Investor, consultant, and TV personality Barbara Corcoran may have earned D’s in high school, but she’s scoring straight A’s as a no-nonsense regular on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and as a devoted mom. Examiner caught up with the personable Corcoran on March 24 for an exclusive interview.
A razor-sharp businesswoman at heart, Corcoran opened by offering practical tips for reducing financial stress, which she said keeps nearly 2/3 of Americans under near-constant pressure. She advised keeping cash reserves on hand for emergencies like unexpected car repairs or a new appliance, and avoiding what she called “the ugly game of charging and paying off over time.” She recommended that employers consider enrolling in Zebit, a free employee benefit that provides budgeting tools and advice designed to reduce or eliminate financial stress. Doing so would help to reduce employee anxiety, which would, in turn, improve workplace productivity.
Corcoran went on to chat on a number of other topics, including her work on “Shark Tank,” the single most important factor she considers when deciding whether or not to invest in a new business, and whether or not she’d consider appearing on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Sherry Wight: We know you from “Shark Tank,” of course. A few weeks ago, I asked Daymond John a question and I’ll ask you the same one: Do you feel like you’ve learned anything new about business and investing from working with the other Sharks?
Barbara Corcoran: Let me tell you: I’ve learned that I knew very little when I built my own business, relative to what I know now. The first couple of years at “Shark Tank,” after I got off a 10-hour set [instead of partying like many people in Hollywood want to do], all I could do was sleep. I was exhausted, not physically, [but] mentally from the enormous information I was learning from the people who were pitching… and from the other Sharks, who had totally different backgrounds in business. The way they were wheeling and dealing…. Sometimes I didn’t even know what they were talking about…. I have to believe that my brain had to enlarge by 500 percent to absorb all the knowledge I’ve learned.
If I knew how stupid I was in that first season of “Shark Tank,” I would’ve said ‘I have no business being here. Find somebody smart.’ But I’ve gotten a Harvard MBA each and every season, and I actually feel like I am pretty conversant now in just about any business subject, enough to get in trouble and lose my money on, or once in a while, make money on. I could talk all day in detail on what I’ve learned. It’s never ending, and that is very exciting. Not quite as exciting as helping those entrepreneurs build their businesses; that is the best part. You get to live your younger years all over again with all of the excitement, danger, [and] thrills of building a business from the ground up, which is probably one of the most creative processes on earth.
SW: When you’re listening to those pitches from entrepreneurs, what’s the single biggest factor that makes you think ‘this is a winner’?
BC: I try to turn a quasi deaf ear to the pitch itself and try to hyper zero in on the individual. By the end of season one, I had invested in… seven or eight businesses, and the two entrepreneurs I fell in love with but hesitated to jump in because I thought their business idea was kind of on the stupid side, they were my winners. And I couldn’t help but notice that five smart business ideas were my losers, and so by seasons two and three, I had learned my lesson to trust my gut, focus in on the individual who’s pitching, and ask [myself] ‘is this the kind of person [I] could picture making it to the finish line?’
Now how do you size that one up? Usually it’s easy by the way they answer objections and how they come back and how they think on their feet because that’s the real IQ you need in building a business: street smarts, not book smarts. The other piece that I really learned to pay attention to while I was sitting there is if I was unsure as to whether I should invest, I would picture myself throwing my kids into their arms when they were little [and in] a war zone and could I come back in three years and [find them okay]? I know that sounds weird, but right away as a mother, I knew ‘boom, I trust them’ or ‘boom, I don’t.’ Black and white. And I was out as quickly as I got that ‘no, my kid would not be okay’ vibe.
SW: I totally get that! I have four kids myself.
BC: Mother’s intuition.
SW: Definitely. Okay, I have a random question for you to close it out.
BC: Love random!
SW: Robert Herjavec and Mark Cuban have both done “Dancing with the Stars.” Would you be up for it if they asked you?
BC: I wouldn’t because I have a 10-year old at home, and that’s the truth. I’ve got tremendous legs. They look good, they work good, and they’re really, really strong. Both of my husband said they were attracted [to my] muscular legs. So I’m a perfect candidate. But you know it takes something like three months of dedicated time, eight hours a day, and I’m not going to take that away from my 10-year old. And besides, they haven’t asked. So there!