Stars of ‘Shark Tank’ Share 50 Lessons for Small-Business Owners
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Reality show “Shark Tank” has been bringing the American dream to the airwaves since 2009. Self-made moguls Barbara Corcoran, Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John and Kevin O’Leary — known as the “Sharks” — listen to pitches from entrepreneurs seeking investment help to get their companies off the ground. The Emmy-winning show was recently renewed for the 11th season.
In addition to cash, the Sharks dole out valuable business advice to the entrepreneurs who appear on the show, as well as the ones watching from home. GOBankingRates consulted a variety of sources, including the TV show, previously published articles and exclusive interviews, to identify the best words of wisdom from the “Shark Tank” stars. Here are their tips on how to be successful in business.
1. Focus on Profits
“Follow the green, not the dream.” — Mark Cuban
In season four, Erica Cohen and Lori Barbera, owners of Baby’s Badass Burgers food truck, wanted money to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Rather than funding the successful food truck’s transition to a traditional eatery, Cuban advised the founders to keep doing what was working. Essentially, he believed the hot pink food truck was already a recipe for success and that switching things up might put a damper on business.
2. Be Accountable for Your Own Success
“A goal without a timeline is just a dream.” — Robert Herjavec
Many entrepreneurs work aimlessly toward their business goals for years without making much progress. By offering this advice, Herjavec encouraged small business owners — and hopefuls — to create a timeline to turn future aspirations into realities. Attaching specific dates to goals forces accountability, which is necessary for real progress. This can help you avoid a common trap that causes startups to fail.
3. When the Going Gets Tough, Don’t Give Up
“As an entrepreneur, you can always find a solution if you try hard enough.” — Lori Greiner
Starting a company comes with numerous challenges, but Greiner advised entrepreneurs not to give up. As creative thinkers, small business owners must devise creative solutions to combat every roadblock. No problem is unsolvable, because failure is not an option.
4. Don’t Allow Anyone To Intimidate You
“I have just as much right to be here as you. I’m just as smart as you are. You might not think I’m smart, but I know I’m smart. Guess what, I’ve done a lot. Don’t you dare look down on me.” — Barbara Corcoran
Corcoran’s words of wisdom suggest that business owners should never back down when someone is trying to demean them. Stand your ground, be an effective leader and don’t allow anyone to make you feel inadequate.
5. Success Requires Some Ingenuity
“You’re not an entrepreneur; you’re a want-repreneur.” — Mark Cuban
Now a “Shark Tank” catchphrase for less-than-impressive pitches, this quote from Cuban came in season three. After listening to Ledge Pillow founder Amanda Schlechter try to sell the panel on her pillow — designed to help women with large breasts and those recovering from breast surgery rest comfortably on their stomachs — the Dallas Mavericks owner wasn’t pleased. He essentially called her out for piggybacking on someone else’s idea for easy money.
6. Own Your Mistakes
“If you can’t come clean and tell investors how and why you failed, that raises a red flag. They need to see that you learned from it and came back stronger.” — Daymond John
When someone puts money into a company, that investor expects complete transparency. John advised small business owners to be upfront with their investors, who understand that mistakes happen but don’t want to be kept in the dark.
7. Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
“My partners … taught me that in order to create wealth, I needed to pair up with people whose strengths compensated for my weaknesses.” — Kevin O’Leary
In an effort to save money and maintain control, many entrepreneurs try to do it all. But O’Leary warned against this bad habit. Instead of trying to handle aspects of the business outside your expertise, find a partner who can complement you and provide strong coverage for other aspects of the company.
8. Develop a Thick Skin
“Tough times never last; tough people always do.” — Robert Herjavec
Being an entrepreneur isn’t for the faint of heart. Herjavec encouraged small- and medium-sized business owners to toughen up because that’s the only way to stay afloat in the business world. Hard times will come, and you need to have the tenacity to weather any storm.
9. Don’t Let Failure Get You Down
“The difference between the real winners is how long they take to feel sorry for themselves. My winners feel it … but they come back up and say ‘hit me again.'” — Barbara Corcoran
No one likes failing, but trial and error are part of life for entrepreneurs. Corcoran advised small business owners not to let mishaps keep them down. The most successful people get right back up and try again instead of wasting time sulking.
Read: Shark Tank Rejects That Became Super Successful
10. Don’t Let Haters Get You Down
“You have to have a senseless belief in your idea and yourself — almost to the point of being delusional. Remember that everyone has advice, but no one knows what you have to go through to start, grow and scale a business until they live it. Talk is cheap, but action speaks volumes.” — Robert Herjavec
Herjavec told small business owners to trust their intuition. If you’re confident in your path, it doesn’t matter what the critics say.
