Mark Cuban: "You got nothing to lose in your twenties; that’s the perfect time to start a business"

Yitzi Weiner @ Authority Magazine
Authority Magazine
…I’ve invested probably more than a hundred million dollars over the years with people I’ve never met and I’ll tell you exactly how it works.
In the first paragraph, they say something that I think will get my attention. Then in the second paragraph, they say why they can accomplish that and what the benefit is.
And then in the third paragraph, they tell me how they’re going to get there and how I can contribute to helping them get there all very quickly.
If you write me a book and you tell me your whole life story — like the minute I see “when I was a kid or this or that” — I will just blank it out.
But if you get right to it, and that makes sense to me, then what happens is I’ll send you back to a question. What about this? What about that? Are you capable of doing this? How can you pull this?…

At Websummit 2020, we had the pleasure to interview entrepreneur, television personality, media proprietor, and investor, Mark Cuban.

Mark is a named inventor of 11 patent families, is the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and he is one of the main “shark” investors on the ABC reality television series, Shark Tank.

In 2011, Cuban wrote an e-book, How to Win at the Sport of Business, in which he chronicles his experiences in business and sports.

Thank you so much for joining us Mark. Opportunities can come from challenges. Are there any particular opportunities you’ve found over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Well, everything is going digital. We’re doing everything digitally and with that race to digital, there are just more opportunities. Many people are becoming more comfortable buying things online and so those types of things create new opportunities. People are now finding a better way to do things and that creates a new set of opportunities as well.

What is the tool or skill that has contributed the most to your success?

Mark Cuban: There are two of them.

One, I love my business. It’s really true. To me, if you have a business and you don’t love your product or service so much that you enjoy going out there and helping people with it, then there’s something wrong. I love to sell it because I know I am helping people.

Number two, I love the work. In particular, technology is always changing every minute of every day. Whether it’s artificial intelligence, or something else, I really love to put in the time and spend hours every day to understand new technologies and how they impact business, how they impact my business, and how they can create new options and opportunities for my business. Those are probably the two greatest skills that I have.

Is there a particular personality you need to have to be a good salesperson?

Mark Cuban: No. You know that old saying, “I could sell ice to Eskimos”. Those days are gone. That doesn’t work. Really it isn’t about getting into a class to learn how to sell it. Selling is really knowing your product and really knowing your prospect. If I decide to sell to Hugh Gallagher, I’m going to find out all I can about you and your business. And by understanding your business, then I can figure out how I can make my product or service make you happy. If I’m making you happy, you’re going to write your check, right? And if you write your check, I’m happy, you’re happy. We all just have a smile and a drink. So that’s the way I’ve always looked at it. It’s not like you have to go take a class or anything.

How do you balance being a demanding leader but still being caring and empathetic, especially in this time of a pandemic?

Mark Cuban: Being caring and empathetic always comes first. As a leader, I try to have a vision of where I’m trying to go and what the goals of the organization are. By being caring and empathetic and connecting to as many people as I can, I can understand how to connect their goals and their dreams and put them in a position to succeed and connect that to the vision of the organization. When you have a vision for the company and you’re able to connect your vision to the goals of your employees, that’s when the magic happens. That’s when linking happens.

It gets a little bit more difficult as the organization grows and it’s harder to have personal relationships with everybody, but 95% of businesses are small. So 95% of entrepreneurs are just dealing with 10 or 20 or fewer employees. And at that level, they get to know everybody. When you have that kind of personal connection, you can do amazing things and you become a family.

Like every family, you’ll have disagreements but we will always find ways to make it work. So to me, it’s not about, I demand this and I need this. It’s about what we’re trying to do, where we’re trying to go, what we need to do, and how we can work together to achieve our goals.

What’s the biggest risk you took when you were in your twenties or thirties? How did that turn out?

