After several very inspiring pitches, Shark Tank ended its latest season with one of the show’s most dramatic standoffs yet. The Sharks got nastier than they have in a long time, but on this particular occasion, the nastiness was well deserved.
Entrepreneur Maneesh Sethi’s pitch seemed dubious from the very beginning. His product, Pavlok, promises to break bad habits with the power of a shock to the wrist. The goal is to train the reptilian brain to associate problematic behaviors with a slight but very uncomfortable electric stimulus.
The concept is modeled, of course, on aversion conditioning. While there is certainly merit to the idea that a habit can be broken if the brain associates it with a negative stimulus, that doesn’t necessarily work in practice with Pavlok. Users have to actually think about the behavior and zap themselves in response, but many of the habits the product seeks to correct are so ingrained that people’s awareness of them just isn’t there. Also, even if people do catch themselves engaging in problematic behaviors, there’s no guarantee that they will actually follow through with shocking themselves.
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The Sharks were skeptical about consumers’ willingness to zap themselves, but they were even more concerned with Sethi’s apparent lack of evidence. He seemed to be basing his product almost entirely on studies conducted by other parties several decades ago. Aversion conditioning may prove effective in certain contexts, but extensive clinical trials are needed before Sethi can guarantee that his product is more than a pain-inducing piece of plastic.
Several Sharks were disappointed with the pitch, but none more than Mark Cuban, who quickly launched into a long-winded rant about all the ways Sethi’s product was a scam. Cuban even referred to Sethi as a con artist. His thinking was clearly reflected on Twitter, where users bashed Sethi for his alleged attempt at scamming vulnerable individuals. Kevin O’Leary — who, shockingly, made an offer — was represented among the Pavlok-bashing Twitter users.
I’ve seen a lot of bad pitches on Shark Tank but few as cringe-worthy as Sethi’s for Pavlok. Even without the slightly scammy feel of the product, I would have been put off by Sethi’s general demeanor. This isn’t exactly the uplifting end to the season I was hoping for, but it was certainly entertaining!