11. Remember That Entrepreneurial Life Equals Freedom
“I roll out of bed in the morning, whenever I want, and I work right away because, to me, that’s the life. That’s freedom. The whole point for me is that I love the freedom of being an entrepreneur, that I do what I want to do when I want to do it.” — Lori Greiner
It’s hard work, but being an entrepreneur offers great perks and freedoms. Greiner praised business ownership as the ultimate way to gain control of one’s life.
12. Know That Business Comes First
“I’m not trying to make friends. I’m trying to make money.” — Kevin O’Leary
Successful entrepreneurs understand how important it is to make good business decisions. This quote from O’Leary emphasizes the need to keep business from becoming too personal. For example, instead of feeling obligated to hire friends seeking work, savvy business owners staff their companies with industry professionals who have successful track records.
13. Make It Simple
“Make your product easier to buy than your competition’s, or you will find your customers buying from them, not you.” — Mark Cuban
Every entrepreneur thinks his or her product is special, but Cuban reminds small business owners that consumers want an easy option. People won’t go out of their way to buy a product when a similar item is readily available, so the purchase process must be user-friendly.
14. Solve Problems
“Don’t start a business. Find a problem, solve a problem. The business comes second.” — Robert Herjavec
Anyone can start a company, but the most successful entrepreneurs are in the business of problem-solving. Herjavec advised entrepreneurs to focus on finding answers to unsolved problems in their industries. People are always searching for ways to improve their quality of life, so products that accomplish this goal have a better chance of thriving.
15. Dive Into Work
“I learned that nobody’s better than you to get your business off the ground. The experience you get is priceless.” — Lori Greiner
Being the boss doesn’t mean sitting back and allowing others to do all the work — especially in the beginning. Greiner informed entrepreneurs that their ventures wouldn’t make it if they didn’t personally put in the effort. Business owners are the ones who are most passionate about their companies, and they need to channel this drive into a successful launch.
16. Reach for the Stars
“Every time you see a small business you know someone made a courageous decision. You have to be brave to run your own small business. You do all the jobs — marketer, accountant, consultant, service provider, etc. But you need to push yourself and have personal and financial goals so you continue to grow. I always wish someone encouraged me to dream even bigger when I was first starting out, and so I often tell companies on ‘Shark Tank’ to realize that someone is going to do it and win big. Why can’t that be you?” — Robert Herjavec
Success has no limits, Herjavec told GOBankingRates in an exclusive interview. Rather than being content with the status quo, he believes it’s important to set the bar high and reach for the stars.
17. Realize Success Takes Hard Work
“A brilliant idea doesn’t guarantee a successful invention. Real magic comes from a brilliant idea combined with willpower, tenacity and a willingness to make mistakes.” — Lori Greiner
Bringing a great idea to fruition isn’t easy. Greiner emphasized the importance of putting in 100 percent to get your product or service off the ground.
18. Keep Trying Until You Succeed
“If you’re competitive and pigheaded enough to get over the failures without wasting time feeling sorry for yourself, and if you can inspire enough good people to join you, you can pretty much become as rich as you want.” — Barbara Corcoran
Corcoran counseled small business owners on the importance of picking up the pieces and trying again after failure. The truth is everyone makes mistakes in business; it’s how these errors are handled that matters.
19. Build Equity
“If you can afford to take a risk and you’re young enough, either start your own company or be involved with one where you’re racking up equity. There’s no other path to becoming a millionaire.” — Kevin O’Leary
If you want to be rich, you have to work for it, O’Leary told small business owners. Easy money really is too good to be true, so choose a direction and get to work.
20. When Opportunity Knocks, Answer the Door
“Dear optimist, pessimist and realist — while you guys were busy arguing about the glass of wine, I drank it! Sincerely, the opportunist.” — Lori Greiner
Business moves should be made wisely, but Greiner warned small business owners that it is possible to overthink decisions. If a great opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it.
21. Find a Mentor
“Mentors don’t have to be the Daymond Johns or the Mark Cubans. A person running a successful bodega or a tax firm in your community for the last 20 years, that person is working just as much as the individual who’s running General Mills.” — Daymond John
Sometimes the best mentor is right in front of you. John directed small business owners to focus on experience instead of name recognition when searching for knowledgeable advisors.
22. Sacrifice Everything
“If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, my thesis is that you have to sacrifice everything for some period in your life to be successful. You have to be myopic and completely focused and unbalanced in every way. Once you’ve achieved success, you’re free to do whatever you like.” — Kevin O’Leary
Success as an entrepreneur requires a full commitment. O’Leary emphasized the importance of being laser-focused on your company to get it off the ground.
23. Know That No One Is Fully Prepared To Start a Business
“You can’t study to be an entrepreneur. Sometimes, you just have to jump.” — Barbara Corcoran
Starting a business is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. As someone who’s been there, Corcoran advised entrepreneurs to just go for it. No amount of training can fully prepare you for the journey, so you have to learn as you go.
