Well, I recently had the chance to sit down with Shark Tank star, Barbara Corcoran, who’s also the founder of a multibillion real estate empire and author of the new book, Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business.
We covered a lot of ground in our nearly hour-long jaunt through her incredible life and accomplishments and even waded into a few areas you’ll rarely ever hear her visit in public.
Topics included :
- How she battled her way to the top of the male-dominated NYC real-estate scene,
- What her secret weapon was (hint, the first two letters are “fu”),
- How she leveraged high-value give-away content to establish herself as an industry thought-leader long before social media existed,
- How a story about Jack Russel puppies on a farm gave her the idea that saved her business in one of the worst real-estate downturns,
- Her surprising thoughts about raising a family while building an empire and
- Why she has an edge as the only woman shark on ABC’s hit TV show, Shark Tank.
Here’s how the conversation unfolded:
——————————–SHOW NOTES & GUEST INFO——————————–
In Barbara Corcoran’s book – Shark Tales – she shares her amazing story of heart and unwillingness to back away from her vision. From her site, “After failing at twenty-two jobs, Barbara Corcoran borrowed $1,000 from a boyfriend, quit her job as a diner waitress, and started a tiny real estate office in New York City. Using the unconventional lessons she learned from her homemaker mom, she gradually built it into a $6 billion business. Now Barbara’s even more famous for the no-nonsense wisdom she offers to entrepreneurs on Shark Tank, ABC’s hit reality TV show.”
UNEDITED SHOW TRANSCRIPT
Jonathan Fields: Hey, everybody. Jonathan Fields here, and I’m really excited for our guest today. I have with me Barbara Corcoran.
Barbara Corcoran: Thank you. Nice to see you. You’re a handsome guy, Jonathan.
Jonathan Fields: Oh, stop. Thank you. So let me — for the one person on the planet who doesn’t know who Barbara is, let me give you a quick thumbnail here. Barbara is a real estate mogul having built a business, a multi-billion dollar business in the New York area starting with $1,000 that she sold for — well, we’ll get into it — that she sold for a nice chunk of change, then became a bestselling author. And a lot of you guys will also probably recognize her outside of the New York area, especially because she is the only woman shark to currently swim with the sharks on ABC Shark Tank show, which I happen to be a huge fan of.
And Barbara has a new book out called “Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business.” And I love the description that you sent along with the book, and I read the book, and it’s so spot-on. So I’m going to share this one sentence with you guys. “It’s a story of growing up one of nine siblings suffering from dyslexia, making D’s in high school and college, not finishing college, working —
Barbara Corcoran: Better than F’s.
Jonathan Fields: Right. The D counts actually — working 20 jobs before the age of 23, borrowing $1,000, and then turning that into a $5 billion business.” That’s a heck of a lot of accomplishment in one person’s lifetime.
Barbara Corcoran: That’s a lot of lucky breaks, I might add on that.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And I want to get into some of that with you. But before we get into the actual content of the book and also that — then sort of sweep forward to what you’re doing now. One of the things that struck me about the book is that it’s — there’s a tremendous amount of business value in the book, but the book — it’s not written as a business book, as in like here’s lesson 1, here’s lesson 2. It’s stories. The entire book is stories. And I happen to be obsessed with storytelling and the structure of a story and a story as a marketing and sales medium.
Barbara Corcoran: Oh, I don’t think of it that way. I think of it as just good to listen to.
Jonathan Fields: I think so too. But I mean is that something where — is that also the way that you conduct business? Do you communicate largely in stories? Is that something that you found sort of just a valuable way to engage people on a business level?
Barbara Corcoran: Yeah. I don’t think it was my plan by any means, but what I found is that I told a story with a moral. It’s the reason the Bible works. It’s the reason some of these great books work. They’re eternity. I found that when I meet people 5, 10 years later, and they never knew what I had said in a lecture, salespeople, total strangers, business people, whoever; they never remember my nine main points. But they always said, “When you told me the story about that puppy sale,” and they remembered the story. So I knew very early on that stories had stick-to-it-ness. And it’s a simple language. It doesn’t sound uppity; it doesn’t sound fancy, but people have a way of remembering.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And it’s been so true just with my experience across a wide variety of things in life and in business. You can talk and rant and rant and share principles and ideas and concepts —
Barbara Corcoran: It’s boring.
Jonathan Fields: Right. There’s nothing to hang your hat on. I think that was the whole sort of concept that the book made to stick also. Storytelling is this fundamental thing that for some reason our brain latches onto, and we actually remember it, and it’s incredibly compelling in business I think.
Barbara Corcoran: It’s also a great association with you, if you were lucky enough to have a parent who read to you. It’s a great association with being told a story I think when you were a kid.
