Shark Tank is a great show and every single entrepreneur should be watching it. I find the premise amazing. Each week, several different business owners pitch their business ideas to The Sharks – a motley crew of hugely successful business giants. If the pitch is right, the product is good, and the presenters are deemed worthy, the Sharks will agree to fund the businesses with their own money. If you’re an aspiring business owner, appearing on Shark Tank is like being hit by a bolt of lightening made of gold. Even the businesses turned down by the Sharks still see huge changes in their businesses on the PR of being on Shark Tank alone.
I actually sit down with my whole family every week to watch Shark Tank. I’ve got 3 young entrepreneurs to train and when else can I explain what a “royalty in perpetuity” is?
But Shark Tank is not the best show on TV for entrepreneurs. Know what is?
Discovery Channel’s Gold Rush
I mean it’s hands down, no questions asked the best show about business on TV. Let me explain.
Gold Rush follows three different gold mining operations spread out across Alaska, Canada, and, this season, South America. The show documents each team’s quest to locate, dig for, and cash in on the most wonderful treasure of all: gold.
The three teams are very diverse. You’ve got:
1. The Dakota Boys: Fred and Dustin Hurt – a father/son team with a small crew.
2. 316 Mining: a larger, highly experienced crew led by the hapless Todd Hoffman (way more on him in a minute)
3. Parker Schnabel, a 19 year old kid from a mining family who has come into his own this season.
What does Gold Rush teach us about owning a business? Let me count the ways
1. You have to chase a dream. That dream may not come true, but you have to chase it anyway. The guys on Gold Rush, when it comes down to it, really don’t know if there’s any gold. They rely on their experience, their faith, and their pigheaded determination in the hopes of striking it rich. They toil and toil for days and weeks without knowing the moment of truth.
2. Successful businesses don’t succeed for no reason. It takes hard work. If you don’t know anything about gold mining, then what you think is that these guys take pickaxes and find large chunks of gold nuggets lying around. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fascinating discovery of Gold Rush is that most gold exists in little tiny flakes, barely visible, scattered within tons and tons and football fields worth and cities worth of worthless dirt. To get the gold, these teams work and work and work and work. It’s not magic or rocket science. It’s the day to day hard work that gets the gold.
3. Successful businesses are the sum of hundreds and thousands of individual decisions. Sure, every business has that Eureka! moment where everything can change, but for the most part, a business will succeed and fail on small decision after small decision after small decision, day in and day out. It takes excellent, consistent leadership skills to accomplish that. The guys on Gold Rush, on a daily basis, have to make quality decisions about where to mine, how to mine, how to use their equipment, how to fix their equipment, how to use their labor, and how to ensure their efforts are getting the gold.
4. Creative problem solving is critical to success. At the end of a mining season in Alaska, it gets cold…and snowy…and then colder…and then the ground and equipment freeze. Parker Schnabel faced this exact problem at the end of this season and he was not at the goal he wanted for himself for the year. So how do you fix frozen ground? You blast it with water – and that’s exactly what he did, which added weeks to his season. There are dozens of examples of creative problem solving on Gold Rush, but you get the point – problems will arise, and solving them correctly can guarantee success.
5. You need a good leader. Nothing is more important to a company’s success. If you want to watch the effects of bad leadership on your business, you have to look no further than Todd Hoffman and the 316 Mining Crew. I spent a lot of this season yelling at my TV. Now, Todd’s crew is excellent – he’s got the incredible Dave Turin, Todd’s experienced father Jack, the jack-of-all-trades Jim Thurber, and many other very good men. But a good crew is nothing without a good leader, and Todd Hoffman is one of the worst I’ve seen.
Take this season, for example. Todd’s crew did pretty well last year in Alaska, hauling in more than $1.5 million in gold. They were on a good claim with good equipment. So what did Todd do this year? He abandoned his good claim and hauled the entire crew down to Guyana in South America because he’d heard somewhere that there was good gold there. He spent what seemed like months scouting locations and finally settled in Guyana. He shipped all of his equipment and all of his crew to a dense, rainy jungle with impassable roads that they had no experience mining in. Then, Todd surprised even me when he….left his men behind and went home for a while. That’s right – he abandoned his operation. He just told his guys to “get some gold” and left.
The rest of the season went tragically if predictably. The Guyanese jungle proceeded to kick the 316 Mining Crew’s asses for the entire season. The rains made the roads pure mud. They couldn’t find a spot with gold. They couldn’t get their equipment to work correctly in the humidity. The heat and humidity and mosquitoes were unbearable. Todd returned to a disaster – there was no gold, tens of thousands of dollars wasted, and a dejected and upset crew.
Again, Todd made another bad decision. A local Guyanese crewman mentioned to Todd that there might be diamonds on the land, and without hesitation Todd said “Yeah man, let’s do it.” With zero experience, Todd Hoffman and his crew were instant diamond miners. Near the end of the season, Todd met with the claim owner and told him that he had found no gold but that he had found a jar full of diamonds. The moment was gut wrenching – the claim owner took the jar of diamonds and said “these are worth maybe $1,500 dollars. Get off my land”
A good leader means everything.
Gold Rush is the best show on TV for entrepreneurs because it lays out the harsh reality of what owning a business is. To succeed, you have to be a creative leader and a consistently good decision maker. You have to work really hard. Every day. There may not even be any gold, but dammit you’re going to try.
Most importantly, success is not going to happen by wandering around and picking up gold nuggets. Success is going to happen when you dig through piles and piles of dirt. Success is earned.
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