With Barbara Corcoran, Businesswoman, Entrepreneur, Investor, Author of Shark Tales: How I Turned $1000 into a Billion Dollar Business
Barbara Corcoran has become somewhat of a household name as one of the “sharks” on ABC’s hit show, Shark Tank, where American entrepreneurs pitch business ideas for capital investments by the sharks, who spend their own hard-earned cash on the deals. Barbara is an active columnist, guest business speaker, and business consultant. She speaks with Steve about her book, Shark Tales: How I Turned $1000 into a Billion Dollar Business.
For aspiring entrepreneurs, Barbara has tips on what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur, what venture investors look for in entrepreneurs, and who her favorite sharks are on the show.
Distinctly Unpromising Beginnings
Barbara got straight Ds in high school and college and had changed 20 jobs by the time she was 23. But her next job brought fame and fortune when she took $1,000 from her then-boyfriend to start her own brokerage firm, The Corcoran Group, giving him 51% ownership.
Later, when they broke-up, Barbara says she did not immediately have the confidence to walk away from the business and from the ex who believed in her and set her on the path to success. However, after a year of getting over her romance, she picked up the courage to get out and took half the employees with her.
Growing Up With Dyslexia
Barbara Corcoran’s first brush with pain happened when she was just in first grade. Her teacher called her stupid because Barbara couldn’t learn to read or write. So, until seventh grade, she painfully went through school as the stupid dunce kid who had to learn in shame in the classroom.
Her painful dyslexic childhood, however, was perfect training for later. In business, Barbara learned to take slammed doors and insults in stride and kept soldiering on.
Fumbling For Confidence In Shark Tank
While viewers may not have noticed, Barbara says she struggled with confidence issues in her first few years on Shark Tank. She finally found her inner strength and started speaking up.
Failure Is Key To Success
Getting through failure became second nature to her. She believes great entrepreneurs, too, have a knack of getting past failures and soldiering on to success. They also have the ability to think fast and deflect obstacles in their paths.
Entrepreneurs also have to deal with money issues. Most banks are wary of lending to struggling startups that really need the money but line up with loans when business is roaring. This gap has spawned startups such as OnDeck, the leader in online lending to small businesses.
With money now flowing, startups must be careful about how they spend it. That’s because the path to building a business is stacked with obstacles. Business success requires solid conviction.
Shark Tank Inside Scoop
On Shark Tank deals, Barbara Corcoran likes teaming up with Daymond John for his genuineness and Mark Cuban for his wicked tech smarts and deep pockets.
More than betting on businesses, Barbara bets on the people who are passionate about them. She believes businesses could change direction, so you need an entrepreneur who is flexible and focused on success, not on the idea.
Tips For Business Success
Here are some of Barbara’s thoughts on business success.
“Don’t you dare underestimate the power of your own instinct.” She believes one’s best decisions are based on good gut instinct more than good analysis.
In entrepreneurs, Barbara looks for street smarts and for someone who is thankful, fair-minded, and fun to work with. She has seen many partnerships break up when greed creeps in.
If you are toying around with starting a business, heed Barbara’s tips for success. And read Shark Tales: How I Turned $1000 into a Billion Dollar Business for tips on how to raise money, spend it wisely, and grow your business big-time.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily of the radio show. Interviewee is not a representative of the radio show. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by the radio show.
Steve Pomeranz: My next guest is Barbara Corcoran. You all know her as one of the sharks on ABC’s hit TV show, Shark Tank. Barbara Corcoran’s credentials include, I’m sure she’s proud of this, straight D’s in high school and college, and 20 jobs by the time she turned 23. But it was her next job that would make her one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country when she took a $1,000 loan to start the Corcoran Group.
Barbara’s joining me right now. Hi, Barbara, thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
Barbara Corcoran: Thank you, Steve, for having me over. I appreciate it.
Steve Pomeranz: You’re no stranger to starting from nothing. I interviewed Daymond John a few months ago and his story-
Barbara Corcoran: I love that Daymond, I love him, he’s my favorite.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, yeah, he was great, it was a great interview. And his beginning was as humble as yours. He started out in Hollis, Queens, with literally nothing. How did you get going?
Barbara Corcoran: I got going because I did have a lucky break when I was 23 at that diner one night, when a customer walked in and he stood at my counter, which was just pot luck.
He could have sat at the other one. And he became my boyfriend. I had never had a boyfriend before. And he offered me a ride home that night. And a year later he said to me, with your big personality, you’d be great at real estate. And he offered to give me $1,000 to start a brokerage firm.