Jonathan Fields: I think you’re probably right. it’s kind of funny because I have a nine-year-old daughter now, and I still — you know, when we put her to bed, every night I’ll create a completely new story just from thin air and a lot of times we’ll spend 15 or 20 minutes kind of —
Barbara Corcoran: You make up the stories?
Jonathan Fields: We make — they’re completely made up, and sometimes we’ll make them up together.
Barbara Corcoran: Good for you. [0:03:51] [Inaudible] the same old stories.
Jonathan Fields: No. And it’s amazing because she’s starting to develop this ability to craft really fun, off the wall stories, and besides just being fun and a great way to connect with people and, you know, I think it will serve her well in life also.
Barbara Corcoran: Well, guess what? You’re grooming your poor child to become a real estate stockbroker. [0:04:10] [Inaudible] something with a lot of baloney, so shame on you.
Jonathan Fields: Well, as long as she just — something that she absolutely enjoys and has fun in life, that’s all I really care about.
Barbara Corcoran: That’s what you should care about.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. So I want to get into some of the experiences that you shared in the book also, and just some of my fascination with your journey. And as we mentioned, you started off literally borrowing $1,000, and then turning it into this incredible company over a period of — was it — probably a couple of decades or a decade and a half?
Barbara Corcoran: It was 25 years actually, almost to the day.
Jonathan Fields: Right. So 25 years. And within that window of time, this wasn’t a smooth line. You just started in a slow growth and everything is a nice smooth line going up.
Barbara Corcoran: Life is never a smooth line, you know that.
Jonathan Fields: Right. Absolutely. And there were some really huge setbacks. And one of my fascinations in business is that we all have these moments in time. I call them the crux move. It’s sort of a climbing term —
Barbara Corcoran: I’m sorry. What did you call that?
Jonathan Fields: I call them crux move. It’s actually a term out of rock climbing where, you know, you get to this point, and you have to face this question. There’s massive amount of uncertainty going ahead, and you’re not sure. You’re asking the internal question, do I hold or do I fold? Do I — is it insane for me to press on and think that I can keep building? Or is this the time where it’s really intelligent. The universe is telling me to step back. You seem to move into these moments and always push through them. What is it that signals to you on an internal level, that forward was the direction to go?
Barbara Corcoran: I don’t think, honestly — you want an honest answer, right?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah.
Barbara Corcoran: The honest answer is I don’t think I ever had a signal to move forward. I was too ashamed to admit defeat. For me that old cut of being such a lousy student and all that public failure of reading out aloud in front of your peers and the shame that went with it in the classroom; I don’t think by the time I was 21 I could tolerate one more shameful experience. So what drove me was simply my determination not to have anybody laugh at me ever again. And so it wasn’t that I thought I had a shot at winning in the bad times or thought of a great angle. It was that I was just tired of being a loser, and I just was not going to let anybody see me in that position ever again. And that is a wonderful thing to push me forward.
Also, by the way, that boyfriend who loaned me the $1,000 and gave me the ultimate insult when he ran away and married my secretary by telling me I’d never succeed without him, gave me a double insurance policy just the thought of he and his new pretty wife laughing at my failure would also drive me. So I was running from shame, not running towards success. I’m sure that’s not the right way to do things, but whatever floats your boat, that happened to work for me.
Jonathan Fields: But that’s interesting, right? So the big curiosity of mine is always, you know, there’s always some sort of blend of two sides to motivation. There’s the pain that you’re trying to push away, and there’s the desire that you’re trying to move towards, and it sounds like at least in the earlier part of your career, maybe even in the later part of your career, it was really what you were trying to push away. The pain you were trying to make sure either didn’t return or you didn’t want to experience in some way. That was the big motivation.
Barbara Corcoran: What are you, a shrink with a guitar? I don’t get this. Wait, wait, who am I talking —
Jonathan Fields: That’s how I write my songs. It just goes into the music —
Barbara Corcoran: I think you any minute you’ll be playing the guitar. I’m ready for anything. No, you got that exactly right. I think once you get some success under your belt, you can run for, how far can I go? So halfway through the career, that became more the motivator. Whoa! When am I going to get nailed? How far can I take this?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah.
Barbara Corcoran: Could I really take it to the moon? And then the sheer excitement of winning a race, that coupled with the tremendous satisfaction I got to see that I had a shot at winning, to actually blow by the big boys of the marketplace who were controlling the marketplace, that maybe I can even beat them in the race to the top. That became a great additional motivator but not for those early years. The early years, it was just running away from failure and nothing more than that.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And it’s funny you just used the term “big boys,” and boy being a keyword that especially in the New York real estate market. This is something obviously, I can never experience because I’m not a woman. But it had to have been —
Barbara Corcoran: You’re a pretty fella.
