For the editorial team at Digital Trends, CES, the annual consumer tech conference in Las Vegas, isn’t just about the products (although we do see plenty of cool gadgets there). It’s also a place to meet fascinating people from both the tech industry and other ventures. During day three of the show, Digital Trends Live hosts Greg Nibler and Maude Garrett sat down with entrepreneur Kevin Harrington, a man who longtime Shark Tank viewers may recognize as one of the “sharks” from the first two seasons of the show.
Although his Shark Tank days are long behind him, Harrington is still a prolific investor who comes to trade shows like CES to find the next big thing. Harrington talked to the Nibler and Garrett about his love of trade shows, how he got his start in business, and what he looks for in potential investment targets. As Harrington describes it, entrepreneurship runs in his family.
“My father owned restaurants,” he explains, “and I started, when I was 11 years old, working in his restaurants. I had a couple little businesses when I was in high school and college.”
Harrington’s light bulb moment came, oddly enough, after he signed up for a cable package.
“I got the 30-channel package,” he says, “I had CNN and 24 hours of news, and ESPN, 24 hours of sports, but I got to channel 30, and it was the Discovery Channel, and there was nothing programmed there, it was blank. So I called the cable company and I said, ‘I’m not getting Discovery Channel.’ They said, ‘Oh, you tuned in when it’s off air. It’s only an 18-hour-a-day network. We only have enough programming for 18 hours a day.’ So I said, ‘What are you doing with the other six hours?’ They said ‘Nothing.’”
Seeing a niche, Harrington offered to provide them some content to fill that six hours of dead air: Specifically, infomercials selling products, with personalities like Tony Little, Jack LaLanne, and George Foreman. Eventually, Harrington’s venture became publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, “doing about $500 million a year in sales.”
Today, Harrington has hundreds of investments in the works, and is always looking for more. For him, CES is a feast.
“I love it. It’s such a great show. I’ve been going to trade shows for about 35 years … I just love coming out here. So much innovation and just creativity walking around,” he said.
Just because companies manage to get a booth at CES, however, doesn’t mean they’ll secure Harrington’s funding.
“We look for businesses that have proof of concept” he says. “There’s some people here with napkin ideas, and there’s others that have raised a hundred million and they’re ready to launch it, so I have to do the analyzing of what’s the best time to get involved. On Shark Tank, people get 3 minutes to pitch, and I get 3 minutes to make up my mind whether I want to invest in their business, and it’s like, ‘I think I need a little more time.’ Here, we get a chance … there’s so much innovation here, though, so we want to make sure that if we’re getting involved in something, it’s going to be here the next year, and years to come.”
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