A Dumpy Apartment. Years Of No Vacations. Mark Cuban Lays Out Unglamorous Path To Becoming A Billionaire

By Melissa Repko The Dallas Morning News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr)  Shark Tank star Mark Cuban offered a reality check to a packed audience of entrepreneurs at Dallas Startup Week, a free five-day conference that includes keynotes, educational panels and networking events.

Dallas

Dallas tech mogul and startup investor Mark Cuban wants to debunk the glamorous vision of life as an aspiring entrepreneur.

His journey to becoming a billionaire began in a dumpy apartment where he had numerous roommates and just a pile of belongings -- including two polyester suits and a cheap towel he stole from the Holiday Inn.

He went seven years without a vacation. He stayed up late, eating a bucket of wings and teaching himself to code.

If building a successful company was easy, Cuban said, everyone would have a private jet.

Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner and star on ABC's Shark Tank, offered his reality check to a packed audience of entrepreneurs Tuesday during Dallas Startup Week, a free five-day conference that includes keynotes, educational panels and networking events. About 10,000 people have registered for the five-day event, according to the event's organizer, the Dallas Entrepreneur Center.

He became one of Dallas' most successful entrepreneurs when he sold internet radio company, Broadcast.com, to Yahoo in 1999 for $5.9 billion in Yahoo stock. He'd previously sold computer consulting service, MicroSolutions, in 1990 to CompuServe for $6 million in 1990.

Today, he's one of Forbes' Richest Americans with an estimated net worth of $3.9 billion.

Here's a sampling of his advice:

Check yourself Entrepreneurs lie to themselves all the time, Cuban said. He said those lies help a person have the confidence to chase a business idea. But, he warned, entrepreneurs shouldn't fool themselves into believing the compliments piled on them by friends and family.

It's often smarter to stay at a day job while getting a new company off the ground, Cuban said.

Sales cures all Cuban said he was fired from a computer and software retail store when he showed up to work late because of picking up a $15,000 check from a customer. The boss, he said, made a crucial mistake: He thought dressing well and keeping up appearances was more important than making sales.

Business is the ultimate sport Just like players for the Dallas Mavericks, entrepreneurs must work hard and stay sharp, Cuban said. "In business, you're on, you're competing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year forever against not only people you know, but people you don't know," he said.

To win, an entrepreneur must know not just his or her business -- but also the ins and outs of competing businesses and products.

Kick your own butt He said entrepreneurs must identify their company's weaknesses, so they can get busy fixing them. "No company, no product is perfect," he said. "What's wrong with your company? Because if you don't know how to kick your own a--, somebody else is going to show you. And when that happens, you're out of luck."

If your employees all look like you, you're doing it wrong

Cuban said he's learned a lot about the importance of inclusivity and diversity over the past year, after the NBA found that Dallas Mavericks current and former employees committed "numerous instances of sexual harassment and other improper workplace conduct." The NBA looked into the allegations after Sports Illustrated spoke to female employees who described a hostile workplace where sexual harassment was common.

He apologized at the time and said he didn't know about the office misconduct. He also agreed to donate $10 million to organizations that help women affected by domestic violence and promote leadership by women.

Cuban said he realizes now his organization was losing out in many ways.

"I learned what opportunities I missed because too many people in the Mavericks office look like me, too many people in different parts of my company look like me," he said.

To illustrate his point, he described how teams made up of men with similar ages and backgrounds were the same ones trying to expand the Mavs' audience and sell events like "Mom's Night Out."

Resist the urge to raise money -- and don't borrow it

Startups often raise huge amounts of funding from venture firms or high net-worth investors, but that also means giving away equity -- and control and ownership of the company, Cuban said. He said startups should especially be wary of raising money early, when they're asked to give up lots of equity.

Cuban said he funded Broadcast.com himself with money he made from selling MicroSolutions. "You know the reason I have a 'B' next to my name? Because I got to keep most of the equity. If you're going to be rich, you've got to own the equity."

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