Jonathan Fields: Oh, stop. Come on. I’ll throw a wig on for our next time together. This had to have been a really fascinating time to sort of step in and say, “You know what? To hell with all of you. I am equally good. In fact, I can probably kick all of your asses. So bring it on.” I mean what was the response — I’m curious not just from the men who you were sort of going up against, but from the women around you when you said, “I am going to own this”?
Barbara Corcoran: Yeah. Well, I don’t think I ever self-declared to myself or to them in a public way, “I’m going to own this” because I don’t think it would be good business strategy to make people feel shaky about their territory.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: You’re always better in sneaking in from the back end if you want to control, right? So I had a vastly different response from the men who own the large firms in town, the old boy network, I was never welcomed. But hey, you know what? It was fine with me honestly because I was the outcast in the school. So I was used to being an outsider. That was like right up my alley feeling like somebody who wasn’t, you know, really at the head of the club anyway.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: So then I came in from the back fence, and I don’t think those guys ever took me seriously because I wore a red suit. I had short skirt, and I talked entirely too much. And I didn’t go to the right schools and all the rest of the baloney that goes with that kind of thing, you know sophisticated town, like New York City. But so far as from the women, you know, there were no women in firms, but 90% of everybody who worked in real estate New York was female. So from the women, I think I got an initial little suspicion, but for my female salespeople to see a female starting to win, it was a tremendous motivation to all the women in the field in my own firm and outside my own firm. So they were always on my side. And then, of course, you add my other group of guys, my gay guys, they loved my butt. I mean they couldn’t wait to see me win. So I had 2/3 of the population out there on my side, and that ain’t so bad, right?
Barbara Corcoran: Right. No, hey, that’s a good percentage to be behind you.
Jonathan Fields: Yes.
Barbara Corcoran: And you also — we talked about this because you had — you had the firm for some 25 years or so, and the real estate market had some major, major swings within that window. Around 1991 was one of the big challenging times I know and it was — you shared in the book, a really challenging time for you. And one of the things that I love also about what you wrote is how you just — you constantly drew back on stories and lessons from your mom and took those and reinterpreted them into these incredible ways to actually rejuvenate your business and sometimes you looked like you had come back from the abyss. You shared this one story in the book about the puppies and how you literally scored a million dollars a day. Would you mind just taking another minute or two in sharing it with us?
Barbara Corcoran: No, not at all. You know, it was one of those terrible times in real estate where I was hocked to the moon. I owed Citibank $300,000. I owed my lovely ad agency over $100,000. It was terrible because of the pain of feeling like I wasn’t doing well for the people that I was committed to. So I was sitting at my desk writing my goodbye speech, my last January sales meeting announcing that we, like everybody in this town were going out of business.
And I suddenly remembered that my mother had taken us as kids– and I haven’t thought about it, you know these childhood memories out there and you don’t know it. I remember her taking us to the old children farm across the way from my grandpa Ward’s house in Southern New Jersey and sitting us down on the road and watching all these fancy New Yorkers line up to buy Jack Russell puppies. And the reason they were lined up and the reason they were arguing and there was so much tension in the whole thing was because the farmer had — the farmer’s wife, Louise was her name, she had invited everyone at the same time, the same appointment, 12:00 noon to come and buy a puppy, and there weren’t enough puppies to go around. So of course, these New Yorkers hated each other because only half the people in line got a puppy to take home.
But here’s what I learned from that lesson. It popped in my head and I instantly thought I have the solution to selling 88 properties owned by a big insurance company in town that can’t be sold. I simply took them all, averaged out the price, priced them all exactly alike and whispered about the secret sale to my salespeople at the next sales meeting instead of announcing we were going out of business. The sale happened one week later, we had 88 puppies, so to speak, to sell — all high floors, low floors, little apartments, big apartments, certainly not equal apartments, and whoever came into the line first got the pick of the litter, and that’s how I phrased it.
And you know, we had over 150 people hours before the sales standing in line in the worst real estate market the City had ever seen on the heels of the stock market crashing, and why? Because everyone knew and appreciated the inequality. And when I handed out that secret list, people ate it as though it was candy. They ran to the apartments and ran back and bought the apartment, signed the contracts on the spot. Many in commissions, the net commissions in — I would say less than two hours, I made over a million dollars in the worst real estate market, paid on closing within two weeks. It was my model. That was nothing but copying somebody that somebody else nothing original.
