Mark Cuban on Sharks, Bigotry, and What He's Really Like as a Boss
When Mark Cuban took the stage Wednesday at Inc.'s GrowCo conference in Nashville in front of 900-some attendees, Inc. President and Editor-in-Chief Eric Schurenberg re-confirmed an agreement the two had made before the interview: It was going to be a no holds-barred conversation. More than an hour later, after Cuban had touched on everything from what the sharks of "Shark Tank" are really like off camera and why he thinks of himself as a bigot, it's clear no such agreement was necessary.
In case you missed the streamed interview live with the outspoken uber-entrepreneur, here are some of the highlights:
On whether he was destined to be a billionaire:
"Oh, hell no. I make sure I don't pinch myself so I don't wake up. All the time I say to myself, why me? Some things are random."
On his first entrepreneurial venture:
Cuban is most well known for his tech companies but his first business was decidedly low tech. As a junior in college--and at the age of 20--he took his student loan money and bought a nearby campus bar. It quickly became the hottest spot in the area because it was notorious for not really checking IDs. Everything went swimmingly until the bar held a wet t-shirt contest. When the local newspapers covered the event, they eventually ID'd one of the contestants as a 16-year-old girl. "But she was on probation for prostitution! That got us closed down," Cuban said.
On how he made his billions:
Cuban's first big startup success was an early software company called Micro Solutions, which he started for $500 and sold seven years later for $6 million. "I learned to party like a rock star," Cuban says. (That's when he traded his lifetime airline pass and bought a private plane for $41 million--still the record for the largest purchase ever online.)
But Cuban hit it even bigger with Audio Net, a startup that figured out how to stream audio online before the Internet really even had audio or video. It involved encoding an eight-hour VCR tape and streaming replays of radio casts to see if anyone really cared. It turns out people did care--a lot. "It was like the YouTube of the start of the Internet. Soon they had deals with radio stations and sports teams. In 1999, at the height of the Internet bubble, Cuban sold the company to Yahoo for $5.7 billion.
On why bought the Mavericks when it was a losing franchise:
When Cuban picked up the Dallas Mavericks, they had been voted the worst team in the league. But Cuban, a self-professed "basketball junkie" was a season-ticket holder. He went to the first game of the 1999-2000 season and it didn't sell out. "We were undefeated--it was the first game of the season. That's the time to be excited." But fans were not.
So Cuban bought the team and immediately set out to change the culture. "I had to explain to the team and to the NBA what business we were in," he says. "It's not the basketball business. It's the business of creating experiences and memories."
On whether the NBA should ban Clippers owner Donald Sterling for his racist remarks:
"I think [NBA Commissioner] Adam [Silver] had to do it. There's a lot at stake for the NBA--it has to be a leader in the culture… but it's a slippery slope.
"You can't keep that ugliness out of the league. There's no law against stupid--I learned that a long time ago," Cuban said.
Cuban also admitted that prejudice is something everyone has to fight. "I know I'm bigoted in a lot of different ways. If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it's late at night, I'm walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face--white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere--I'm walking back to the other side of the street," he says. "No one has pure thoughts… but it's about recognizing when you have thoughts that aren't right." (For an exclusive interview where Cuban elaborates, check out this Inc. video).
On what he would do about patent laws:
"I'd get rid of software patents altogether."
On what he's like as a boss:
"I'm a dick. Ha. Not really… I micromanage you until I trust you. It a back and forth continually… If I send you 30 emails I expect quick responses and direct action. Then we'll go to weekly reports. And I want the bad news first. I want to read, 'God dammit, we lost this sale.' I want to know the setbacks so that I can help you."
On what the sharks are really like off camera:
"People expect them to be the same off camera. Kevin is a jerk on camera, but he's an even bigger jerk off camera. He has his own way of doing business… There's a lot of tension on air… after 10 hour days and 10 days of shooting, you really feel like you want to knock this motherf*cker out."
On his weaknesses:
"There are so many, I can't begin to count. There are a lot of things I suck at. I'm not organized. I have to have partners and people around me who dot my i's and cross my t's. I'm sloppy. I'm a ready-fire-aim guy. I need to have people around me who aren't."
Mark Cuban Live From Growco 2014
LINDSAY BLAKELY | Staff Writer | Senior Editor, Inc.
Lindsay Blakely is a senior editor at Inc., based in Los Angeles.
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