Oat Meals on ‘Shark Tank’: Two Investors Trying to Replicate Past Success

I personally love when Barbara Corcoran and Lori Greiner are on Shark Tank together, because the women are so different. As if it didn’t need to be said, but sometimes it helps if it’s shown, that simply putting a female face on a panel isn’t enough to ensure diversity.

Episode 7 of Season 10 put this on display (spoiler alert!) brilliantly when the woman behind Oat Meals, Sam Stephens, pitched her business to the sharks. But what was she pitching, exactly? She ran a small brick-and-mortar eatery in New York City that sold various sweet and savoury dishes, all with oats as a base ingredient. She was profitable, but not wildly so.

At one point, she said she wanted to expand into more locations. When asked, she said she was also interested in selling a line of branded oat products in grocery stores — as she said, bringing oats to the rice and pasta section instead of letting it languish in the breakfast section. 

Those of us who watch Shark Tank regularly already have the roll call of past entrepreneurs who have made highly-touted deals with each of the investors, and can therefore predict who’s most likely to jump on a pitch. With Oat Meals, I kept thinking of “Bagel Stuffins,” aka Bantam Bagels, who also had a small NYC shop, and whose deal with Lori Greiner also allowed them to segue into the prepackaged food market. 

(Fans of Beyond the Tank might recall the proprietors’ reluctance to give up the name “Bantam Bagels,” and how hard Greiner seemed to push to get them to adopt a brand that she felt better expressed what the product was, hence “Bagel Stuffins.”)

As if on queue, Lori said she would get a new line of Oat Meals goods into Starbucks, as she had with Bantam Bagels. Barbara, however, made the incredibly strong pitch back to the entrepreneur that Stephens needed to focus on having food carts — getting out of that 380 sq. ft. of space. 

Again, the roll call: Corcoran mentioned her beloved Cousins Maine Lobster, but could also have discussed Tom+Chee (although some research indicates maybe that one doesn’t have a happy ending, so maybe the choice to leave it out of the discussion was deliberate). 

Corcoran asked for 50 percent, Greiner 33 1/3 percent. A couple of the “out” sharks indicated Barbara’s deal was more sound (in their opinion), but Stephens went for Greiner, leading to a bit of a heated discussion after the entrepreneur had walked off the set. 

(Those moments, by the way, are always the best. In this one, Cuban’s already checking his phone, indicating they assumed the segment was over). 

Corcoran cleverly said oatmeal doesn’t freeze well. Kevin O’Leary said Lori made a dumb deal. Daymond John noted that Barbara wanted half the company, while Lori wanted less.

But apart from the disparate views of how to grow the company, the pitch was notable because of the revelation, so starkly demonstrated, of what the sharks often do: offer to do again what they have already done for someone else. In one sense, it’s like showing off your resume in order to convince the entrepreneur to choose you. In another sense, it’s nothing more than saying, “I have this template. At first glance, it looks like you might fit that template. So let me invest and we’ll give it a shot.”

Really, if you are a wealthy investor faced with a novice entrepreneur — like many of the pitches on Shark Tank — it’s irresponsible for the investor to offer to do anything else other than what they know how to do. Cuban has said he doesn’t like to be “dumb money,” and all the sharks seem to have some version of that philosophy. It’s up to the entrepreneur as to whether they want to use that particular template, or not. 

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