Original “Shark Tank” panel member and entrepreneur extraordinaire Kevin Harrington talks with Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about his new show “Crowdfund Television,” why he’s always on the lookout for new opportunities and his belief in a common ingredient for success.
Chances are, if you watch TV, you’ve seen infomercials for some of the products that Kevin Harrington helped to make household names: the Ginsu Knife, the Great Wok of China, the Food Saver, and Tony Little’s Ab Isolator—to name a few. Since producing one of the industry’s first 30-minute infomercials in 1984, he has been involved in more than 500 product launches that have resulted in over $4 billion in sales. He currently serves as senior executive officer and chairman of As Seen On TV, Inc., which features handy inventions ranging from kitchen, household, automotive, cleaning, health and beauty products to fitness products, books, toys and games for children.
Harrington’s success as an entrepreneur earned him a spot as one of the original cast members of ABC’s hit reality television show “Shark Tank,” and his book, Act Now: How I Turn Ideas into Million-Dollar Products has received rave reviews. He recently teamed up with Donald Baillargeon, anchor of the internationally-syndicated weekly business program “MoneyTV,” to co-host a brand-new show called “Crowdfund Television.” Each episode features profiles and interviews with entrepreneurs, startups and emerging companies as they pitch their ideas, technologies and products to Harrington and Baillargeon.
Opportunist: What was the inspiration behind ‘Crowdfund Television?’
Kevin Harrington: When the JOBS Act passed in April 2012 we knew something was afoot and that a tremendous change would take place in the way startups are capitalized. Donald was going to make ‘Crowdfund Television’ a segment on his ‘MoneyTV’ show, but as the idea developed and a colleague introduced the two of us, it became apparent that the concept would merit a show of its own. We shot the pilot in early March and Don has been talking to a lot of the affiliates currently carrying ‘MoneyTV.’ ‘MoneyTV’ has been on the air for over 18 years and reaches 150 million TV households worldwide, and we believe ‘Crowdfund Television’ has the potential for similar success. The pilot is already developing an audience as we head into production the first week of May.
Opportunist: What do you hope to achieve with the show?
Kevin Harrington: Our approach is two-fold. First, we want to provide a platform for new companies to gain visibility in the marketplace and expose their opportunity to the world. Second, if we succeed we will be able to give ourselves visibility as well. So not only is it a TV show, but it simultaneously positions us as the go-to people in the market for crowdfunding.
Opportunist: How is ‘Crowdfund Television’ different from shows such as ‘Shark Tank?’
Kevin Harrington: What’s interesting about ‘Crowdfund Television’ is we are putting our audience on the couch with the sharks, so to speak. On ‘Shark Tank’ all the startups come out and pitch their project to the panel of sharks and the audience is stuck in their living room as a passive viewer. They’re only watching from an entertainment aspect. Our show lets viewers be active participants if they choose to be, and they can decide if they want to be an investor or make a pledge.
Opportunist: How did you get your start in business?
Kevin Harrington: I started my first business when I was 15 and in high school. After my junior year at the University of Cincinnati, I quit school to run my own heating and cooling business, which had 25 employees and over a million dollars in annual sales. I’m not opposed to higher education by any means—my oldest son is 25 and a graduate of Penn State—but I decided to focus on my entrepreneurial abilities and that worked out very well for me.
Opportunist: You are known as the ‘unofficial king’ of the infomercial. Can you tell us about the first one you made?
Kevin Harrington: Thirty-some years ago, while I was attending the Philadelphia Home Show, I saw a man named Arnold Morris introduce a knife that was sharp enough to chop a Coke can in half. He was an incredible pitchman, selling to crowds of 20 or 30 people. I got the idea to film his demonstration and put him on TV with a toll-free phone number so people could call and order it right away.
Opportunist: Was the Ginsu knife really sharp enough to cut into a hammer and cut a slice of bread ‘so thin you could see through it?’
Kevin Harrington: Yes, it was. And Arnold ended up selling Ginsu knives to hundreds of millions of people.
Opportunist: You were on ‘Shark Tank’ for two seasons. What was that experience like?
Kevin Harrington: ‘Shark Tank’ was an amazing experience. Being on a popular TV show was very cool. Mark Burnett is one of the top TV producers of all time. The show was shot with 16 cameras at Sony Studios, and ‘Iron Man’ with Robert Downey Jr. was being filmed next door every day. I did over 150 segments and all my original shows now run on CNBC here in the United States. It was on the ABC network at the time, but now it’s in syndication all over the world and dubbed in foreign languages. It is a global phenomenon, and in fact a guy from Germany called me for advice just the other day.