Jonathan Fields: Right. And this was for — if I remember correctly, these were apartments that hadn’t moved in like three years or something like they —
Barbara Corcoran: They were the dregs of the market.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: I mean they had talked to every broker in town and they said, “We can’t do a public auction,” because they didn’t want the shame, the public shame. We can’t reduce the price is how could you sell them? Is that an impossible proposition? But Louise sold the dogs and why? Because even a person who got the lousiest apartment, she looked behind and saw another 50 people really angry that they got the —
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. Well, I guess it’s sort of like the auction mentality also.
Barbara Corcoran: What?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, it’s sort of like the auction mentality too. It’s like you go in intending to spend one price and all of you just get swept up in the energy of it all.
Barbara Corcoran: And you know what I really learned that day, even though I had learned it in many ways prior to that in sales, I really learned the most valuable lesson that everybody wants what everybody wants and nobody wants what nobody wants. Those are the same damn apartments, the same ones that nobody wanted and now they were the hottest in town. It’s all in positioning, isn’t it?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, it really is incredible. You know the exact same commodity or asset, and it’s just about how you spin it, and I think it’s a huge lesson for anyone looking to start a business too. And I have conversations with a lot of entrepreneurs. I know you do these days also.
Barbara Corcoran: Yes.
Barbara Corcoran: Brand spanking new and a lot of the things that they ask from me, and I’m sure you get asked far more than I is, there are a million other people doing what I’m doing, you know, like who am I to do this? How am I different? And this is a great example. You know what? These were — like you said, these were not even just on par apartments, these were the dogs. And you figured out a way to completely change the positioning and sort of the psychology around them?
Barbara Corcoran: Everything [0:14:49] [Inaudible].
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. Powerful business tool, right.
Barbara Corcoran: But you know what? Truthfully, that was a one-day sale and a one-day exception, I might say.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: I think far more important than anyone building a business is to figure out one gimmick you could use again and again in your drawer of blades so to speak. And the gimmick that I used building my company from the first year to the 25th year when I sold it for an outrageous amount of money was creating a market report that is open to anybody in any business. Give them statistics on your own business to reporters, as many as you can. I got so much press coverage. I honestly stole the market share by stealing the limelight because I was constantly in the press reporting on statistics. And that frankly is the big kahuna of building businesses that so few companies take advantage of.
Jonathan Fields: Right. Which is fascinating to me too because I operate in a large part in this sort of bizarre constantly morphing world of social media these days. And on the ethics that it grew out of is giving away 90% of your knowledge for free knowing that people will circle back to you, and then pay huge amount of money for the 10% if you use that free knowledge to establish a huge amount of thought, leadership, credibility in the market, and it really works. I’ve used a number of different ways. I know a lot of other people and it’s sort of — and what you’re talking about is really doing something very similar. It’s doing a lot of work, creating a really intelligent dataset, turning it into easily digestible knowledge, and then sharing it with everybody and that positioned you as the go-to, the person who knows everything in the market.
Barbara Corcoran: Well, you know what you get from that, you get loyalty; you get trust because people are always giving that out. And more than anything they come back for more and anybody in business no matter what you do; you want them coming back for more, don’t you?
Jonathan Fields: Absolutely. So I want to move on because I kind of like to sort of explore three paths in the conversation, and one of the other things I’d like to sort of move into is the challenge of building a business when you’re also — you’re not a kid where you don’t have obligations. You’ve got a family, you’re married, you got kids and maybe you start without it, but eventually you grow into that. What you really — so you have this dueling quests. You want to be really present in your family and especially you coming from a very large, very close-knit family, but at the same time you got this incredible Jones to build something really cool. Talk to me a little bit about how you explore those often dueling energies.
Barbara Corcoran: Honestly, Jonathan, I didn’t have that as a challenge for me in my career because I didn’t have children until I was 46. So although I was married by 30, all it was was my husband and I.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: And I must say if — now that I have two children; my first at 46 and my second I had — whatever, 55, so an old mom but a happy mom. But I must say to you that I never had the competition from raising a family which is certainly true of just about every mom building a business. So it’s a great majority of the moms. And if I had had children, quite if the truth was told, I could have never built that giant business because you have two people you’re serving a god to. And even in the five years I had a child and continued to build my brand and my business; it was terrible in those five years. I was now only giving 85% to my family and 85% which is a lot more than most people would give at once. But the truth is I could no longer give 150% to my business. I felt terrible, and I felt terrible not being a 150% parent either.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: And so I really had to give away one of my children like Sophie’s Choice, and I gave away that damn business. So I had to focus on parenting that point in my life.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And I think that’s one of the —
Barbara Corcoran: You have to ask somebody else on that. I was living like a single man with no responsibility, hyper focused on building my business, I kind of had the life of a guy more than a girl.