Mark Cuban: This will sound crazy, but I didn’t take any risks because I had nothing to lose. When I was in my twenties, I just got fired. I was broke. I was sleeping on the floor. I was eating mustard and ketchup sandwiches. I was going to the grocery store literally at midnight every day because they marked down the price of the chicken that was about to spoil or go bad. So I had nothing to lose by starting my business. So, I really didn’t take risks and since then I’m pretty much risk-averse. I understand not only my perspective of why I think the company is good, but one of the things I tried to do to reduce my risk is to understand how I would kick my own ass. If I’m out there competing, how would I try to put this new business out of business? I try to understand my competitors and how they would see me.

This is probably the most important of all. You have to be really self-aware. Entrepreneurs always lie to themselves. We always lie to ourselves. We always go, “Oh, this is the best. It’s the best idea. This is the greatest.” The reality is, the best entrepreneurs are super self-aware, super honest with themselves. They know what’s right and they know what’s wrong about their product. They know how people might be able to beat them and then work to overcome those hurdles. So to me, that’s what I’ve always done right from my twenties till today.

You got nothing to lose in your twenties, you don’t have bills. You are just living like a student. That’s the perfect time to start a business. if you’re in your twenties and you’re looking at starting a business, don’t take on debt and don’t live large. Live like a student and save as much money as you can because that’s the best position to start off with.

Do you consider the internet to still be in an exponential boom stage, or in a maturity stage?

Mark Cuban: The internet has been around for 25 years and so it’s hard to say it’s in an exponential growth thing. However, it’s a platform that enables a lot of exponentially booming opportunities for companies. Just look at the companies that are popping up that are built around the cloud. The internet enabled them. AI is enabled by the internet, medicine and telemedicine are enabled by the internet. So in essence, the internet has become a utility that allows you to create other tech-based, boom stage products.

With regards to the NBA, what makes a successful sports game acquisition?

Mark Cuban: Having great players! You know, it doesn’t matter what the team is. When I bought the Dallas Mavericks I bought them because I love basketball. There are many professional sports teams but I chose to buy Dallas Mavericks because I loved the sport. For me, it wasn’t about making money. It was about winning championships and being close to a game I love.

So, if it gets to the point where you can afford to buy a team, then it comes down to, trying to find something that you’d love to do.

And if you’re looking to work for a team, you have to realize there aren’t a lot of professional sports teams. There are a few jobs within that and they don’t pay very well. That’s the thing about working for a professional sports team. Whether it’s in the United States or anywhere else in the world, they don’t pay great. So you really have to love the job that you’re doing in order to go that direction.
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Would you ever consider selling the team it or is it for life?

Mark Cuban: I’m a basketball junkie. One of the best parts of building a team is that I get to go out there on the court before a game and shoot on the floor with them. What I was doing before I bought the Dallas Mavericks was picking up a ball and going out there to play basketball at the time.

I try to go to every game, but it’s now harder with kids. So, the birthday parties and the family obligations come first. But my kids are now 11, 14, and 17 years old. So they’re getting more and more into it too. So, I can go with them and hang out with them. I try to go to as many games as I can. If I could, I’d go to all of them. I mean, it’s really my outlet. It’s my way to get away from the real world.

What did you wish someone would invent?

Mark Cuban: Oh my God. I wish somebody would invent an AI model, a global network model of the human body that can be individualized. Right now we don’t have the capability to do that. It will take a while.

For example, when you feel something, you wonder if you got sick, it would be really interesting if you can simulate yourself and really determine and track what you do. So, taking all the inputs that the model represents, it tells you don’t have a sore throat, you just ate something bad that bothered you, but don’t worry about it.

What do you first look for when hiring, skills, or personality?

Mark Cuban: It depends on the job. If it’s an entry-level job, I look for personality, and basic human traits first. Like, are you a learner? Are you adaptive? Are you the type of person that reduces stress? Are you the type of person that creates stress?

Really that’s the most important thing to me. If you’re a stress reducer, you’re going to work for me for a long time. If you create stress, you’re going to be gone quickly because that’s the last thing any company, any manager, or CEO needs.

The funny part is that the people who create the most stress are the ones that still think that they don’t create stress. They’re the ones that create all these whirlwinds and they think that they are the only ones to solve it. So, I think personality comes first.

