Mark Cuban: How businesses can learn from ‘Shark Tank’
FORTUNE — Fans of ABC’s Shark Tank know that the majority of entrepreneurs who walk through the set’s double doors are hoping to cut a deal with billionaire Mark Cuban. The owner of the Dallas Mavericks seems more accessible, especially for those who attend games at American Airlines Center. The Internet pioneer spoke in Austin during SXSW at a special invite-only Entrepreneurs’ Organization event, spending time after his one-on-one fielding questions from a room filled with people who hope to replicate his success. (Judging by the fact that entry into this organization is a business that’s making $1 million in revenue, they are on the right track.) He came out on stage in jeans and a t-shirt and got even more comfortable by kicking off his sneakers.
Cuban, 55, once dreamed of retiring by the time he was 35. But one look at his website shows that the angel investor is as busy as ever. Those Shark Tank deals he closes (between 60% and 70% of the show’s deals he makes are finalized after he’s performed his investment due diligence) are alive and kicking in the real world, taking up some of his time as he remains one of the most active and outspoken owners in the NBA. Cuban, who also keeps strong Hollywood ties as the owner of Landmark Theatres and Magnolia Pictures and as the chairman of AXS TV, tackles technology, apps, video games, and his latest project, Cyber Dust, in this exclusive interview.
What are the challenges in the technology space today to find something truly innovative?
The biggest challenge is that entrepreneurs tend to follow trends like the next Twitter (TWTR). It’s hard to find truly innovative ideas.
The second problem is that most tech entrepreneurs are not looking to make their company profitable. They want to grow their company to the next financing. They seem to be blind that if they can’t get to profitability, they are out of business if that investment doesn’t come.
The third problem is the lack of knowledge of the history of businesses in their industry. They use Google (GOOG) to see if they have competition without recognizing that when a company goes belly up they stop paying their hosting bills, and their websites come down. So I get pitches that are carbon copies of failed predecessors. It’s not that the current pitch couldn’t succeed, it’s the fact that the entrepreneur doesn’t have any idea what worked or didn’t work from the previous failures.
How has your own background in technology helped you navigate the crowded app market?
It’s helped enormously. I know how to see if the app has markers for success and is worth investing time on. The crazy thing is that the app market today is 100% analogous to the Windows software market of the ‘80s. Back then there was a rush to create Windows graphical apps. There were thousands, if not more, available.
Thirty years later we still use Excel and Word.
There is a lesson there.
Why did you get involved with the Cyber Dust app?
There is no upside to losing control of your texts and messaging. You have no idea if someone keeps a message you sent them or what they have done with it, or who they have forwarded it to.
The most innocent message can take on a life of its own when it’s read by someone it was not intended for.
Cyber Dust solves that problem by erasing every message 30 seconds after its read. We don’t store it anywhere. It can’t be retrieved. It’s not discoverable. It’s gone. Forever.
In a world where every message can live on forever, Cyber Dust protects you from the unknown.
What impact is technology and social media having on helping the Dallas Mavericks, and the NBA, grow its audience around the globe?
It gives us a simple broadcast platform to communicate our messaging globally. In the time it takes to type 140 characters, I can get millions talking. That is powerful.
What role do you feel the NBA video games play in connecting with fans, especially the younger demographic?
Enormous. It’s amazing how many 12-year-olds who have never been to a game or rarely watch the NBA on TV can name every player and discuss their games … simply because they play NBA video games.
What have you learned from running a successful NBA franchise that you’ve applied to your other businesses?
The stronger the emotional connection, the easier it is to sell.
What surprised you about Shark Tank when you stepped into the show?
How many families watched the show together and how many kids watch the show. Parents literally run up to me beaming with pride to tell me what their 9-year-old said about a valuation or deal terms.
Every parent wants the spirit of the American dream to be alive in their children. Watching Shark Tank not only reinforces that the American dream is alive, it sends the message that it’s available to anyone of any age.
It’s also amazing how many young kids are conversant about the show. When I visit my 7- and 10-year-olds at their school, I get Mavs questions, but I get more Shark Tank questions. It’s amazing. It’s also a great sign that kids care about entrepreneurship.
What are some of the keys to success in the business world that can be learned from the microcosm of Shark Tank?
Shark Tank isn’t a microcosm, it’s the real world. Know your business. Recognize you have to compete. Know your numbers. There are no shortcuts. You have to sell. Customers own you. The list is beyond long. But the messages are clear — you have to work hard to succeed.
What’s your secret to success in wearing multiple hats as an investor, NBA owner, television personality, and family man?
I work my ass off. I recognize time is the most valuable asset I have, particularly as it applies to my family, and I love to compete. I want to win at everything to do. And I realize there are things I give up. I have golfed once. I have never skied. There’s a lot I haven’t done. But I do everything I love to do.