24. Don’t Start a Business To Get Rich
“I get this all the time, which is crazy: ‘I want to be rich. What kind of company should I start?’ You can’t do that. It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to be good at something and not only be good at it, but you’ve got to love it, and then you’re willing to work and do whatever it takes.” — Mark Cuban
Passion is the key to success, Cuban told entrepreneurs. Those motivated by the wrong factors tend to burn out fast.
25. Be Kind to Others
“People want to do business with someone they like. If people like you, they’re going to want to do business with you. And if they don’t, you’re going to have an almost-insurmountable obstacle to overcome.” — Barbara Corcoran
Being difficult to work with makes you a roadblock to your own success. Corcoran advised small business owners that kindness really does pay off in the corporate world.
26. Don’t Burn Bridges
“Greed is good, but we need to be greedy together.” — Daymond John
It’s great to want it all, but you shouldn’t trample everyone else in your path. John told small business owners to work together to achieve success instead of backstabbing one another. Playing dirty won’t get you far in life or business.
27. Guard Your Time
“I don’t like to do a lot of meetings and phone calls because of the productivity hit. Only if you’re writing me a check, I’ll do a meeting. If there’s a problem and we need to solve it, I’ll do a call. Other than that, I keep communication limited to email. It’s more efficient.” — Mark Cuban
You have only so many hours in the day. Cuban advises maximizing your time by being mindful of how it’s spent.
28. Get Your Hands Dirty
“Whatever you do, don’t stay up in a stuffy office away from your people. Get right in there, side by side with your employees. Get hands-on and show them there’s no task beneath you.” — Lori Greiner
Leading by example is an important lesson for every boss. Greiner told entrepreneurs to roll their sleeves up and work alongside their teams. Being on the front lines boosts morale and builds a culture of pitching in when help is needed.
29. Know There’s No Shortcut to Success
“To get people who will truly love your product and spread the word, make them proud of it and make sure you don’t embarrass them by putting something out there that isn’t 100 percent.” — Daymond John
Quality work takes time to complete. John advised small business owners against haphazardly putting products together because customers won’t stand behind an item that doesn’t deliver.
Learn: 12 Million-Dollar Businesses That Turned Down ‘Shark Tank’ Deals
30. Realize Actions Speak Louder Than Words
“It’s not in the dreaming, it’s in the doing.” — Mark Cuban
Having a dream is great, but it’s what you do to achieve your goals that matter. Great ideas need dedicated entrepreneurs to bring them to life, so Cuban told small business owners to get to work. Sitting around talking about an idea accomplishes nothing.
31. Let Growth Happen Organically
“Learn as many mistakes and what not to do [situations] while your business or product is small. Don’t be in such a hurry to grow your brand. Make sure that you and the market can sustain any bumps that may occur down the road.” — Daymond John
It’s easier to make changes to a small company than a large one. John advised entrepreneurs to work out the kinks before focusing on growth. Rapid expansion can cause a business to fail.
32. Know Your Customer
“With Facebook and other social platforms, you can have highly targeted marketing campaigns to attract customers who are interested in the product or service that you have. Find the user groups they meet up in on social and win them over there.” — Robert Herjavec
Herjavec told small business owners to get ahead by focusing on the right demographics for their products. Trying to appeal to everyone is a waste of time and money, so identify your target market to succeed.
33. Face Challenges Head-On
“Things go wrong all the time when you are running your own business, but it’s how you perceive it and deal with it that matters.” — Lori Greiner
When running a small business, there are always bumps in the road, so take them in stride. Instead of expecting perfection, Greiner said to expect issues and tackle them as they arise.
34. Put Your Best Self Forward
“It comes down to finding something you love to do and then just trying to be great at it.” — Mark Cuban
It’s hard to succeed at something you’re not passionate about, so Cuban advised taking a path that makes you happy. When you figure out what that is, give it your all.
35. Understand That Nothing Is Impossible
“There are no ‘no’s,’ just ‘How can I?'” — Lori Greiner
To succeed in business, Greiner recommended omitting the word “no” from your vocabulary. Instead of being a naysayer, keep trying and figure out how to make the impossible happen.
36. Know That No One Respects a Pushover
“I’m a great guy to work for 98 percent of the time, but the other 2 percent of the time, you’re going to do it my way and that’s it. A great boss is kind, but you have to be strong, too. You can’t be a pushover.” — Robert Herjavec
As the boss, your decision should always be the final one. Herjavec advised that treating employees kindly doesn’t mean you can’t say no to them.
