Shark Tank India is Quietly Changing Dinner-Table Conversations for the Better

Pop Culture

Shark Tank India is Quietly Changing Dinner-Table Conversations for the Better

Illustration: Arati Gujar

When I heard that Shark Tank—the reality show where founders pitch their start-ups to investors, or “Sharks”, for money—was coming to India, my first instinct was to leave the country. Or at least get my parents to. After all, the last thing I needed was for them to watch successful young kids, running their own companies, appear on primetime television to talk about it. Shark Tank has, predictably, become a dinner-table conversation, one that comes with its own variety of guilt trips (albeit better than the usual fare that unmarried women have to deal with).

My interest in the show wasn’t immediate. In fact, I stayed away from it until students from my alma mater walked into the tank to pitch their Braille-literary start-up. “Of course, they’re going to get funded,” I thought, “without any questions”.But I was as wrong as I was small-minded. My college mates were grilled as much as any other start-up founder on the show. If I was helping blind children and someone asked me how I dared to sell without QR codes, I would’ve scanned the room for sharp objects — but not the entrepreneurs on Shark Tank, who are usually well-prepared and articulate in response to the judges’ questions.

Shark Tank has revealed, there are entrepreneurs scattered all over India, solving problems you never even knew existed.

Incisive and insightful, the Sharks’ comments usually provoke critical thinking and discussion on whether a seemingly valid business can actually scale and succeed in the long term. I quickly went from one episode to the next, watching exciting, feasible, and life-affirming business ideas turn out to be riddled with pitfalls and fatal flaws. While this voyeuristic pleasure, of watching people’s dreams and self-esteem being dashed, gave our country classics like Roadies, Splitsvilla and Big Boss, Shark Tank both entertains and teaches its audience. Is it the reality show that we always needed but didn’t deserve?

Unlike Roadies, Splitsvilla and Big Boss, Shark Tank both entertains and teaches its audience. Is it the reality show that we always needed but didn’t deserve?

Although we usually only hear from techbros on Twitter, Shark Tank has revealed, there are entrepreneurs scattered all over India. From developing anti-leather, cow-protecting, vegan shoe brands to cow-monitoring devices, disposable urinal bags and detachable sleeves, Indians are solving problems you never even knew existed.

This explains why India was the fourth-largest market for VC funding in 2021 and that there are now over 60,000 start-ups in the country, from less than 500 five years ago. The Prime Minister even declared January 16 as National Start-ups Day, with some celebrating that it is finally acceptable to introduce partners working at start-ups to their families — a life-path once considered too risky to marry into.

Although there have been accusations made against the show and its judges, it has made household names out of business leaders and entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is truly having its cultural moment, what with memes based on each Shark’s quirks and their dialogue turning into mainstream taglines. Although there have been accusations of gender insensitivity on the show, of sharks being too ‘sharky’ in their deal-making, of BharatPe CEO Ashneer Grover becoming India’s latest straight-faced villain and Lenskart CEO Peyush Bansal being too hard on CAs — the show has made household names out of business leaders and entrepreneurs. It’s possible that rather than ask kids to become the next Sachin or next Shahrukh, we could ask them to become the next Anupam Mittal.

With memes based on each Shark’s quirks and their dialogues turning into mainstream taglines, entrepreneurship is truly having its cultural moment.

India’s venture funding per capita is only $20, twenty places behind the US at $808 per capita, which means that our start-up economy, while large, still needs to cover a larger proportion of our vast population. The government is betting on more women to fill the gap, with special funds being reserved to encourage women-led businesses. So I only feel the pressure mounting… if not to make it big and get rich, then to at least get my mother (and the government) to give me the shaabaashi I deserve. I now see potential unicorn business ideas wherever I look, thanks to Shark Tank India. Sample these for now:

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