer from Sir Richard Branson and Robert Herjavec on the season premiere of Shark Tank, which grew a bit heated compared to previous episodes of that popular show. Specifically: Richard Branson threw water on Mark Cuban, and Mark Cuban called me a “gold digger.”
And afterward, I had to ask myself the question, “How did I stay calm?”
The truth is, I didn’t. But I was able to stay composed. When you’re pitching investors and trying to hide your shaking knees — when emotions, stakes and pressure are all running high — here is my advice on how to stay calm.
Rule 1: Prepare by knowing ahead of time your investment “comfort zone.”
Prepare for every situation imaginable in the pitch room. This exercise will ultimately help determine the types of negotiations you’re willing to make. During the week of taping in June, I started to prepare for every fathomable scenario with the sharks: disinterest, skepticism, confusion, eagerness — and the types of deals I would strive to cultivate from each situation. I asked myself: What is the worst deal I will accept? Knowing the answer to those questions was critical for me once the cameras began flashing and energy took over.
When I received that first offer, from Richard Branson, whom I consider a role model, my excitement soared through the roof. This was a dream come true, and my reactive self was ready to exclaim, “Hell, yes!” But I knew Richard’s offer was not the best deal for my company and company investors. I decided to practice discipline and respond rather than react. It took some courage, but I politely declined.
During the months between my invitation to pitch on Shark Tank and the actual taping, I had been able to raise $2.8 million from Silicon Valley investors. So, when I went to the set prepared to pitch, I knew I would turn down any deal that put my company at a lower valuation (and that was my assessment of the offers I got separately from Branson and Robert Herjavec: $600,000 for 10 percent equity and a counter of $500,00 for 5 percent).
Our current investors had taken a chance on us at a much higher valuation many months before the episode was filmed, and that mattered to me. I couldn’t watch our valuation drop.
In short, set foot in the tank with the intention of securing an investment, but not at all costs. So, my advice here is, Always plan so that you know: 1) the worst deal you will accept; and 2) when you will ultimately (and responsibly) need to walk away.
Rule 2: Expect naysayers, but don’t be discouraged by them.
As you prepare for your own investment pitch, one of the scenarios you will likely rehearse for is being told “no.” I anticipated that the sharks would be surprised by my post-investment valuation, and I had a good answer: My company had strong recurring revenue and a strong growth rate — and I shared this on stage. My company’s growth and growth potential weren’t enough to interest all the sharks, however, and I eventually received some pretty harsh “no’s.”
As an entrepreneur, you too will get 100 “no’s” before you get that one “yes.” You will always have skeptics who question your company. Being an entrepreneur means you will be told no from investors you want to secure, employees you want to recruit, customers you want to earn. The “no’s” are frustrating, and over time, they can start to feel personal.
The first time I attempted to fund-raise, I remember, I felt as if I was on a roller coaster every time I pitched. But I learned to be resilient (and I credit this to meditation.) You will always have people who naysay your pitch. And the “sharks” in your business life will be no different. Remember, you’re not building a company for the people who don’t believe; you’re building it for the people who do.
My advice: Instead of being discouraged, take these moments as an opportunity to practice resilience. This brings me to my next rule.
Rule 3: Meditate to be resilient.
Meditation is my number-one tool as an entrepreneur. Meditation helps clear the mind and slow down the nervous system so that we can think better on our feet. Now that I practice meditation daily, I am more alert, focused and equipped to handle the hundreds of unexpected incidents that happen at Simple Habit every day.
A big one happened on Shark Tank: Mark Cuban called me a “gold digger” on national TV; and that proved to be the ultimate stress test. I was stunned; my face turned red; I felt attacked both personally and professionally. But I had meditated at least ten times before I entered the tank, and that helped me maintain a clear head so that I could respond with intent rather than react out of fear or the overwhelming sense of feeling flustered.
Overall, meditation and mindfulness allow me to have a healthy relationship with tough conversations and experiences; it has taught me how to sit with an experience in a non-judgmental way. Other business leaders have said the same. When it came time during our taping to have a conversation on stage, I decided that I would not take Cuban’s epithet personally; but I would take it seriously. I made a choice to not react to his comment, and, instead, respond to his remarks in a way that brought value to my pitch and my company.
My goal in the tank was to prove to the sharks that my company was worthy of an investment. And I decided that that was what I would talk about.
So, I took in a few deep breaths, re-centered myself and reminded myself: I had been invited to pitch my company to these sharks and ask for the deal I wanted. And, like so many entrepreneurs in the tank and beyond, I knew that if the deal didn’t go my way, I had a choice. Here, then, is my advice: I had a choice to walk away. And, with a calm, clear head, that is exactly what I did.
You can do the same.