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What’s the Difference Between a Shark Tank Shark and a Venture Capitalist?

Mark Cuban & Tech Execs: Is Govt Disrupting Disruption? - 2017 SXSW Conference and FestivalsMark Cuban & Tech Execs: Is Govt Disrupting Disruption? - 2017 SXSW Conference and Festivals
Businessman Mark Cuban at the 2017 SXSW Conference and Festivals on March 12, 2017 in Austin, Texas. JEALEX Photo/Getty Images for SXSW

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Shark Tank star Mark Cuban believes artificial intelligence will disrupt the business of venture capital. But that won’t affect him, he said at the Lerer Ventures CEO Summit on Tuesday, because he’s not a venture capitalist. He’s an investor.

Wait. What’s the difference?

“The difference is I try to be supportive and involved in the companies I invest in,” Cuban zinged.

Uh. The moderator, Axios’ Dan Primack, pointed out we were at an event hosted by venture capitalists. The audience laughed awkwardly. Cuban shrugged. They changed the subject and moved on. Later, while discussing Shark Tank, Cuban quipped, “Doing the show is easy, supporting these companies can be a nightmare.”

Afterward, I asked to Cuban clarify. Does he really think venture capitalists don’t try to support their companies? Hasn’t he seen them touting their “value-added” suites of services ranging from recruiting and HR to “design sprints” and management training? Has he never heard of VC-as-a-platform?

“Do they? Maybe they do!” Cuban said he wasn’t really aware of that happening. He said he views venture investors as the people who give someone a bunch of money, tell them to grow like crazy, and will come back to help when it’s time to exit. Most companies he invests in, via Shark Tank or otherwise, don’t go on to raise traditional venture capital, he says, and he’d prefer they get profitable as early as possible, avoiding the Silicon Valley ethos of burning cash just to grow. The biggest exception is his early investment Box, which he said he had been pushing to get profitable earlier than it wanted to.

Within the Valley’s echo chamber, the venture capital message of founder-friendly “value-add” has become so tired it’s practically a cliche. But outside the Valley, there’s still some explaining to do.