Iconic Tour

10 secrets you'd never guess about 'Shark Tank'

By Graham Winfrey, special to CNBC.com

Reality bites on Reality TV

Michael Desmond | ABC

Most fans know by now that none of the entrepreneurs who pitch their businesses on "Shark Tank" are actors, the products they pitch are real, and that Mark Cuban—who is speaking in Chicago this week at The iConic Tour, an event presented by Inc. and CNBC—and the other sharks really do invest their own money.

Still, there are many aspects of the hit business-themed series—including what it's like to be a shark—that end up on the cutting-room floor. Here are 10 things that may surprise you.

—By Graham Winfrey, special to CNBC.com
Posted 18 May 2015

1. 'Shark Tank' got its start in Japan.

Source: Facebook

The first precursor to "Shark Tank" was a reality show that debuted in Japan in 2001 called "Money Tigers." In 2005 a production company in the United Kingdom licensed the concept to create a British version called "Dragon's Den." That show spawned a Canadian spin-off that both Robert Herjavec and Kevin O'Leary took part in before they became "sharks" in the U.S. series, which reality-show producer Mark Burnett developed in 2009.

Other countries with their own versions of the show include the Czech Republic, Finland, Poland, Spain and Ukraine.

2. Getting on 'Shark Tank' is harder than getting into Harvard.

Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Michael Fein | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Of the 45,000 people who applied to be on the show in 2014, less than 1 percent got the opportunity to pitch their businesses to the sharks. Out of that group, many entrepreneurs never saw themselves on TV, as only the pitches that make for good reality TV see the light of day.

3. 'Shark Tank' was not popular at first.

Kelsey McNeal | ABC

The first season of "Shark Tank" didn't even break the top 100 prime-time shows in terms of average viewership. It was only after Mark Cuban joined in Season 2 that the series began to grow its audience. Season 5 attracted an average of more than 8 million weekly viewers, up from 4.8 million during the first season.

4. The majority of show pitches never make it on TV.

Tony Rivetti | ABC

Most pitches take about an hour before a deal is made or all the sharks opt out of investing, but each segment is edited down to just 10 minutes. Some of the worst pitches get dismissed in as little as 20 minutes.

The longest pitch in the show's history, according to Cuban, was Michael Tseng's microwave-safe food cover PlateTopper. The pitch lasted two and a half hours before Lori Greiner invested $90,000 for 8 percent of the company.

5. The sharks love talking trash—even when not in the tank.

Michael Desmond | ABC

All the sharks have friendly relationships, but that doesn't mean they pass up opportunities to throw each other under the bus.

"Kevin [O'Leary] is a jerk on camera, and he's a bigger jerk off camera," Mark Cuban joked at Inc. magazine's 2014 GrowCo conference. "I'm sure they say the same things about me. Robert [Herjavec] is a great guy, but he's so syrupy. And he's so naive, too."

6. The simplest ideas often make the most money.

Source: Scrub Daddy | Facebook

While many entrepreneurs come to the tank with a mobile app or other tech product, some entrepreneurs have scored big in the marketplace with remarkably simple consumer goods.

Screen-door repair product ScreenMend, for example, went from $4,000 in sales to more than $1 million in a single year. All-purpose cleaning tool ScrubDaddy has done $50 million in sales, according to Greiner, making it the most successful product in "Shark Tank" history.

"If you have one genius product and good entrepreneurs, you can turn that one product into a huge success," she said.

7. The sharks back out of a lot of deals.

Tony Rivetti | ABC

The agreements made on the show between sharks and entrepreneurs are nonbinding handshake deals, and many of them never close. Why not? Entrepreneurs have been known to fudge some of their company's financial figures or make false claims, like they have a patent on a product.

When the sharks look under the hood of the companies they've agreed to invest in, they frequently don't like what they see and back out.

8. 'Shark Tank' entrepreneurs also back out of deals.

Ellie Brown and Becca Nelson, two sisters and best friends from Raleigh, N.C., show how re-wearable fabric stickers can add instant fun to any occasion on "Shark Tank"
Adam Rose | ABC

The percentage of entrepreneurs who experience seller's remorse after making a deal on the show has grown during the past few seasons, according to Robert Herjavec. "A lot of people come on and change their mind," he said. "I would say 90 percent of the time it's the entrepreneur [who backs out]."

During the most recent season, for example, entrepreneurs Ellie Brown and Becca Nelson agreed to sell 100 percent of their wearable fabric sticker company evREwares to Mark Cuban for $200,000 before changing their minds and deciding not to sell.

9. 'Shark Tank' provides a boost for companies.

Robert Herjavec on "Shark Tank."
Tony Rivetti | ABC

Entrepreneurs can expect to see a spike in sales after their episode airs, even if they leave the tank empty-handed. This has attracted what are known as "Shark Tank gold diggers": entrepreneurs who have no intention of selling a piece of their company but come on the show just for the publicity.

"We're getting better at spotting the people who are obvious about it," Herjavec said.

10. Being a shark can be grueling.

Kelsey McNeal | ABC

If the sharks always appear hungry when an entrepreneur offers them food, it's because they usually are. Show tapings last all day, and sessions typically go for 10 days straight. In that time, the sharks will hear roughly a hundred pitches.

"We're there 12 hours a day," said Herjavec. "We're hungry, and we're miserable."

Can't get enough "Shark Tank?" Don't miss the sharks Tuesdays and Wednesdays on CNBC, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern time. #SharkTankNation