Ashton Kutcher is making a return to television, but this time he won't be acting.
The 37-year-old actor-turned-businessman will be appearing on ABC's hit show Shark Tank September 25 as a guest judge, and his expertise in investing will be center stage.
Shark Tank pits investors (Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavec) against entrepreneurs trying to convince them to put money into their companies. The show has produced several success stories, and this season will be featuring guest judges. Kutcher will be the inaugural on this Friday's season premiere.
After getting his start when he founded his own production company called Katalyst, Kutcher said it was famed angel investor Ron Conway who took his career to another level.
"He is one of the godfathers of angel investing," Kutcher told A Plus. "He completely opened up his investment portfolio to me and really started explaining to me how things worked and what his strategy was. He has probably been my biggest mentor."
With successful investments in companies like Spotify, Airbnb, Uber, and Houzz, it's safe to say Kutcher earned his guest appearance in The Tank. When asked about what Kutcher looks for in his companies, and how so many of them have been successes, he had a three part answer:
"I think the first thing that you look for is if they really have a command of their product and their industry. Sometimes people have great ideas but they really don't have an absolute command of their product and their industry. We want to get a sense if that person has a serious domain expertise, that's probably one of the first things we look for.
Then we dig a little bit deeper and we try to find someone who really has grit and the ability to stick it out through tough times... You can have the best idea in the world and absolute domain expertise and know how to do everything right, but if you want to do something great in the world there are going to be obstacles and you have to be a person who has ingenuity and sheer willpower to get through those times.
And the third thing I look for or listen for is if this is a person I'd want to work for or work with, because if you're going to build something great you have to be able to work as a team."
The idea to go on the show came about when Kutcher ran into his friend Mark Cuban, one of the regular judges on the show, at South By Southwest last year. Kutcher, who says he's been watching the show for a long time, admitted he still had reservations when Cuban asked him to come on.
"I wasn't sure or not whether I wanted to do it. Most of the companies on the show are out of my domain of expertise," Kutcher said. "Ultimately, I felt like going on the show might deliver the opportunity to bring an audience to the show that might not normally watch it. It really is about entrepreneurship and to me the American Dream: that you can go off and start something with very little and build something great."
To add to his already present reservations, Kutcher's speciality is in evaluating technology companies, something you don't see very often on Shark Tank. The Sharks, on the other hand, are very educated on fair market value for a variety of consumer product companies, which added to the advantages they already had.
Like many of the show's fans, Kutcher had questions about how authentic what you see on TV actually is. Typically, the negotiations and decisions to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars happens so quickly that it almost isn't believable. But to Kutcher's surprise, he said it was "100 percent authentic."
"I was really surprised that it all happened pretty much in real time," Kutcher said. "There was some editing in the show, obviously, to make the segment fit in the time allotment of the show, but it actually isn't that much longer than what you see on the show, which is crazy to me."
In fact, things moved so fast that Kutcher admitted he didn't think it was entirely advantageous for either the investor or the entrepreneur. On one hand, if you're the investor, you have to make really quick decisions about what to do with your money and do it with far less diligence than you might otherwise.
"It's really easy to make those decisions when you're sitting on your couch at home," he said. "But it's a lot harder when you're sitting in the tank and it's your $100,000 you're putting up or your $200,000 you're putting up."
On the other hand, things aren't much easier for the entrepreneurs, who are hungry to get a deal done and know that scoring an investment would be great PR for their company. Kutcher did say that one thing you don't see on the show is the the "diligence period" you get with the company when the show is over. In other words, even if you make an offer for the company on the show, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get a deal done. All the facts and information that the company shares have to prove out.
One staple of the show is the often tense moments between investors as they point out flaws in each other's offers to entrepreneurs and battle with each other over a company that seems like a good investment. Kutcher insisted that while "when the cameras are on, I think everyone has a license to go at each other," it's generally a friendly environment and everyone was having a really good time.
"Part of being in that space is being able to have fun and being able to go after each other and at the end of it going 'it's just business,'" Kutcher said. "That being said, there are definitely times where you feel like you got burned and you just gotta big boy up after that."
Pressed about whether he made an investment on the show, or if he made any decisions the other judges didn't agree with, Kutcher was tight-lipped.
"I think you're just going to have to wait for the show for that, man."