I think the last time I wrote about Shark Tank was when 3 Korean American women were trying to raise money for their dating app, Coffee Meets Bagel, where one sister (I think the one that went to Stanford for her MBA?) turned down a theoretical offer of $30 million from Mark Cuban.
Well, I was watching the premier episode of Season 9 of Shark Tank (originally airing on Sunday, October 1st, 2017), and saw Korean American and fellow Duke alum Yunha Kim (not to be confused with *the* Yuna Kim) – who I actually met briefly a year or two ago at a Duke alumni event in San Francisco – trying to raise money for her company and namesake meditation app, Simple Habit.
The reason why this particular pitch became somewhat controversial was that Mark Cuban had called Yunha a “gold digger”:
“The $12 million valuation she was putting on Simple Habit was, for Shark Tank, probably one of the highest ever. She felt it was worth it, though, because she already had a built-in user base and other investors. Kim knows she has a hit on her hand, especially given the popularity of apps like Calm and Headspace.
For Mark Cuban, that’s where it all fell apart. Kim was having trouble explaining why she needed to get a shark involved with her business when she already had plans to get other celebrities and influencers involved. There’s also the matter of her prior rounds of investments and the fact that she’s coming from Silicon Valley, a place the investors on Shark Tank are notoriously wary of. (“The Valley takes over,” Cuban groaned when Kim started her pitch.) They usually feel like the entrepreneurs are pitching into the publicity void, since they’re already set for money.
Cuban felt that Kim had the cash, and she was working on securing the celebrity endorsements, so why was she taking up the time of hungrier entrepreneurs who didn’t have a proven track record of turning products and ideas into proven businesses? “You’re a gold digger,” he told Kim. She looked absolutely shocked.”
Personally, I was a bit disappointed in Mark Cuban using that term. I understand Cuban’s concern about other entrepreneurs using Shark Tank as he termed it, a “growth hack” to get the publicity and growth resulting for appearing on Shark Tank without really needing to attract investment capital. Cuban could have more artfully said that Kim was using Shark Tank as a publicity vehicle or was seeking the limelight.
In her defense, guest “shark” Richard Branson called out Cuban on his remark, and Cuban later was backpedaling to explain himself. But it was a bit too late for Branson as he threw a cup of water on Cuban (and vice versa).
As I had commented on one of Yunha’s posts on Facebook (we’re “friends”):
“I just watched the episode tonight on my DVR. You did a great job. Cuban’s remark was sexist and inappropriate. Even if your goal was for publicity, gold digger would be the wrong term to use professionally, especially to a woman. I’m a fan of Cuban on Shark Tank as well as his strong endorsement of Hillary Clinton last year, but his comment disappointed me.”
Personally, given the years I’ve watched Shark Tank, I don’t think Cuban is sexist, but I do think calling Yunha a gold digger was definitely not appropriate.