Would Walt Disney have survived the Shark Tank?


My family recently took a trip to Walt Disney World. With 2 teenagers in tow, one disgruntled and one thrilled. off we went the magical land of Disney. I had a myriad of emotions that passed through my brain on our week long sojourn that included 5 days seeing all the parks, shows, fireworks and a shocking amount of food. 

It struck me that Walt had a real gift for incorporating technology with the ideas that flooded his brain. I have always been a bit fascinated with Walt Disney, the man himself and all he accomplished in his relatively sort lifetime. This led me to ask, if Walt needed funding (which he did often in his career) would he survive the Shark Tank?


Would he be able to stand before a set of wealthy venture capitalists and convey his vision(s) and secure money? 

Walt was quoted as saying “Biggest problem? Well, I’d say it’s been my biggest problem all my life. MONEY. It takes a lot of money to make these dreams come true. From the very start it was a problem.”

I could just picture them grilling him with questions and making judgements about how he was handling his business, especially in the early stages when it  really just a mouse and some new technology.

They would ask:

What exactly was propriety in this deal, a mouse?


 Is it patentable? Did you create this technology or are you just applying  ideas? (Walt did hold the patent for a multi-plane camera although Walt did not invent the camera himself.)

You did WHAT with the rights? (Walt lost the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in an early deal with Charles Mintz.)

You are living on canned beans!? (insert Mark Cuban’s large grin and chuckle)

So what? So now someone can watch a cartoons with synchronized sound? (Silly Symphonies) Who cares? (Can’t you just hear Kevin O’Leary aka Mr. Wonderful saying that?)

What do you mean you had a contract for exclusive Technicolor use, that’s the real deal here, you botched it! I’m out! (Walt was approached by Hebert Kalmus to use a new 3 color animating process and he jumped on the opportunity signing a 5 year contact to exclusive use which was later shortened under pressure from major studios stuck using a one color process)

Nobody in their right mind is going to want to watch a FULL length cartoon that is taking you 3 years to make! (Even Walt’s wife warned him that audiences would not sit through a full length animated film. Walt borrowed largely to create Snow White, his first full length feature, that had an eyebrow raising $1.5 million to make)

Even after success the responses might look like this:

You mortgaged EVERYTHING including your home, stock holdings, life insurance and even your furniture to build a THEME PARK? I don’ want to invest in someone who is at risk of losing everything!! (Disneyland costs $17 million dollars to open, big money in 1955. Yes, Walt did mortgage everything.)

Would the Sharks see through all the common complaints they have for people looking for investors and seen Walt as the visionary he was?

Would someone (most likely Barbara Corcoran or Lori Greiner) say, “I think you are crazy but I like who you are and I think you’ve got something!” 

I think in the end the Sharks would see Walt’s spark, his innovation and his extraordinary vision and entrepreneurship and that they would help fund him and his magical and seemingly far out dreams. 

The real question is, would Walt Elias Disney have given up a percentage of his little mouse to get the deal?

I would love to hear your thoughts!


My favorite Walt Disney quotes:

“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do. And one thing it takes to accomplish something is courage.”

“Somehow I can’t believe there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C’s. They are Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, and Constancy and the greatest of these is Confidence. When you believe a thing, believe it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably.”

“I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”

Don’t Dream Small!!




Here is  a little something modern Mickey has been up to via artist Damien Hirst (in collaboration with Disney, of course.)

Did you know Walt Disney holds the record for the most nominations (59) AND them most wins (22) for an individual in Academy Award History?

I ended up doing  fair amount of research on Walt while waiting in lines at Disney World (gotta love a smartphone!) This was an interesting look at overlooked innovations of Walt Disney. 


  • Lynda Metcalf says:

    I adore Disney and everything he accomplished. I get to take my kids (ages 5 & 6) to Disneyworld for the first time this fall! I can’t wait. I don’t know how Walt would’ve faired on Shark Tank but I know he would’ve taken advantage of all the technological opportunities out there. He would’ve had the best YouTube channel. He would’ve collaborated with Steve Jobs and his monorail idea would be in L.A., Ca right now just like he wanted.

    • Monica Lee says:

      Love your insight! yes, LA a day late and dollar short on the monorail and man, could that city have used it back then! It was be less polluted and less snarled for sure!

  • Tom says:

    The obvious answer is “no”, Walt would not have been successful on Shark Tank. And, the reason is pretty insightful…not because he didn’t have vision, but because what he envisioned was not going to be “easy”. The Sharks are not looking for visionaries, they are looking for “easy”…companies that have proven success and are no-brainers to continue to make profit with little effort (note: these people have already taken the risk, done the work, and made it successful). It is the same challenge we all face regularly, we want to take the easy path. Many people have great ideas, plans, and visions, but when faced with the reality that there are no guarantees, it is going to take hard work, and risk, and may not work at all…we respond with…”I’m out”. The follow up question to this post would be…”If you were a Shark, would you invest in your business?”

    • Monica Lee says:

      Love this follow up question! If you were a Shark would you invest in your own business?? That is something I think about as I grow my own brand. Watching “The Tank” can leave you feeling hopeless or hopeful because you have learned something about margins and when maybe to or NOT to take on investors. I am wildly impressed with how some of the people coming in for investors have grown their business via their own work ethic and smarts!

  • Brilliant! And so true. I often have similar thoughts about the sharks. Easy to use tried and true “formulas for success” when you’ve made it and are judging other’s dreams and visions. Also the reason why those dreamers that hold these visions existing mainly in your gut can’t be dissuaded by numbers or formulas. Sometimes you just know what you know! Go Walt!!!!! I want to send this on to Daymond John whom I presented to actually while he was in Chicago.

    • Monica Lee says:

      HI Monica! I love to hear you talking about your gut instincts, often (now-a-days) we have access to so much “data” that we forget to use them! While no one wants to be the ever hopeful kid on American Idol who can’t carry a tune we also need to learn to trust ourselves! I did think of Daymond as I researched Walt-Did you know he had all the merchandising in place at the release of Snow White? That simply was not done back then. Walt Disney was a branding and merchandising pioneer!

      • The same famous admonishment quoted by President Reagan is true with any of us entrepreneurs “Trust.. . But verify!” So, yes trust your gut but those “feelings” need to have a lot of substance behind them, right? Sales helps, evangelists about your product/idea are good barometers, early adopters, etc . . The sharks tend to dismiss this type of substance when it doesn’t conform to their canned formulas because truthfully, it gets more complicated and more risky. I get it, but that’s why stories like Disney’s or Schulz’ or take your pick!, there are so many of them – are so inspiring!! Keep up the great writing Monica! You rock!

  • Myra says:

    What a great post and I love Walt Disney and my favorite quote is about dreaming and achieving it. I thank you for reminding me of this story and I tell it to myself every week in a pep presentation I imagine giving one day. Wow I love this post!!! I have come to realize that to the outside word a dream is just a crazy silly dream that will never work until it actually does. My dream is worth fighting for and living everyday of my life. I think Robert and Barbara would give him a chance.

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