Jonathan Fields: But it’s fascinating too because then when the kids do enter the picture, it really changes the dynamic in a pretty profound way.
Barbara Corcoran: Absolutely. Well, what happens is you’re the caregiver now just not in any business, any entrepreneur is building, they are the parent. You are the parent feeding the kid and the kid is the business. So all of a sudden, you are like strung between two families. It’s [0:19:00] [Inaudible] position and very difficult to have with both guns blazing at times.
Jonathan Fields: Right. Which is interesting too because, you know, one of the things that you shared is that you did, you reached the time where it was time to sell the business and you sold it for a nice chunk of change. I think in the book you said $66 million or something like that.
Barbara Corcoran: 66, yes.
Jonathan Fields: Not bad.
Barbara Corcoran: That’s how I set the sale price. They still don’t know how I set it. You do calculations on formulas.
Jonathan Fields: Nice. So you moved away from this, and you’re somebody where from the outside the world is viewing you as this incredibly talented, gifted, driven, success story. But within a fairly short period of time after selling this — your baby that you birthed and built for 25 years, you’re pulling back saying to yourself, “Was this just a fluke? Do I really have no talent?” Talk to me a little bit about this sort of really radical shift in this window and time for you.
Barbara Corcoran: Well, you know, I think it was a lot to do with how you’re built from being a kid on up, you know. I had no success as a child, a tremendous success once I got out of — outside the jailhouse as I called the school. For me it was like being in jail my whole life, okay. So I was so happy to be free and to be able to be somebody else once I got out there.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: So having that kind of freedom, and you know what I just realized, Jonathan? I think I lost sight of your question. Where was I going with what the heck I was talking about?
Jonathan Fields: The question was — now, I just lost sight of the question as well. No. It was — after you left the business and, you know, you were from the outside — you’re perceived as really successful, but now you’re in this place where you’re really doubting yourself again.
Barbara Corcoran: Can I tell you why? Because I really had lost the definition of myself. 90% of where I spent my time was as Barbara Corcoran, the well-known real estate broker, and once I had to give away that jacket, in essence, literally my red clothes, I got rid of them. I was always in a red suit. That was my power — power signature suit at the time. I actually sent 14 red suits to my archrival at that time once I blew by. They haven’t worn them from what I could see. But, boy, I had fun packaging them with my name on it. But without knowing what I was going to be and without — and two things. Without knowing where I was going — I had always had a very clear goal, crystal clear. I wanted to be the queen of New York real estate. Short and simple. Easy for anyone to see and define. And once I got there, it was done, I sold the business.
But without a clear definition of who I wanted to be now when I grow up, I was lost because I didn’t have a goal. I’m very goal oriented. Without having my team of children around me, the ones I hired, fired, matured, trained, loved, adored, hated — all that richness of life in building a business, without having that team anymore, I felt scared and lonely. Who was I going to parent? One child, God bless my son, Tommy. He would be on a shrink couch if I didn’t decide to do something. That’s for sure. I put all my energy on kid? The poor kid, God bless him. But going forward I had to really go to the roots of myself and really wonder why I had been successful, and I concluded within two short years the only reason I have been successful is I had been lucky, and it was just a fluke when I happened to build this giant empire.
Of course, it wasn’t true, but that’s what happens with stinking thinking when you don’t know where to direct your energy and your thoughts. And I unhappily wandered around in that no man’s land for a good three years before I decided, “Hey, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to be a somebody on TV. I’m going to become good on TV. I can talk to people. I love the Insider. So I sat down one day finally and wrote down everything I had liked best about Corcoran Group, and everything I liked best about the 22 jobs I had before Corcoran Group, and then made a list of everything I hated. And guess what it pointed to? The same old things in TV world that got me where I was in the publicity world. And so I decided to become a TV personality in real estate first, and then hoping to work my way to the entrepreneur corner eventually, if I muscle my way there because it’s where I’m most at home.
Jonathan Fields: Right. And from there you started — you started with sort of spots where you’re focusing on real estate, and then grew it into —
Barbara Corcoran: No, no, no, the first spot — listen to this irony — was Fox TV. They hired me —
Jonathan Fields: Oh, right, right.
Barbara Corcoran: — the political consultant, me who had never read a newspaper in my life. Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? I used to memorize names, and I didn’t even know who the president was. So here I am being a political expert for a year, but at least they gave me a gig and that was the starting point.
Jonathan Fields: Right. And that gave you the exposure to eventually — I guess it was a couple of years into that where you turned around. You got this opportunity to explore moving into this next phase which is the show Shark Tank.