And that’s how I got my start. It was certainly good luck. I’d like to think I earned the luck, cuz I worked so hard. I probably worked harder by the time I was 23 than most people worked by the time they’re 63. But it was second nature, and I just felt like that was just a lucky break.
Steve Pomeranz: So did you think it was crazy, or did something inside you say, I guess I got nothing to lose here, I’m a waitress at a diner, let’s go for it and see what happens?
Barbara Corcoran: No, I don’t think it was crazy at all, Steve. I thought to myself, hey, why not?
I’ve tried everything else. I mean, I had had my fair share of failure both in school as a dunce.
Steve Pomeranz: [LAUGH]
Barbara Corcoran: So anything outside the classroom in my book was okay with me. Just let me out of that jailhouse where I could function.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, you mentioned that your dad had worked as a foreman and kind of hated his job.
And you saw this person you were dating now as having money, and he seemed seemingly happy. You thought, hey, why not?
Barbara Corcoran: Yeah, why not? Sadly for my dad, he would have been probably a good entrepreneur, but he had ten mouths to feed and a two bedroom flat.
So that really was the one time that he did go in business for himself, the very first check he received, was for $1,000. And in those days, picture that. I mean, so many, many years ago. That’s today the equivalent of getting a $20,000 check? And what do you think my brilliant dad did?
He showed it to everyone at the dinner table. We passed it around. Everybody got to look at it. He cashed it, and we went on vacation with the money.
Steve Pomeranz: [LAUGH]
Barbara Corcoran: I mean, not the best formula for success or prudence. But you know what, it’s still my memory of the entire best week of my life, as it is for all my nine siblings, so maybe he did the wise thing.
He gave us that memory instead of a business for himself.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, that’s great. But after some while, you got dumped by your boyfriend, and he owned 51-
Barbara Corcoran: Don’t use the word dumped.
Steve Pomeranz: What’s that?
Barbara Corcoran: He just had second thoughts, he didn’t dump me.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay, I thought he was going to marry your secretary.
Barbara Corcoran: Yes, he did, he told me he was marrying my secretary. I guess that’s called being dumped, right? [LAUGH]
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, I guess so. I guess so. But he had 51% of your business. So how come you didn’t just fold and walk away?
Barbara Corcoran: No, I didn’t have the confidence to fold and walk away.
After all, remember, he found me at the diner and took me out of my little town of Edgewater. He said he believed in me, he became my mentor, he was my partner, and he was ten years older than me. And he moved me to New York City out of a little town in New Jersey.
So in my warped sense of reality, I thought that he had made me. As though my parents had nothing to do with me. Of course, they were the ones that actually made me and taught me the gumption I would later need. But it was that kind of thinking.
I thought I would be nothing without him, and he traded me for a younger model, so my ego was injured. And I was sitting in the sales pit with my salespeople because his new wife moved into my seat, shared his office. So it was insult after insult.
So with that kind of self-selected kind of self-beating of my own brain, I guess, I didn’t have the gumption to stand up for myself. It took me a year, but once I did, it was great. I just walked in one Friday morning, said hey guess what, we’re chopping up the business today.
You take the first sales person’s pick, I’ll take the second. We chopped it, 14 people in half, and I started a new business that following Monday. And so I was a little slow on the uptake, but I got it done. And in the end, that’s all that really counts.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, so would you say that we all have to deal with rejection and handle it? I know you had some thoughts on business and rejection. Was that kind of your first big test you think?
Barbara Corcoran: No, my first big test certainly happened in first grade, when sister Stella Marie, the nun from hell, called me stupid just because I couldn’t learn to read or write.
I didn’t learn until I was in the seventh grade. So I went through school as the stupid dunce kid who had to read out loud and learn in shame in the classroom, that’s a horrific thing to put a child through. And I didn’t know it then because it hurt so badly.
But I learned later that was perfect training for going into business. I mean, I could be a loser in any situation, be an underdog, be insulted, be kicked, be laughed at. And I’ve been there before. It’s like almost second nature. I’m used to being an outsider. And if you’re trying to build a business, it’s a great power you have if you could really just take that from inside you. So for when I’m fumbling for confidence, which I did for the first few years on Shark Tank, I could barely speak up. I don’t know, by the way, if anyone noticed, because the men overpowered me. But when I learned to speak up, because I had to pull down inside myself, cuz I’d been there before.
It’s just another version of the same old, same old crap that I had lived again and again in many situations. And so it becomes second nature getting through failure, really. And now it’s interesting, every one of my hugely successful entrepreneurs has the gift of getting through failure, they are great as losers basically, they’re good losers.
And they have the great ability to think fast on their feet and change with whatever obstacles are flying up in their face. And that is the mark of any great entrepreneur, I have no doubt in my mind. I’ve seen it, lived it, tested it, invested in it. [LAUGH] I’m a great real-life case study from the inside and from the outside.
