What Shark Tank Judges Can Teach Business Owners: Part 1 of 2

What can the judges of Shark Tank teach small business owners? It turns out, a lot. In this two-part video, I share some of their best pointers, explore the wisdom behind their advice and offer tips on how we can apply their advice to our daily lives.

Shark Tank is a reality TV show that originated from the United States. Budding entrepreneurs get the chance to pitch their business ideas to five investors in the panel—the so-called Sharks in the Tank.

I would not normally take lessons from a reality TV show, but I know that we do watch reality TV and so I decided to look at what we can learn and apply to a small business.  While there is a counterpart here in Australia, I will focus on the Sharks or judges from the original US series.

In this first part of a two-part video, I will discuss the advice and lessons from the male Sharks of the show.

Robert Herjavec: Manage your time

Robert Herjavec is the founder and CEO of the Herjavec Group, a tech company that integrates, distributes, and manages security solutions. The company has done over US$500 million in sales. He founded his first company in 1990.

What he does: Herjavec plans a year in advance, “I live and die by my calendar.”

Why he thinks this advice is important: While he understands that not everything will go as planned—he acknowledges the existence of Murphy’s Law—planning a year in advance gives him the ability to see far ahead. This allows him to set his priorities and make time for the things that matter, such as being able to show up during important family events and activities.

What happened when he lived by this advice: Just as he planned, he has always shown up for every important family activity or event, “I never missed a swim meet. I never missed a school play. I never missed anything.”

The key to Herjavec’s advice is to acknowledge that time is a scarce but important resource. By planning, we make sure that we make the most out of our time, which is what will make us better business owners and better individuals.

In my video, “Managing your business’s most important asset – your time,” I discuss how one can manage time using a 5-step process: knowing what you want, identifying what needs to be done, identifying your strengths and weaknesses, managing your time, and finally keeping yourself focused by holding yourself accountable for your goals.

Mark Cuban: Focus on your strengths

Mark Cuban is the owner of the National Basketball Association (NBA)’s Dallas Mavericks, co-owner of 2929 Entertainment and chairman of AXS TV. He is also an investor in various tech companies. He founded his first company in 1982. His net worth is currently at US$4.1 billion.

What he does: He focused on what he was good at, which was selling and put it to use in the industry he was very much interested in—the tech industry. He also loves to read and learn—and he makes sure that he is up-to-date with the trends in his industry.

Why he thinks his advice is important:

  • He controversially warned against following your passion. He said, “I used to be passionate about being a professional basketball player. Then I realised I had a seven-inch vertical.” A vertical or a vertical leap is a measure of how high an individual or athlete can jump from a standstill. Incidentally, Michael Jordan’s vertical leap is 48 inches. What that meant was that Cuban loved basketball but didn’t have the right skill to excel in it. He could have trained to jump higher, but without natural talent, he probably would never be able to play at Jordan’s level.
    • When he first entered the tech industry, he was very green and knew very little. But he knew how to sell and he was inately curious, “I was always the guy reading about business all the time.”

What happened: He worked hard. He took pains learning about technology and kept abreast of emerging trends in the industry. He was an excellent sales person, which he used to grow his first company—before eventually selling it off for a huge profit. His skill set, his drive and his hard work eventually paid off.

The key to Cuban’s advice is in finding balance: understanding what we want to do and acknowledging what we can do. It is not bad to be ambitious, but we must temper it with pragmatism. Success entails acknowledging both our strengths and weaknesses. We nurture and work with our strengths.

Cuban could not play basketball professionally as he realised that he didn’t have the talent for it. Instead, he used his talent to purchase a basketball team—the Dallas Mavericks.

In one of my videos, “Your business can not grow bigger than what you can manage,” I discuss what business owners can do to focus. This means focusing on what they are good at while delegating the rest. One can delegate tasks to staff, or outsource to freelancers, or even work with consultants or business coaches.

In another video, “How lifelong learning makes your business better,” I share examples of successful entrepreneurs who committed to lifelong learning and how they adhere to this commitment—just as Cuban commits to learning.

Take a look at the videos I mentioned and I think you can see how developing yourself will make you a better business person.

Kevin O’Leary: Entrepreneurship is freedom to do what you want

Kevin O’Leary is a businessman and investor, with holdings in tech and investment companies. He founded his first company in the early 1980s. His net worth is currently at US$400 million.

What he believes: What O’Leary offers is a unique perspective on what it means to be an entrepreneur. “The pursuit towards success is to be personally free to provide for your family and to be able to do the things you want to do with your life. That’s a great gift of entrepreneurship.”

Why he thinks this advice is important: As a young man, O’Leary wanted to become a photographer. The field was very competitive and so his father recommended that he study business instead. He went to business school, pursued an MBA and became a successful entrepreneur. His success in business gave him the freedom to pursue photography—he now gets to do what he wants to do as a hobby.

What he does: O’Leary prides in his ability to be productive. He keeps daily to-do lists, eschews procrastination by constantly asking himself, “Am I making money by doing this?”, and diligently keeps track of his progress.

O’Leary’s wisdom focuses on the “gift of entrepreneurship”—in doing so, it provides an ideal and a purpose for an entrepreneur’s pursuits. It also reminds us that we need to take care of ourselves, because when we do, we become better entrepreneurs. And by the same logic, we become more available in pursuing our life’s goals and passions.

In one of my videos, “Overcoming entrepreneurial exhaustion,” I encourage business owners to learn how to recover, to take good care of their health, and to learn to prioritise tasks.

If we marry Cuban and O’Leary’s advice, we will find a happy medium between passion and effort. If we see entrepreneurship as an enabler of our dreams and passions, then we will find a richer purpose for why we work hard for our business. O’Leary suggests that we see our business pursuit as a means to be free to pursue our passion. We can’t all be Michael Jordan or Ansel Adams, but Cuban and O’Leary has found ways to pursue their passions. Cuban currently owns NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, while O’Leary has a massive collection of cameras and photography equipment.  

Herjavec’s advice also affirms O’Leary’s beliefs about entrepreneurship—while time is a limited resource, as entrepreneurs, we have the freedom to choose how to use that time. And when we plan our time, we get to enjoy what matters most in our lives.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.



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