Business Lessons From Shark Tank Judge Barbara Corcoran

October 9, 2012

I was excited to get a free ticket to an all-day seminar on entrepreneurship, sponsored by the World of Business Ideas, featuring Shark Tank judge and real estate entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran, along with other diverse thought leaders such as Alexandra Wilkis Wilson of Gilt Groupe, Will Pearson of Mental Floss, and Slava Rubin of Indiegogo. Here were some key takeaways from the day:

 

  • Be great at failure.

Barbara shared how she was fired several times over 20+ jobs before coming into real estate and selling her company for $66 MM.

 

  • Know how to work the press.

Barbara was able to compete with the big firms by issuing a regular report on the state of the real estate market, which gave her credibility and a platform for sharing her work. She also was ready with quick sound bites to keep the press interested. Finally, she nurtured celebrity relationships to attract publicity.

 

  • Put pressure on yourself.

Barbara always rented double the office space that she needed to use the pressure of the empty desks and the fixed costs involved to spur on the growth.

 

  • Hire people who complement you.

Barbara talked about two types of personalities, Expanders and Containers (the dreamers and the detailed). She was an Expander, so she partnered with a Container to mind the details. I found it particularly interesting that she offered her partner 1% equity per year over 10 years, so 10% total when she sold. A partnership does not have to be even close to 50/50 to work!

 

  • Get ready to fire poor performers.

Barbara had a systematic way of ranking her staff and firing the bottom quarter. She did give regular reviews and offered three months to turn things around, but she was ready to fire if her clear performance benchmarks weren’t met.  Barbara also didn’t tolerate complainers, “thieves of emotional energy.”

 

  • Take care of superstars.

Barbara offered manicures, massages, parties and offsites to the rest of her staff at a cost that could have supported more runway for poor performers. Instead, she deliberately chose to invest her money in the winners. She also focused on fun, outrageous party themes (e.g., a cross-dressing party!) to build culture and team spirit. Barbara justified her preference for the bizarre because it is the “kissing cousin of innovation.”

 

Barbara shared a story of her top real estate broker, Carrie Chiang, who made $18 MM in commissions (at an average 6%, that’s $300 MM in sales!) by becoming a specialist in the Taiwan market. When the Taiwan economy collapsed, Carrie didn’t miss a beat, immediately hiring two Japanese assistants to break into that booming market and had an even more successful year after losing her key client base.

 

Don’t dwell on bad conditions. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Your own choices and actions trump market conditions. How can you pull a Carrie Chiang in your business? Which lesson from Barbara Corcoran will you implement today?

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