Steve Pomeranz: My guest is Barbara Corcoran. You all know her as one of the sharks on Shark Tank. And Barbara, let’s talk a little bit about Shark Tank. One thing that’s interesting, I thought, is that in Shark Tank, each of the investors are looking to own a share of the business.
But you guys are investing in equity in the business. Now, when your business started to grow and you needed money to grow, did you give away equity like those on the show, or did you borrow money to do it?
Barbara Corcoran: Well, the problem with small business is it’s very hard to borrow money.
When you can get money from your local friendly bank, it’s always in the years when you don’t need any money. To get the credit lines, you get the loans for expenses because everything’s jolly. But when things are bad and you have just a good idea and maybe even more opportunity to do something special, because everybody’s laying low and not spending money, you’ll never get the money.
It’s just the way of the land, right? And that’s why you have new online people lending money like OnDeck, who’s actually the leader on the online lending to small businesses. But you get those opportunities now, thank God, which we didn’t have back then. But what you must do, even if you get the money, is you have to spend it wisely.
And I can tell you from working with many of the entrepreneurs I’ve invested in on Shark Tank, a lot of them don’t have good business judgment. They’re quick to hire a PR agency versus make a sales call.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that.
Barbara Corcoran: Yeah, they’re quick to buy a fancy new car instead of funding the inventory that they’re going to need if they could only believe that they’re really going to get a big order.
Steve Pomeranz: I wonder how many people you talk to are in love with the idea of being an entrepreneur, but not really in love with making a business grow?
Barbara Corcoran: You know what? It’s not even about choosing to love or not. Everybody’s in love with their idea like the hot chick, she’s amazing. Until you marry her or him, and then you have to live day to day [LAUGH] with another human being, same kind of parallel.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay.
Barbara Corcoran: But what people don’t know, until you walk the talk, is you really don’t know how tough it is to build a business. It’s nothing but a string of obstacles and disgruntled people really, and you have to still believe in what you’re running for and still believe you’re going to get there, that it makes the struggle worthwhile.
And so, yes, I would echo you when you said you wonder how many people are in love with being entrepreneurs. Of course, it’s cool to be the boss. Of course, it’s cool to be in charge of your own destiny. But get yourself in there, building a business for one tough year, and it’s not so much fun at all.
Steve Pomeranz: So on Shark Tank, Barbara, first of all, I know you get asked this question a lot, but everybody wants to know. Who’s your favorite to partner up with?
Barbara Corcoran: I would have to say it’s Jim and Sabin from Cousin’s Maine Lobster. They’re 30, they’re darn good-looking, they flirt with me all the time in every business meeting.
Steve Pomeranz: [LAUGH]
Barbara Corcoran: They even have the decency, when I take photos with them, to airbrush my face and send it to me so I look their age. In fact, I wouldn’t have even been onto this except about three months ago, I’m looking at one of the photos and I’m like, wait, I don’t even have a nose.
What happened? That’s when I realized they’re doing too much air-brushing.
Steve Pomeranz: [LAUGH] Yeah, yeah.
Barbara Corcoran: Yeah, so they’re my favorite, of course, because they’re great guys. And all my other favorites are people I’m in love with. More than the business, what do I know about lobsters? Nothing, but hey, I’ve learned. But what they are is they’re great entrepreneurs.
Steve Pomeranz: What other Shark do you like to team up with?
Barbara Corcoran: You just switched subjects on me on that.
Steve Pomeranz: I did. [LAUGH]
Barbara Corcoran: That’s all right. I love teaming up with Daymond because he’s 150% genuine. What you see is what you get.
I love teaming up with Mark because he is so wicked smart in technology, which is an area that I always struggle to learn. I’ve felt back at school and slacking on it.
Steve Pomeranz: Mm-hm.
Barbara Corcoran: And he has so many big bucks. So having a big fish like that in your business with you is even comforting to me.
He’s got billions, I’ve got millions. There’s a big difference. They’re my two favorites.
Steve Pomeranz: One of the things that Daymond said that I thought was interesting, he said, his least favorite was Mark, because Mark’s got billions. And $1 million is rounding error to him, and he’ll pay $1 million just to get you to walk away.
He said, if he lends you $20, or gives you $20, he wants to see your dental record, so.
Barbara Corcoran: [LAUGH] That’s so Damon. My gosh, I don’t know if that’s actually sass, but that would fit, definitely. [INAUDIBLE] Wonderful, adores more than anything else, cash. And he earned it very hard and it sucks a lot to give it away. So he’s just a cheapskate [INAUDIBLE]
Steve Pomeranz: But I noticed, how many deals have you done on Shark Tank approximately?
