Within the "Shark Tank TV Show Terminology Series" we have covered specific terminology that is used throughout the show so that casual viewers or people not familiar with business concepts can follow the show with little confusion.

In the past we have covered terms like equity, customer acquisition costs, proof of concept, business model, and sweat equity. If you are not familiar with these terms then there are two links to other Shark Tank TV Show terms below. 

Shark Tank TV Show Terms (Part 1)

Shark Tank TV Show Terms (Part 2) 

In this segment we will highlight five more terms that are used throughout the show. The specific terms that we will highlight are:

  • Embryonic

  • Hard Paper

  • Margins

  • Contingency

  • Skin In The Game

Let's examine these terms in more detail.

Shark Tank TV Show Vocabulary
Credit: ABC Shark Tank


The term embryonic refers to the stage or phase that the business is in. There are normally 4 stages of a business and these stages are embryonic, growth, established, and decline.

When the investors say that your business is embryonic, they are saying that your business is just getting started, it is in its infancy, it is a start-up or it is not proven. Businesses that are in the embryonic phase are usually not making any type of profit and in most cases are taking a loss. In this phase the business is simply an idea or concept.

While investors will, occasionally, take a chance on a company in its infancy they would rather put their money in businesses that are in the beginning of the growth phase. At this point the company is proven.

Other terms that investors may use that suggest that the business is embryonic are words like start-up, infancy, not proven or, simply, new. 

Hard Paper

The term hard paper refers to the validity or firmness of an agreement. Often on the Shark Tank you will hear people say that they have orders for their products. The investors will usually ask the person are these hard paper orders. In this case the investors are trying to gauge whether these orders are firm. If an order is firm or hard, then you have a signed sales contract in place.

On the show you the investors will ask questions like: 

-Are these hard paper sales?

-Are these firm commitments?

-Are these hard orders?

Basically, anybody can say that they have orders or that people want to order their products. Nevertheless, this is totally different from having signed sales contracts or even partial payment for an order. The first case is a soft commitment or order and the second case is a firm(hard) commitment.


The term margin refers to your profit. In actuality margin and profit can be used interchangeably. It just so happens that sophisticated investors and business people will usually say margin versus profit. In some cases you will hear people say profit margin. Whatever the case your margin is the difference between your costs and sales. Additionally, margins can be differentiated by gross or net.

The most frequently asked question hands down on the show is:

What are your margins?

Aside from your sales, which shows proof of concept, your profit margins is one of the most important factors to a potential investor. Your business can have all the sales in the world but if you are losing money on those sales (no profit) it does not matter. The business cannot grow if they do not have any cash left over after sales.


The term contingency is used in two contexts. In one case it is used to refer to conditions in a contract or an agreement. On the show the term or concept of contingency is used when investors are making investment with conditions or clauses per se. In the other case contingency refers to an alternate strategy or plan if the initial one does not work. Contingency in this case is not used that often on the show.

There is one case on the show where Barbara agrees to invest in The Body Jac business but the investment was contingent on Cactus Jack losing 20 pounds. There are other cases where the investors will make offers that are contingent on closing specific deals or sales orders.

Skin In The Game

Skin in the game is an expression that is used a lot in the business community that refers to the amount of risk and/or commitment that a person has in a specific deal. Investors will always ask business owners, who are seeking an investment from them, how much of their own money do they have in the business. The reason why investors ask business owners this is because they want to know how committed you are to making the business work or, in other words, how much skin do you have in the game. Even traditional banks will want to know how much money a business owner has put in their business before they give out a loan.

If investors feel like the business owner has not put enough of their own money in their business, then they will not invest. The reason why they do not invest is because they feel like they are taking on the majority of the risk. Savvy investors always try to minimize their risk exposure in all their investment deals. One of the more outspoken Sharks, Kevin O'Leary refused to invest with Cactus Jack in episode 5 because he felt like he was taking on too much risk. 

Stay tuned for the next segment of the "Shark Tank TV Show Terminology Series". 

Other Articles On Shark Tank

Other Shark Tank Terminology That You Should Know

Shark Tank Terminology (Part 1)

Shark Tank Terminology (Part 2)

Shark Tank Episode Reviews From Season 1

Shark Tank Review (Episode 1)

Shark Tank Review (Episode 2)

Shark Tank Review (Episode 3)

Shark Tank Review (Episode 4)

Shark Tank Review (Episode 5)

If you have been recently watching an episode of the show and you do not understand a certain term being used, then share it in the comments box below.