When I hopped on a Zoom call to meet with the Media-based husband-and-wife duo behind “Dino Don’s” upcoming “Shark Tank” appearance, I wasn’t exactly expecting a consultation.
Don Lessem — the man behind a myriad of Hollywood’s ancient creatures, and now real-scale robotics dinosaurs for zoos, theme parks and other exhibits — took a glance at the room behind me and confidently said he could fit a lifelike pterodactyl in it, if I was interested.
After years of scientific consulting for projects like “Jurassic Park,” Lessem’s business, Dino Don Inc., is now formulated around producing accurate, life-sized dinosaur robotics. His dinos are in zoos around the world, including Philadelphia’s, and after three years of launching his company, Lessem is looking to diversify the business further.
Lessem wasn’t looking to pitch the sharks, he said; someone from the show reached out asking if they’d be interested in giving it a shot. He said yes, with one contingency: that his wife, Valerie Jones, a nonprofit fundraising pro, join him in the pitch.
“Don is great on his feet, but I’m used to having the detailed answers that funders and foundations want,” she said. “The sharks are going to want to know how it’s going to work and what it’s going to cost.”
The pair filmed their episode in September of last year and said going in that they would aim to make a deal with Mark Cuban, as he’s the shark most experienced in the entertainment world. Jones noted that the company’s business model is outside much of “Shark Tank’s” usual realm of consumer products or franchising.
They can’t share any details about their pitch or if they made a deal with a shark until their episode airs next Friday, May 21. But if their appearance was anything like the half hour we spent together earlier this week, you can expect a balance of some zany quips from Lessem and some straight-talking statistics from Jones.
“I will say at some point in middle of the show, [Cuban] told me to ‘shut up so I can talk to Val,'” Lessem said.
Jones, the numbers gal, said she wasn’t too nervous to make the pitch.
“It’s not the biggest pitch I’ve ever done, I’ve made pitches for millions of dollars,” she said. “Some people are intimidated by zeros, but I’ve done this before.”
Lessem’s 2019-founded team is comprised of about 10 people from across the U.S. and in Europe. “Until Shark Tank,” he hadn’t tried fundraising, and can’t yet confirm if the show lead to a raise.
The company is currently exploring how it might expand its offerings, especially as the pandemic’s effects ease and folks can head back to amusement parks, zoos and other entertainment areas. It might include giving venues the dinosaurs and then taking a share of the gate fee instead of selling them outright. Either way, Lessem knows to capitalize on the attention they’ll get from the upcoming episode’s release.
“We have one night where your audience is several million people and then never again,” he said.
You can watch Lessem and Jones on the 12th season finale of “Shark Tank” on Friday, May 21 at 8 p.m. on ABC.