Shortly after Mark Cuban got his bachelor's degree from Indiana University in 1981, he moved in with some friends in Dallas and became a bartender.
After getting sick of making drinks, Cuban worked at a PC software business, where he built up a strong clientele but provoked his boss to fire him for disobeying an order.
He was left with no savings and no means to pay his bills; it was as good a time as any to venture out on his own, he figured, and so he started a software distribution company called MicroSolutions.
He partnered with an experienced executive, and soon they had a nice thing going--until their receptionist embezzled and ran away with $83,000 of the company's $85,000.
As Cuban explains in his book "How to Win at the Sport of Business," he didn't give up or seek revenge. Instead, he buckled down and spent countless hours learning about the software he sold so that he would outperform the competition. He eventually sold MicroSolutions in 1990 to H&R Block for $6 million, personally making around $2 million. It was his first big deal.
He tells Business Insider that the greatest lesson he learned in his 20s was that "with time and effort I could learn any new technology that was released."
Rather than a boast, it's a message to entrepreneurs that when you hit dire straits, your competition isn't going to slow down for you to catch up, but you can accelerate past them with the knowledge you acquire. And Cuban doesn't suggest you spend the money or go in debt for an MBA.
"I remember going into customer meetings or talking to people in the industry and tossing out tidbits about software or hardware," he writes. "Features that worked, bugs in the software. All things I had read. I expected the ongoing response of: 'Oh yeah, I read that too in such-and-such.' That's not what happened. They hadn't read it then, and they still haven't started reading it."
Cuban says that despite a minimal background in computers, he was outperforming so-called experts in the field simply because he put time and effort in. It's why, he writes, he still allocates a chunk of his day to reading whatever he can to gain an edge in the businesses he's involved in.
"Most people won't put in the time to get a knowledge advantage," he writes.
Cuban explains that college is the time you pay to learn, but "now that you have graduated, it's your chance to get paid to learn. And what if you aren't a recent college grad? The same logic applies. It is time to get paid to learn."