Shark Tank‘s Kevin O’Leary Gives 4 Tips on How to Succeed With the Sharks

Ingela Ratledge

Shark Tank, ABC’s reality competition for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to land a deal with bigwig investors, is now in Season 8, and the waters are icier than ever. We asked venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary (above center)—also known as “Mr. Wonderful,” the most biting of the resident Sharks on the panel—to share his inside information on how contestants can avoid becoming reality television chum.

The First Impression Is Key

“I know within 10 seconds—before anything is even said—whether an entrepreneur has what it takes,” O’Leary says. “I can see their level of energy or excitement or nervousness, and if they’re fortunate, it distills down to resolve. When they’re ready to work the room, you can just sense it.”

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Cut to the Chase

“During your pitch, you must be able to articulate the opportunity you’re presenting in 90 seconds or less,” says O’Leary. “You should be able to explain right away what the idea is, why you’re the right person or team to execute the plan and what the numbers are for your business. If you don’t know your numbers, you will burn in hell for perpetuity. Nothing makes my wallet slam shut faster.”

Shark Tank

The sharks, including O’Leary (center), try out an entrepreneur’s fish call invention.

There’s No Ideal Entrepreneur

Think you need to be fresh out of Harvard to dazzle this crew? “I’ve learned that you can’t judge a book by its cover,” says O’Leary. “Some of my biggest returns have come from companies that are run by busy working mothers who have extraordinary time-allocation skills. They’re killing it!”

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Don’t Get Greedy

“Be realistic with the valuation of your company,” advises O’Leary. “If you tell me that it’s worth $5 million and you don’t have any sales yet, that’s ridiculous and I will eviscerate you.” As for all the folks who sign up to go on the show solely for the publicity, without any intention of actually making a deal? “We call them gold diggers,” he says. “And it is a very bad strategy, because they’re only getting to come on once. The people who are really successful benefit for years from being part of the Shark Tank ecosphere. The goal should be to get a deal done.”

Shark Tank, Fridays, 9/8c, ABC.