37. Tap Into Your Network
“Cross-promote with others in the industry you operate in. It goes both ways. You promote them and they promote you. It’s mutually beneficial and it doesn’t cost a thing.” — Daymond John
Strategic partnerships are an integral aspect of business success. John emphasized the benefit of working with the professionals in your network instead of against them.
38. Remember That Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight
“You gotta crawl before you ball!” — Mark Cuban
Even the most successful entrepreneurs had to work their way to the top. While building a business, Cuban stressed the importance of not getting ahead of yourself. One day, you might be able to afford lavish spending, but if you rush it, your company probably won’t be around for the long haul.
39. Realize Failure Brings Opportunity
“Failure, to me, is just an opportunity to begin again more wisely.” — Daymond John
It doesn’t feel great to try something and fail, but that’s a necessary part of the business. John advised viewing failure as an experience instead of a waste of time and money. Use the lesson to grow stronger.
40. Be Willing To Do Whatever It Takes
“It’s not about money or connections — it’s the willingness to outwork and outlearn everyone when it comes to your business. And if it fails, you learn from what happened and do a better job next time.” — Mark Cuban
If you want your business to succeed, you have to put in the time and effort. Cuban acknowledged that some people try to ride the entrepreneurial wave with a wad of cash and a weighty Rolodex, but success requires hard work, as well.
41. Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back
“If you let your fear dictate how you feel about others or things that are going on, it can paralyze you.” — Robert Herjavec
Venturing into the unknown can be intimidating. Herjavec recognized the anxiety that often accompanies difficult business decisions, but emphasized the importance of trusting yourself to make the right choice.
42. Develop Good Money Habits
“Downturns are the best time to start businesses because you develop discipline that’s very lean and mean in terms of how to spend money. And those habits serve you very well in good times.” — Kevin O’Leary
Pinching pennies is key when starting a business in any economy. O’Leary praised this habit and advised business owners to approach all fiscal decisions with a practical mindset. Savvy entrepreneurs always try to keep costs to a minimum.
43. Accept Customer Feedback … to a Point
“Your customers can tell you the things that are broken and how they want to be made happy. Listen to them. Make them happy. But don’t rely on them to create the future road map for your product or service. That’s your job.” — Mark Cuban
You’re the only one with a big-picture view of your company. If you want to learn to think like a billionaire, Cuban advised listening to customers but not handing over the reins.
44. Trust Your Intuition
“Don’t you dare undermine the power of your own instinct.” — Barbara Corcoran
Gut feelings exist for a reason. Corcoran recommended that entrepreneurs always follow their instincts because they don’t lie. Other people might try to sway you in different directions, but stand your ground and do what you know is right.
45. Safeguard Your Assets
“If you put it online, it can go around the world in a second, and someone will knock it off.” — Lori Greiner
You have great ideas, so make sure they’re protected. Greiner acknowledged how easy it is for dishonest people to steal intellectual property and encouraged small business owners not to let themselves be victimized.
46. Dress for Success
“Always dress to what is accurate to who and what you are.” — Daymond John
It might not seem fair, but the way you present yourself does impact people’s perceptions of you and your business. John discussed the importance of not selling yourself short by dressing in a manner that doesn’t properly showcase what you’re about.
47. Keep a Close Watch on Your Finances
“The road to riches is never straight and narrow. It can be riddled with financial landmines.” — Kevin O’Leary
When running a small business, no two days are exactly alike. O’Leary advised entrepreneurs to be financially prepared for the unexpected because you need to be able to handle any roadblock that comes your way.
48. Have a Clear Vision of Your Entrepreneurial Goals
“A lot of people think you have to have a lot of knowledge to start a business. I had something far more important than that — I had a dream. I had a clear image of who I wanted to be: I wanted to be the queen of New York real estate.” — Barbara Corcoran
When Corcoran was rising through the ranks in the real estate game, it was truly a man’s world, but she believes that having a clear vision of her end game helped her to persevere. Whatever your dreams and goals are, make sure they are well defined so that you can go after them.
49. Act Now — or Regret It Later
“The only sad people I’ve ever met in life are the people who wish they shoulda, woulda, coulda. You don’t want to be one of those.” — Barbara Corcoran
If you have a vision, go for it, Corcoran told GOBankingRates. If you fail, at least you know that you tried.
50. Make the Effort to Be Great at Something
“If you’re going to be great at something, you’ve got to make the effort to be great at something — whether it’s sports, whether it’s physics, math, science, business, whatever it may be.” — Mark Cuban
Going the extra mile to become a master of whatever business area you get into is a key to success according to Cuban. Success isn’t just about natural skill — it’s about taking the time to learn about your craft so that you can excel.
Click to read more money advice from Robert Herjavec.
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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Stars of ‘Shark Tank’ Share 50 Lessons for Small-Business Owners