Barbara Corcoran: Oh, thank God for Shark Tank. When I got that call from Mark Burnett Studios, I felt like I had stepped in a pile of good luck for sure. And then the minute I was hired and signed the contract, I only got to the call two days later that I was un-hired, that they had hired some young blonde, big-chested beautiful girl in my place. How upsetting was that? And that’s when I wrote –“Thank God!” I immediately sat down and wrote the email to Mark Burnett telling him what a bad mistake he had just made. And you know what? Thank God for all the pressures of life and all the insults and the rejections that come with building a business.
I was tailor-made for taking another rejection through all my real estate experience, and I happened to write so quickly an email to him, not vicious, but selling him on what a mistake he made and please have both babes come out and compete for the long shark spot. And we did and I won and thank God. But if not for writing an email, my God, I wouldn’t have the Shark Tank, and what a blast that show is. I’m having — every minute, before and after, and during the show, it’s just a lot of fun. And I’m making a difference which we all want to do, of course.
Jonathan Fields: Right. And that’s — and I love the fact that actually — you actually included the letter that you sent to Mark Burnett in the book because it’s so — honestly, it’s a fascinating read.
Barbara Corcoran: It’s a turning point, you know, and it’s a great lesson in not taking no.
Jonathan Fields: Exactly.
Barbara Corcoran: People eventually take no on too many things. But if you never take no, you’re going to get a lot of the guesses, of course.
Jonathan Fields: Right. So let’s — so let’s kind of zoom forward now and talk about Shark Tank, and one of my curiosities for you is what is the show giving? What is the experience of being on the show and investing and becoming involved in these companies? What is it giving you that you weren’t getting in your prior life, in the building of your own empire?
Barbara Corcoran: Not really. It’s giving me the same things honestly that I had building my empire because I was able to build a business by building the people. The reason I rose to the top was because people lifted me up and stuck me on their heads and shoulders and cheered me on, and the people who did that were the people I helped. So my whole goal in building the Corcoran Group was one, making sure we’re still in the limelight, in the media which we mentioned before. But where I spent 90% of my day was building my own staff and doing everything I could like a mother who wanted to spoil her kids top to bottom, to see them succeed, do everything I could to see those individuals succeed. And what am I doing on Shark Tank? I’m putting again, just like I did in my sales staff, putting tremendous money into the entrepreneurs, and then standing on my head to make sure they succeed. It’s the same old routine.
And you want to know what’s really ironic? When I sold the Corcoran Group, one thing I got tremendous relief from was my psychiatrist gig there which is tending to high like high strung nut job salespeople giving millions of dollars coming in for my help day in and day out. I felt like a shrink much like you are. I can see it again the guitar. But every day I was doing that. It was such a relief to get a break from what I was exhausted from, but what am I doing now? I’m the shrink for all these entrepreneurs just like I was for my top salespeople. Every good entrepreneur is a salesperson they’re wired the same way.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: And so I’m back in the same business but without it just being real estate, it’s a variety of businesses all over the board.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And you just brought up this term also “wired the same way.” One of my curiosities around entrepreneurship or people that start anything, people that create anything, something from nothing and especially on a quest to do something really big, is there’s a huge amount of uncertainty in doing that. There has to be. If there isn’t uncertainty that means it’s already been done and who cares. And a lot of times that causes a lot of anxiety and a lot of fear that paralyzes people. I’m curious, has that been something that you’ve struggled with, and with the people that you’ve worked with both in Corcoran and in — as entrepreneurs now, how do you work with that, and how do you sort of work with them with that?
Barbara Corcoran: I think that’s the juice of business, the high of business. It’s actually realizing you have something that nobody else did get, and it doesn’t have to be a whole new product, but you have an angle or a product or an approach that’s totally different than everybody else. That’s the juice that makes you drive on doing good at your trade. So I don’t see that as a liability. It’s scary in the best sense of the work.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: “Oh, my God! How do I think of this? Oh, my God! Will it work?” And all that kind of anxiety is positive anxiety. It keeps you moving faster, working longer hours because you got to get to the end of the story and see if the damn thing works. That’s good. The anxiety, that’s the poison of building a business, the poison of any success whether it be at home or in business, whatever you do is the self-doubt; the stuff that makes you say to yourself, “Do I have the right to be here? Can I invite myself in? They don’t like me. Why would I want to be here if they don’t like me?”