Unless it’s a very skill-specific job. I might love you, but if you can’t shoot a basketball against guys who are seven feet tall, your personality isn’t going to make a bit of difference.

Secondly, personality traits are important because you have to fit within the culture of the organization. If you don’t, then you’re creating cascading negative effects.

What is the culture like in a basketball organization?

Mark Cuban: On the basketball side, it’s comradery, support, and effort. Professionals respect effort and skill there. So, if you treat people with respect and empathy and do your job and work hard, you’re going to do really well on the basketball court and in a basketball game.

You famously invested in a number of companies that reached out via cold email. What was so special about the email pitch?

Mark Cuban: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ve invested probably more than a hundred million dollars over the years with people I’ve never met and I’ll tell you exactly how it works.

In the first paragraph, they say something that I think will get my attention. Then in the second paragraph, they say why they can accomplish that and what the benefit is.

And then in the third paragraph, they tell me how they’re going to get there and how I can contribute to helping them get there all very quickly.

If you write me a book and you tell me your whole life story — like the minute I see “when I was a kid or this or that” — I will just blank it out.

But if you get right to it, and that makes sense to me, then what happens is I’ll send you back to a question. What about this? What about that? Are you capable of doing this? How can you pull this?

I also want to see that you’ve taken the steps. I rarely just invest in an idea. If you really believe in this idea and you put in every ounce of effort, and you can create an MVP, a minimally viable product or a prototype so that you’re able to demonstrate that this will work, I respect that and I’ll take a deeper look and then I will just keep on peppering with questions. And if you get past all those questions, then we do due diligence on all the financial stuff and that leads to an investment.

Would your questions be a handful of questions? 50 questions? 100 questions?

Mark Cuban: It depends on the technology. I spend a lot of time learning and getting up to speed on technology. And if you have written me something, like “simulating the body using AI” that may not be in my wheelhouse, I’ll spend the time to learn it. I’m interested, I’ll dig in and I’ll read papers. I’ll read, research, or I’ll do whatever to get up to speed. So I will ask valid questions and then you just have to be able to answer. If you can’t answer my questions, then how are you going to deal with the competition?

How do you address the challenges of selling female-oriented products to VC investors? Most VC’s are male who might not understand the intricacies of the problems? Any tips?

Mark Cuban: Be complete, give in-depth support for what you’re trying to do and why it’s going to be effective. I’ve worked with an organization that invests in female hygiene products. It’s not that I have any experience with it, but it’s not a hard concept to understand. It’s really like any other product that’s geared towards one segment of the market. I’ve got products to sell to men with beards and I’ve got products to sell to African Americans. You just have to make your case.

Now there are going to be men who aren’t comfortable with it. It’s just like there are going to be white people who aren’t comfortable with investing in African American products. Sometimes, going out there looking for an investment is just a numbers game.

So I go back to what I said to the email question. You are going to get my interest if you’ve created a prototype or MVP and you got out there and started selling it. Because as a woman, knowing the market, you’ve got to know other women who are potential customers, and rather than telling me that you need an investor first, you need to find a way. The best companies and the best entrepreneur always find a way to make their product and get some out there and generate some sales so that they have a little track record to show that it works.

So, I guess the quick answer is to create an MVP, create a prototype to go out there and sell. So, if you have a little track record, that simplifies the process dramatically.
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What is the future of work: Is it starting a business rather than looking for a job?

Mark Cuban: Yeah. That’s an interesting question. I think the future of work is an arbitrage on your time, where you can get the best return on your time. Time is the most valuable asset we don’t own. Everybody’s always looking to get as much time available to them as possible. The more resources you have, the more you’re willing to pay somebody to reduce the things that you need to do so you can have more time to yourself. Apps like Uber and the delivery apps are only buying you time. It’s not that you can’t go pick something up yourself. It’s just that you think your time is more valuable than paying somebody to do the same thing. So, I think we’re going to see a significant expansion of what we pay people to do. Look at Postmates, you can get them to do anything and I think that’s going to expand.

Is your approach to business any different than your approach to winning an NBA championship?

