"You've got to get ready to sacrifice, you have to be ready to spend a tremendous amount of time and energy away from friends and family," O'Leary says. Because so many businesses can easily fail, he explained that it's important to do whatever it takes to stay alive. "This isn't about the pursuit of money, it's about the pursuit of freedom -- if you're successful in a business, one day you will be free."
O'Leary's entrepreneurship style is extreme
O'Leary does more than appear on Shark Tank as "Mr. Wonderful." He launched SoftKey Software Products from his basement in 1983, and later sold it to Mattel Toy Company for $3.7 billion. Shortly after, he started the mutual fund company O'Leary Funds, O'Leary Financial Group, and O'Leary Fine Wines.
How did he do all of that? In the early years of entrepreneurship, "you have to be extreme," says O'Leary. "You have to fight for every dollar in sales, and save every dollar you possibly can. Sometimes, that means downsizing in critical times."
O'Leary went on to say that when businesses are starting out, or going through rough times, entrepreneurs may bring on friends and family to help out. But it's a "mistake" that "always ends badly," he advises.
Actually, quit that day job
When asked if he would ever invest in an entrepreneur with a part-time job, O'Leary laughed and said, "not a chance in hell."
"If you're not willing to give a 110 percent of your time, why should I give you money?" O'Leary asked. "In business, poo-poo happens. Things get really tough sometimes, and you've got to be totally committed."
While O'Leary's decision also applies to entrepreneurs who are still in school, he stressed the importance of finishing an education to get the skills and contacts that a budding business owner might need later on.
Want to be on Shark Tank? Take the deal
When asked what he sees in successful entrepreneurs, O'Leary says the same traits apply to the contestants who pitch their business ideas on Shark Tank. Those people are able to articulate their idea in 90 seconds or less, explain why they are the best person or team to execute the business plan, and they know their numbers.
Another tip for founders who want to get in the tank: O'Leary is tired of the people going on the show just for PR--and not taking the deals offered by investors. "If you really want to use the platform to its maximum value, you've got to get a deal," he says. In order to do that, entrepreneurs need to come up with reasonable valuations. "That's the key to success on Shark Tank: Getting inside the eco-sphere. That's what's really cool about the platform."