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Thursday, December 25, 2014
“Most Of The Times I Ever Lost A Lot Of Money With Somebody, They Graduated From Harvard.” 12-26
“Most Of The Times I Ever Lost A Lot Of Money With Somebody, They Graduated From Harvard.”
Barbara Corcoran barreled into our office with opinions about everything and everyone. A ledge outside our offices on the 25th floor of the Empire State Building would make a perfect terrace, she said, offering the exact negotiating tips for snagging it. My questions weren’t precise enough, she thought. I should ask about the real estate firm she founded, Corcoran Group, first, then Shark Tank. She eyeballed one of the other editors and decided that he was dressed all wrong: cowboy boots, the pointier the better, were immediately called for. Corcoran’s bright yellow blazer would have made her the center of attention even if she hadn’t said a word. But with the torrent of thoughts coming out of her, the jacket was merely a set piece to the Barbara Show — and everyone had stopped working to watch.
The fact that there hasn’t already been a show centered on Corcoran before Shark Tank seems like a few decades of lost opportunity. How can you resist, after all, someone who, despite selling her 1,400-person brokerage for $66 million, insists that she’s never had a plan and that “the left side of your brain is totally overrated in business”? She knows what she’s good at and what she’s bad at and makes it clear that she loses interest very quickly.
What grabbed me is how counter all of her ideas are to the modern bible of entrepreneurship: The modern entrepreneurs say No wisely, focus on one segment, aim for megatrends. Corcoran’s feeling is that you try as many ideas as possible and fail enough times until you achieve success. No PowerPoint or detailed Excel. “I’m not a believer in the MBA type stuff,” she says. “Most of the times I ever lost a lot of money with somebody, they graduated from Harvard.”
You can watch her business philosophy play out on Shark Tank where a solid story and a gung ho entrepreneur will capture her eye and her wallet. Or you can see it play out in the very fact that she’s on Shark Tank.
Recently, she wrote about how she'd gotten hired and quickly cut from Shark Tank: Someone from executive producer Mark Burnett’s team reached out to her to be part of the original team of sharks. (For those not yet hooked, Shark Tank is a show where eager entrepreneurs pitch their company to a panel of business pros — the sharks. Each shark can try to buy a piece of the entrepreneur’s business on the spot.) She signed a contract, bought five outfits and prepared to head to Los Angeles. A few days before her flight, a call came in from Burnett: he was dropping her in favor of someone else.
Corcoran banged out an email: "I understand you’ve asked another girl to dance instead of me. Although I appreciate being reserved as a fallback, I’m much more accustomed to coming in first." Shelaid out all of the rejections in her life and how she turned each into a success. She didn’t wait for karma to come around and bless her at some later point; she got mad and she fought for what she wanted now.
The right brain took over. Burnett relented and had her come out for a bake off against her rival.
Watch the video to get a full sense of Corcoran’s drive and what she can offer to the legions of entrepreneurs today.
Some other highlights from the interview
On the future of brokers:
The brokerage business was changed the minute the Internet was born… It took the power of information, which is what the broker had the best of — that was their lock and key — and handed it right to the consumer. It took the emphasis off information. And it put the total emphasis on quality of service. What will happen with the 6% commission? I'd be a fool to say it will stay as it is. But how far it might erode? I don't really know. I’m not a fortune teller.
On what it's like seeing signs for the Corcoran Group everywhere, but no longer having any say in its operations.
How do you just stop caring? You can't do it.
I walked past our Madison and 89th office only two days ago. It was about 5:00 at night. I was annoyed that there were no fresh mums in those planters I had picked out. And so what did I do? I had them delivered anonymously the next day. And the guy planted them up for me.
Little nutsy, but walking by there, I thought: "Where are the bright yellow mums?" So you don't ever give up ownership of the association. It's like your kids left town. But you're always their mother.
But one other thing that drives me crazy, people constantly say, "Oh, I just bought an apartment from your firm." That used to be the best news. I'd hug them and thank them for the commission. Now it's, like, "Ah, crap." I pretend I'm happy but I'm miserable. Another lost commission. That drives me crazy. Happens all the time.
On how she hires (and how the people she’s investing in should hire):
Who did I look for in a partner? Someone who was opposite. that's how I met [early Corcoran President] Esther Kaplan, the most … organized, the most detail-oriented, the most controlling person I've ever met in my life.
And the bigger the business gets, the more it's gotta look like a giant crayon box with a million different colors. That's what gives the business its substance. Most people like to hire pals that they get along with that are similar to themselves. Always the wrong call.
The first call I'm making on all 26 people I've invested in is what are their strengths? I'm listening with ears wide open to see what they do well. And then the next step I'm doing is convincing them they need help and who they oughta hire for help… every one of my most successful businesses from Shark Tank, the seven big winners to date, have opposite personalities at the helm.
On why a show about business investing is a hit I think it's inspirational. [People are thinking] I don't wanna work for somebody. I wanna be in business for myself. And they're coming up with ideas. And that's why you see more kids on that show.