Mark Cuban: No! When I got into the NBA, I took the same approach that I had in business. It really pissed off everybody and it made a lot of people mad. It made me a lot of enemies within the NBA, but I didn’t care. I’ve had failures, I’ve made mistakes, but for the most part, my approach has worked. I just try to get after it. So, yeah, it’s the same way. I always play by rules but I’m looking for every angle, every edge to be competitive and to win a championship.

One of the biggest quotes in sports management comes from Jerry Krause who says, “Players and coaches don’t win championships; organizations win championships.” Is this something you would agree with? What wins championships?

Mark Cuban: No. You got to have the players. The teams with great players win. Without them, it doesn’t matter how good our organization is. Bad organizations can ruin a team, no matter how good the players. You need to bring players first and go from there. Bad organizations can ruin them, but they can’t win them.

Who is your favorite Shark?

Mark Cuban: Barbara Corcoran is my favorite shark. If you ask her how much eight times eight is, she doesn’t know the answer. But if someone walks in and gives us the pitch, she’ll be able to understand their personality first and whether or not they’d be great to work with. She understands this better than any of us. I really respect that about Barbara.

What do you love most about Shark Tank?

Mark Cuban: The fact that it sends the message that anybody can start a business. No matter who you are, where you are, what your circumstances are, you can find a way to be successful. We explain why not every business is going to succeed, but I really like the fact that we can inspire people to start a business.

I see it all the time, particularly with kids. Kids watch the shows, whether alone or with their parents. People reach out to me all the time about the company they started. Parents also talk about their kids 12 or 13 or 14 years old starting a business. That’s really rewarding. That’s the best part of the show.

What are some of the mistakes you wish you could have avoided?

Mark Cuban: There are many of them. Making mistakes is part of being in a business. Over the years, I’ve made thousands of them and I tried to learn from all of them. I just try to make my mistakes little and my wins big because you’ve just got to. You’ll make many mistakes but I think over the years I’ve become a better listener. My big problem was I always thought I had the answer before the question was finished.

What is the best book on sales that you would recommend to early-stage founders?

Mark Cuban: Any one! Just any book that looks interesting to you about sales. That’s what I’ll do. When I first got started, I would read books on cold calling, which really isn’t applicable today. I would read on how to sell, how to close the deal, and anything I could find. I would go to the magazine store and buy magazines I could afford. I’d be one of those who sit on the stool all day and read it all day. All it takes is one idea and that one idea helps propel my business as a salesperson, as an entrepreneur, as a CEO and the return on that is incredible. So just always be out there trying to learn, go out there and find a website that talks about selling.

Well, there is one thing I will caution you on, which is what I call a hustle. There are people out there saying “send me money and I will teach you how to sell, I will teach you to make millions”. That’s all garbage, right?

There are legit topics out there, websites, podcasts that truly do talk and can educate you about selling. Those are what you can find. You only need to find one that you like.

I would be petrified to sell on a cold call. Is there a method or a tip or a trick that can help? I know many suffer from the same issue.

Mark Cuban: Nothing scares me more than a cell phone. If I am calling you on the cell phone, you don’t get to see me, yeah I am nervous. But again, I know what I’m selling. Like when I first started selling in 2000, I would always put a telephone and a phone book in front of me before I would start talking to them. Once you recognize that you love your product, it’s easy to sell because you’re helping people. I mean, if you were able to do a cold call and you call someone, “Hi, Mark, can I give you $10?” Those are easy calls to make. Because you think you’re helping somebody. it’s the same thing with selling. If you know you’re helping someone, it’s easy to sell.

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Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder Authority Magazine. He is also the CEO of Authority Magazine's Thought Leader Incubator, which guides leaders to become prolific content creators. Yitzi is also the author of five books. In 2017, he created the popular, “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” series that highlights the empowering lessons learned from the experiences of high-profile entrepreneurs and public figures. This series has inspired a mini-movement among writers, with scores of writers worldwide profiling inspiring people to share their positive, empowering, and actionable stories. A trained Rabbi, Yitzi is also a dynamic educator, teacher and orator. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and children.

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