A powerful mission alone isn't enough for Mark Cuban to invest seven figures in a company.
Micah Truman learned that lesson firsthand on the latest episode of ABC's "Shark Tank," when the billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner — alongside the rest of the show's judges — declined to cut him a deal.
"Micah, you blew it," Cuban told Truman. "I'm out."
Truman's 4-year-old Auburn, Washington-based startup, a green burial company called Return Home, works to turns human remains into compost within 60 to 90 days. It bills itself as an environmentally-friendly and cost-efficient alternative to cremation and traditional burials.
CEO Truman, alongside Return Home services manager Katey Houston, asked the Sharks for $2 million in exchange for 5% of their business — a deal that would value the company at $40 million.
The request grew bolder when Truman said that Return Home is "a money-losing company" that brought in $350,000 in 2022 revenue. At the time of its most recent fundraise, "about a year" prior, Return Home was only valued at $20.6 million, Truman said.
Cuban and Kevin O'Leary wondered how the company's valuation could nearly double in such a short time frame, opening the floor for Truman and Houston to make their case.
"Micah, this is your moment," Cuban yelled. "Go, go, go!"
"Funeral homes are the worst marketers in the world. This is not about land grab, it's about brand grab," Truman responded. "Tell me, guys, how many funeral homes do you know that are amazing? That are cross-country?"
In a way, Truman was right: Few people have a go-to funeral home, and not many can speak knowledgeably about the "human composting" industry.
Experts who study decomposition say the process — which is legal in seven states, and counting — is significantly more eco-friendly than most other post-death options. "My first reaction was: Why haven't we done this before?" Jennifer DeBruyn, an environmental microbiology professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, told CNBC Make It in February.
A single cremation, the most popular post-death option in the U.S., produces more than 530 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, scientists estimate. "The way we are dying is killing us," Truman said on the show. "The Earth needs an alternative now."
But many clients at companies like Return Home are young, and may not die for a while: Truman's first five clients were under age 35 when they signed up, he told Make It in February. Plus, the more states legalize human composting, the more strongly cultural headwinds — including some from religious groups — intensify against it, as Make It reported.
In other words, "brand grab" wasn't enough of an argument for long-term financial viability to snare a "Shark Tank" investment offer — at least, not at such at an inflated valuation. Guest judge Daniel Lubetzky, for example, said he could only justify $40 million "if I closed my eyes and kept them shut with Krazy Glue."
On the show, Truman expressed disappointment that the Sharks didn't invest. Today, he stands by the $40 million valuation for two reasons, he tells Make It.
"First, our method isn't just another drop in the death care industry ocean — it's more like a tidal wave. We are the first major disposition method the funeral has seen since the civil war," Truman says.
Second, he adds, "by setting our price where we did, we are asking every everyone: What's the true worth of supporting a loved one in their toughest hour? Our stint on 'Shark Tank' was all about sparking this vital conversation. In today's world, a higher price often turns heads and raises eyebrows."
Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank."
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