Let me tell you, the first time I was in L.A. and saw that Hollywood sign, I was like 12 years old all over again, a little kid. I couldn’t believe it. You’re having your own bodyguard and stretch limo. I was like, “Holy crap! This is — I just can’t believe this is happening to me.” But the minute I saw that blonde bombshell across the dining room table with all the other sharks, and I knew they didn’t have any competitors there, I was the only one. She and me competing for the lone shark. Let me tell you my heart sunk. That’s the stuff that kills you. You realize you’re kind of defeated and the odds of you winning are so slim, then you start to self-defeat yourself. That’s a poison. That is scary and you should be scared. That’s the stuff that puts you away.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: The other stuff, a point of difference, a gimmick, anything you could do better or different or wacky or whatever, I mean heck, you know what I found about trying anything different? You try anything that you can think of and nobody remembers your failures. They only remember your successes. I had more failures certainly than successes. But, you know, nobody gives a damn. Nobody is watching your failures. Only you. They seem so important to you that flops. But what they remember are the successes. That’s all they count. But I have never met an entrepreneur young entrepreneurs I’m working with, the ones that are good and are going to succeed are the ones that are always trying to do things wrong quite frankly because they are not afraid to keep trying. They’re almost like too stupid to know any better, and that’s great. It’s a great mark for anybody who’s going to succeed.
Jonathan Fields: Right. So here’s my question around that. Is that mentality in your mind something that’s wired at birth or is that something you can develop over time or through experience?
Barbara Corcoran: Well, it’s a great — it’s a great lead if you have it from birth. Now, I had a mom who told me once I was amazing, even though the whole system out there was telling me I was stupid. So I just chose to believe my mother when I got out of there because I didn’t have to hear their voices every day and see the report card. But so thank God I had a mother who thought I was a genius, constantly told me I had a wonderful imagination. Don’t worry about it. You’ll fill in the blanks. And she was just like pump, pump, pump, pump, positive, positive. So I had like two options, right? And the mom won out. Thank God. But the thing is, is if you don’t have that — the real heroes in life are the people I’ve met who didn’t have the upbringing, had either one decent parent, one loser or no parents at all, and somehow at some point along the way just decided that there was no longer an excuse for not making of themselves what they wanted.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: Those are the people that can develop it on their own. And frankly, those in the end are the people that are the most formidable competitors because all of that strength was home bred from their soul up. And there’s nothing you could do to compete with those people because they’re driving through you if you don’t get out of the way. And I have met so many people in business like that, that sometimes aren’t the happiest people, but if you want to know what’s good for business, that’s something that really can drive a person. The unhappiness they are running away from or the lack of love they had or whatever. Maybe not so healthy, but they get even through business, and there are some formidable people out there like that.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And I guess the other side of the question then is like you said that that can very often drive somebody to the absolute top of whatever field they commit themselves to, but when they get there the question is what’s it been for? They get everything they’ve been questing for like they’ve had the highest, the loftiest goals on the planet. They build exactly what they build, and then they get there and then they’re saying, they’re saying, “Okay, now what? I don’t feel like I thought I was going to feel.” And not that that always happens but, you know, I wonder sometimes about —
Barbara Corcoran: Let me tell you, I think it happens often enough, but not often enough. Because a lot of people can’t really get in touch with themselves to realize they’re empty about it. I think the trick here in any success is to really realize the joys of getting there without a doubt. When I went to my Citibank machine and put in my little card to get my $200 allowance each week three days after I sold the business, I still get a thrill when I get that chi-chi-chi-chi at the Citibank machine when your money is coming out and you get the money. You know why? Because I got that receipt that day and it said 60 — I think it was the first 2/3 payment, $48 million I had in my checking account. I couldn’t believe my eyes like, “I have $48 million in my checking.” Of course, where did I think it was going to go, out to Mars and back? It was on my little receipt. You know, I have it framed now of course in my office.
But here’s the thing, people have to appreciate all the joys of getting there. When you get that bundle of money — and believe me, I’ve been poor most of my life, and then got richer [0:32:58] [Inaudible]. But the reason it’s — you got to get the joy while getting there. If thee’s no charm in having a bundle of money. Let me tell you, get the charm of knowing you don’t have to worry about bills for the rest of your, life but it brings so many complications with it. People see you differently. People are hitting on you. Everybody’s got a $10,000 problem. Your equal siblings that you’re always equal to, suddenly you’re the rich one in the family. Everything gets complicated. Money is complicated. So don’t — I’m just thinking that it’s not a great God to serve. The great God to serve honestly is to try to see how far you could go and how many people are having a good time going there with you.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: And that’s really where all the juice comes from, not the rest — not — certainly not the bank account. I have that now. Maybe I’m not buying the right stuff yet. And it’s going to make feel really good or a new boat or something.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And you know it’s interesting too because I haven’t — I haven’t achieved what you’ve achieved in business yet.
