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In The 'Shark Tank' With Mark Cuban (Part 1)

Brittany Frederick Brittany Frederick
May 6th, 2011 5:00pm EDT

You know him as the outspoken owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. Yet Mark Cuban, who's worth two and a half billion dollars thanks to his vast holdings in media and sports, is a lot more than the guy writing the checks for a sports franchise. His latest venture is ABC's Shark Tank, where he's one of two new panelists this season (the other being Jeff Foxworthy, with whom he alternates episodes) to hear product pitches from ordinary people with extraordinary ideas.  As his last episode airs tonight at 8 PM ET/PT, Cuban took time out of a busy schedule to chat with me. Here's part one of our two-part interview, where he talks candidly about his time in the Shark Tank.

Shark Tank

Tonight is your last episode of Shark Tank. Was that your decision or a production decision?

I was willing to do as many as they wanted me to. I think they just kind of scheduled out the season so they had it split between Kevin Harrington coming back, Jeff Foxworthy and I.

That begs the question of what is that schedule like?

I was in there I don't even know how many days but it's a full ten-hour day where they just bring in pitch, after pitch, after pitch, and then the editors decide what goes on air. It's funny; I went in and brought a couple of different suits. And they're like, "Just wear one suit every day. That way we can cut the episodes in two." So it's not like there's any chronological order to them.

They bring in the deals. When those folks walk in the door, you'll see all the sharks taking notes, because when the entrepreneurs walk in the door, it's the first time we've seen them. We don't even get to see the video that they show about the entrepreneurs and their businesses. We just get to hear whatever they pitch us.

When you're hearing those pitches, what are you looking for?

There's a couple different elements. First I look at the business. It's got to be a business that I can see a future to, that I think really has promise and potential. It's got to be a business that I understand. It's got to be a business that I add value to.

And I think just as importantly, it's got to be a person that I believe in and I think has the commitment and passion for their company. You know, I get pitched everyday. I can't walk down the street without being pitched by somebody. And too often entrepreneurs make it all about the idea, and that's not enough. One of the great things about Shark Tank [is that] we get to see a lot of businesses that have been fleshed out where people have put in time and put in sweat equity. I can see elements in the entrepreneur that are attractive to me: effort and brains, edge to them, ability to sell, expertise in their industry.

I look for all those elements, and then I contrast that to the risk-reward of the business or of the investment. If I'm investing ten thousand dollars, there's a different risk-reward profile than if I'm investing a million dollars. When I make an offer for a million dollars like I do on the show tonight, you better believe I believe in all of the elements as opposed to just a couple of them.

What advice would you give to people who want to try their hand at coming on the show?

Be prepared. I say this not just for coming into Shark Tank but for anybody who's an entrepreneur. When you walk into the room, you have to know your business better than anybody in the world, because there's somebody out there competing with you and wanting to kick your ass. If you're not prepared and you're not ready for people to compete with you then you're going to lose.

I think that's a mistake that entrepreneurs make. They think just the idea and just the effort, and whatever else is going to put them over the top. When in reality, anybody who shows any level of success, it's like a magnet to other people who want to try to take that business away. For me that element of fear, of knowing that I'm competing with, you know, huge companies always motivates me.

People coming into the Shark Tank need to recognize that if it's a good idea and you can't do well, one of us may even compete with you. So you have to be prepared and you have to be ready to compete.

With that in mind, how do you think you might have done in their place?

They probably would have eaten me alive. I would have gone in there prepared. I would have gone on there very knowledgeable about my business. I've been in similar situations.

But what's really difficult for the entrepreneur is even though you may only see the segment in ten minutes, it could drag out for an hour or more, us just peppering them with questions. And the camera's rolling the whole time and you've got to stand still. The whole standing still and just responding to questions, I don't know if that's my strength.

So they probably would have crushed me. But that probably would have motivated me rather than crush my spirits.

Once you've made a deal with someone, are you ever able to get out of that deal? Have you ever gone back on a deal?

We can't get out just because we don't like them. But we can if we do our due diligence and they misrepresented something. I had one deal that didn't make it on air with these animation folks. Their whole thing was, you know, our costs are so low. And then we got in and they just decided that anything they put on the charge card didn't count as a cost and didn't disclose those until we went in and really dug in.

So we've got situations like that where they just get so excited that they get caught up in the moment and kind of fudge things or amplify things. Or they just mislead you. Then we have every opportunity to get out.

You've really added to the show this season. Would you come back for more episodes?

If there's a next season and they want me back, I'm there because I love doing the show. I love being part of it. I love the intellectual and business challenge of it.

Stay tuned for part two of my interview with Mark Cuban at a later date! Until then, check out his final episode of Shark Tank tonight at 8 PM ET/PT on ABC.

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Photo Credits: ABC


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