Barbara Corcoran: Roughly 30 to 33 thereabouts. [INAUDIBLE] in the process of closing right now.
Steve Pomeranz: So there must have been a couple of thousand presentations. I mean, I did some math.
I don’t really know what the math is.
Barbara Corcoran: [INAUDIBLE] that’s a great thing for me to use. My God, I never even thought about that. [INAUDIBLE]
Steve Pomeranz: So yeah, you really keep your cards close to the vest. You wait for the sweet deal, and you’re not really bidding on every deal.
As a matter of fact, when I watch The Shark Tank, I know that a lot of times you’re very quiet.
Barbara Corcoran: Well, let me give you the truth on why I’m so quiet. Remember, there’s an editor that edits-
Steve Pomeranz: [LAUGH]
Barbara Corcoran: To take an hour and half and make it five minutes [CROSSTALK] .
But the reason I’m quiet, I’m not blaming the editor, I’m blaming myself. Because I will try to talk probably ten times for every one time that I could actually get to say [INAUDIBLE], because the men mow right over me. But to your earlier point, what I’m really waiting for on Shark Tank is someone to fall in love with.
When I fall in love with an entrepreneur I will buy, even if I don’t like their business. Because what I’ve learned in six years, or seven years now, on Shark Tank is that if I have the right entrepreneur, totally invest in that business, cuz that’s the nature of the beast.
They reinvent every day in reaction to the obstacles of their work. And so I have confidence. But if I don’t love the entrepreneur, not like them but love the entrepreneur, I don’t get on them, because you know what? It never works out for me. I’ve learned what my MO here is.
Steve Pomeranz: Talking with Barbara Corcoran. Of course, she is one of the sharks on the ABC hit TV show, Shark Tank, but she really is also known for building just a big business in a very tough environment, the Corcoran Group, doing real estate in New York. As I was researching for this interview, I noticed an interview with Ink Magazine, and you gave a number of your best advice tips.
I’d like to go through a few of those if you don’t mind.
Barbara Corcoran: I’d love to hear them. I always forget what comes out of my mouth.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you. [LAUGH] So the first one was on the topic of instinct, and here is the quote.
“Don’t you dare underestimate the power of your own instinct.” What do you think about that?
Barbara Corcoran: I wholeheartedly agree with myself. [LAUGH] You know why? If you really think about all your best life decisions, and I’m not talking about business. Let’s say you’re working for someone in a mundane job, but think of your personal life.
All of your best decisions in life are out of the gut. You insist they aren’t. You didn’t like that guy, I don’t know why. Well, you’ll soon find out why you didn’t like him after you marry him, right? Or you do business with him. Or you didn’t trust this gal.
I don’t know, something about her is off. I feel like I can’t put my finger on it. Well, you’re going to find out what you can’t put your finger on once she becomes your best friend or whatever. You really have to listen to that inside intuition. And it’s kind of weird, I think, for me, because everything in our education system says listen to your left brain.
Everything we’re taught is listen, analyze. A leads to B, leads to C. But in real life, it doesn’t work that way. A leads often to F, and then comes back to B. And so the only piece of your mind that’s able to grasp that, and see the truth, is your intuition.
Steve Pomeranz: Mm-hm.
Barbara Corcoran: And yet we hammer it out of ourselves in our school systems, which I’m all against, maybe because I was a lousy student. But one thing I have is great intuition on people. I mean, I can’t say always, but rarely wrong [CROSSTALK].
Steve Pomeranz: And you’re looking for someone with street sense?
Barbara Corcoran: I’m looking for someone with street smarts, and you know what else I’m looking for? It might sound like a non-business trait, I’m looking for someone who’s thankful. Because let’s say everything goes great, we build a huge business, and we sell it for millions, and I pick my chunk of cash off the table one day.
I want to take it off and have a partner that we hug and we say thank you. Because that thankfulness, to me, sprinkles itself over the whole process of building that business. I have done, not often, maybe one or two Shark Tank businesses, where the minute it’s going well it’s almost like people get greedy.
How did I miss that character flaw? What do I want to[LAUGH] spend my time with that jerk for? And I really want nice people. You only get to live once, you don’t want to go back and wish you should’ve done it with somebody better. Your judgment on people is so integral to your happiness in life.
Steve Pomeranz: My guest is Barbara Corcoran. You all know her as one of the sharks on Shark Tank, and also the founder of the Corcoran Group.
Barbara Corcoran: You got it.
Steve Pomeranz: And don’t forget to find out more about Barbara and to here in this interview again.
Join the conversation at stevepomeranz.com.