Business major

Barbara Corcoran shares the major difference between entrepreneurs who fail and those who succeed

Eric McCandless/ABC

Barbara Corcoran is the founder of real estate brokerage firm The Corcoran Group and Shark and executive producer of ABC’s “Shark Tank.” She is the author of “Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 Into a Billion Dollar Business!” and host of the “Business Unusual With Barbara Corcoran” podcast, as well as a motivational speaker and media personality.

Recognized by GOBankingRates as one of Money’s Most Influential Personalities, here she shares what she looks for in the entrepreneurs she invests in, how she became a success story in the era of the “alumni network” and the importance of having fun with your money.

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What do you look for when choosing where to invest in “Shark Tank”?

I always ask myself two questions about the job: “Does this product make sense? And will people buy it? But much more important is sizing up the entrepreneur because I want to choose people who will make their business successful, and that’s not that easy.

For starters, I never choose someone I don’t like because I like who I’m working with. I do much better with the people I love – we all do. I also ask myself: “Do I trust them? Then the hard work begins of trying to quickly determine if they possess the important traits shared by each of my successful entrepreneurs. I’m looking for someone who can “sell” their product, someone who is comfortable taking risks and, above all, someone who knows how to bounce back from failure. I find that the only difference between my very successful entrepreneurs and everyone else is this: when successful entrepreneurs have a setback, they just take less time to feel sorry for themselves.

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What characteristics or skills do you think contributed the most to your success?

I have a great imagination. I was the stupid kid in school and couldn’t learn to read or write, so I spent my days in class imagining all sorts of things to do after school. I had six hours a day all my life to practice my imagination. I’m also extremely good with people. I read people well and know how to use their talents to build a successful business. Every day at school, I was constantly embarrassed that I didn’t have an answer; and, once out of that prison, I decided that I never wanted to be embarrassed about not having an answer again – and that made me an over-preparer in everything I do. Lastly, I have tremendous energy and can outrun (anyone). That I received from my mother, who raised 10 children.

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What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Forget that you are a woman. It only gets in the way. I never thought of myself as a girl – I thought of myself as a competitor and competed with every man, woman and child I met. I built my business despite the “old boy network” in New York saying I couldn’t; and when I was insulted or disrespected, I promised myself revenge. I did it. I became the number one competitor.

On those many occasions when I was afraid to speak, I asked myself, “What would a man do? And I raised my hand and spoke. I didn’t need credit, and often didn’t get it, but I made sure I was heard.

What’s the one money tip you wish everyone would follow?

I’m not very good at making money with money, but I’m really good at spending it wisely. Whether you’re struggling with a small business or running an empire, the best money spent is making sure your team is having fun. It’s the most overlooked tool for building a hugely innovative team, and you need to build it into the budget. My mother called it “crazy money”.

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At The Corcoran Group, we were good at selling real estate, but we were just as good at having fun. We have shoe shiners on Tuesdays and Thursdays and manicures on Fridays. We had our February Sweetheart Party where everyone came in costume; we had outrageous summer picnics and each of my managers had to spend 5% of their operating budget on having fun. If they didn’t use it by the end of the year, they had to return it.

I give myself my own “crazy money” in the form of $400 cash every week. I use that money to buy flowers, grab a pretzel from the street cart, or hail a cab when I don’t feel like walking. I spend it on all the little things that make my life even better, and I’m not afraid to waste a thing!

What is the biggest mistake you made in your career and what did you learn from it?

The first big mistake I made was squandering my first profit, $77,000, on a new idea – it was a total flop. I thought at the time that was a great idea and put all of our property listings on videotape so our clients could choose apartments from the comfort of their Lay-Z Boy chair at home. I named it “Homes on Tape” – “HOT” for short. It was a failure. My agents wouldn’t distribute them because they feared their clients would call another agent listed on the tape for them. I should have been wary and lost the $77,000!

I was looking for a way to save face when my husband, Navy Captain Bill, came back from playing war games in Korea “in real time on this new government thing called the Internet”. So I registered, dumped all the videos online, and we had two sales out of London that week! No other realtor was on the internet then, and it was a potluck because I had time to experiment with all the wacky ideas I could think of. And I immediately logged the URLs of all my competitors so they would have to ask me, and I would know when they finally woke up to the internet – a tool that would change the industry forever.

It was my biggest mistake with the biggest reward! I learned soon after that all of my greatest successes have come after failure.

Jaime Catmull contributed reporting for this article.

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About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Prior to joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and His work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she’s been featured on “Good Morning America” ​​as a celebrity news expert.