People may not realize that the idea for ‘Shark Tank’ originated from a Japanese show called ‘Dragon’s Den’ that was shown in Japan and Korea. Mark Burnett didn’t like the name dragon so he came up with shark instead.
Opportunist: Did you ever find it difficult to tell people their ideas weren’t going to make the cut?
Kevin Harrington: My wife would certainly say my biggest challenge is telling people no. In the old days it was all up to me. Today, my deals involve venture partners. My job is to bring projects to my partners, committee members and board of directors and turn them over to those teams of people and let them decide. We really do have to say no when we feel an idea won’t work, otherwise we would clog the system with ideas that aren’t going anywhere.
Each season on ‘Shark Tank’ there were 50,000 applicants and only a few hundred made the cut. So the other 49,000 are still out there looking for a shark. That creates a lot of opportunity for crowdfunding entities to tap into.
Opportunist: Do you believe there is a common ingredient for success?
Kevin Harrington: Yes. As Gary Keller, founder [and chairman of the board] of Keller Williams Realty wrote in his book The ONE Thing—a New York Times best seller by the way—every successful person is driven by one thing that he or she does really well, and they are successful because of that.
Opportunist: What motivates you personally?
Kevin Harrington: I am continually searching for the next opportunity. I attend 35 trade shows a year. I read dozens of magazines and thousands of catalogs to keep abreast of what is going on in just about every industry from housewares to fishing to golf. I guess you might say I am an opportunist to the core. [Laughs] I believe ‘Crowdfund Television’ will bring the next wave of opportunities.
Kevin Harrington: We are looking for projects and stories that have potential to generate interest and captivate an audience because that is the function of a TV show. We have seen some really fascinating stories and some heartwarming stories as well. Obviously, it has to be a real project that represents an opportunity for success as opposed to a pie-in-the-sky idea.
One story that is truly inspiring is Patrick Henry Hughes. He is in his mid-20s and one of the most remarkable individuals we have ever come across. He was born without eyes. He cannot straighten his arms or his legs, and he cannot walk. He started playing piano while sitting on his father’s lap at nine months old. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Louisville, where he was part of the marching band. Patrick has an idea for a TV show called ‘Nashville Squares’—a country music version of the old ‘Hollywood Squares’—and Donald did a heartwarming interview with him and his dad in the next episode. There is no doubt that this young man can accomplish anything he sets out to do. He is seeking pledges and raising funds to build a set and he is taking the concept to TV producers’ conventions. The show is in preproduction right now. We didn’t discover Patrick—he has been on ‘Oprah’ and ‘Ellen’ and some of the major TV networks. A colleague of Donald’s who lives in Louisville came across Patrick.
Tablums is an interesting company out of Long Island in New York. They have taken the photo album into the 21st century by combining it with a modern day tablet that displays video and electronic pictures and accesses the Internet so users can email their photos and contact family and friends via social media. People can go to their website [http://www.tablums.com/] and buy one or sign up to become a distributor or a reseller.
Trycera Financial [Pink Sheets: TRYF] is a company with live kiosks that will be placed in the showrooms of car dealers to assist customers with credit problems.
Opportunist: How does that work?
Kevin Harrington: Let’s say a customer goes into an auto dealership and gets turned down for a car loan. Up until now, that potential sale walked out the door and likely never returned. Trycera’s live kiosk sits in the showroom, and if credit is denied the customer is directed to go to that kiosk where he or she is greeted by a live customer service representative who takes them through the process to get their credit cleaned up so they can qualify for that car in the future. The purpose is two-fold: the individual gets their credit cleaned up and the dealer doesn’t lose that sale.
Opportunist: Do you believe crowdfunding will play a role in stimulating the economy?
Kevin Harrington: We have already seen some very encouraging signs as to what ‘Crowdfund Television’ can do to create capital for startups. If more successful startups are given life, then more jobs are being created. That’s what is missing in our economy. It is always difficult for startups to gain capital. ‘Crowdfund Television’ will give small businesses and startup entrepreneurs an outlet for raising capital so they can go about the business of making their business successful.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in Florida. Follow her on Twitter at @lescstone.
Crowdfund Television - http://www.crowdfundtelevision.com/
Watch the Premier Episode - http://vimeo.com/88586948
Act Now!: How I Turn Ideas into Million-Dollar Products- http://www.amazon.com/Act-Now-Ideas-Million-Dollar-Products/dp/0757307566/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398202899&sr=8-1&keywords=kevin+harrington