Barbara Corcoran: You look like you kind of have this energy that these people love. I think [0:33:56] [Inaudible] Look at the teeth. Your mouth is adorable. People are going to love you. Don’t worry about that.
Jonathan Fields: But what I have done is, you know, the businesses that I built have been small,l and I sold and I have loved being in them. I’ve built — I’ve loved the — I mean people ask me all the time, “What’s the best thing about entrepreneurship? Is it the control? Is it the money?” I said that’s nice. But honestly for me it was always the ability to create my own culture and grow, pick the people that I surround myself with, mentor them, grow with them, and play with them, and watch that sort of family rise together. To me that’s the most extraordinary thing about being an entrepreneur.
Barbara Corcoran: Well, Jonathan, you know another way of putting what you just described, those four pieces in a row, is you create your own world.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah.
Barbara Corcoran: Now, if somebody said to a kid, “What would you rather do? Do you want to grow up and join somebody’s world or would you rather create your own world?”
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: Don’t you think an honest child always knows the right answer, yet we buy in as we get older, into buying into somebody else’s thing. And you know what? Nothing. And I believe with you it’s 500% is more satisfying the the ability to create your own world. And if you do it right, and all the people buying you to it and you could honestly make it their world too, and they are as much in love with it as you are, look at how much happiness you get and satisfaction. What a blast. Thank God you’re doing it. Thank God.
Jonathan Fields: And it’s fun and one of the things that I — probably the second thing that I love about doing it also is the knowledge that my daughter sees me going to work every day, and I work at home, I work in cafes, I do all sorts of different things. She sees that I treasure something beyond money. You know, I make a nice living, but she sees that there’s something much bigger out there. And you know this, as a parent every parent knows this; that you can say everything you want to your kid, but your kids are going to watch what you do. And sort of like setting that message for our kids, I often think about the notion of legacy and what it really is or isn’t. And to me, you know, the biggest way to actually leave that legacy is not what you teach and not the hunk of money that you leave behind, but in the way that you live your life and allow your kids and your family to see it and to be involved in it.
Barbara Corcoran: And you know what that amounts to from what you’re describing, your lesson for your daughter? She’s seeing a happy dad. And let me tell you that happiness is contagious.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah.
Barbara Corcoran: Nothing is better than giving a kid the gift of happiness, happiness around them because they get in a dirty habit of expecting it for the rest of their life. And so I don’t get how you get therek but if you can convey that every day, you got a good kid coming coming there. [0:36:24] [Inaudible] What’s taking so long? One kid. What’s wrong with you?
Jonathan Fields: And let’s kind of wrap up on this because you brought up the idea of happiness and also — one of the things I love is that you treasure in what you build sort of a culture of joy, a culture of fun, like almost nobody I’ve ever seen. And you know, the stuff that you would do for your company, and the bashes that you would throw, it seems like that’s — that was so pivotal to the way that you do everything in business, but it’s so lacking in so many other businesses. What gives?
Barbara Corcoran: Well, you know what I think, I think most businesses run from the left brain. And the left brain always tells you that if something doesn’t pay off in a quantifiable sense, it’s probably poor spending. Also, most large businesses are run by committees, so people weigh in. and you know in anything there’s 100 reasons why not to do something.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: So I think that in my business, the reason — half the reason it was successful in the media is because we had a culture of fun. I spent more time planning fun and more money like basically pissing it away on fun, that anyone else would think it was misjudgment. And you know what? I couldn’t quantify how that made me money, but all I knew was when my people are laughing and loving each other and happy all the time, they came and made more sales every time. And so I couldn’t like pin that deal to that party or that bizarre transvestite cross-dress party that everybody laughed like crazy but everybody cross-dressed. I couldn’t say they made that big deal because of it, but let me tell you I knew instinctively that half the deals we made was a result of the fun that I was so carefully planned for my people.
And you know what else? Once you get to be a big company, here’s what happens. You have tons of people making a ton of money. They are winners, and all your competitors are after them. You know what? They can go to a competitor. They are just as much advertised. They are just as much supported. Maybe even the boss is nice to me but you know what? They weren’t going to be having as much fun. And where would you work? A company that has these benefits or the company that has the same benefits and has a fun — fun time? So that fun was my secret weapon. And you know what? By the time I was in business 15 years, everybody was on to it. Every competitor I had they were starting to plan fun. They didn’t know the first thing of it. For the Christmas party —
Jonathan Fields: Amateurs.
Barbara Corcoran: We’re having fun. That’s pathetic. Who even wants to go? I had my parties in February, the worst month, tax month of the year. I got all my venues half price, and I always had a theme, and if you weren’t dressed in that theme, you weren’t coming in. so even the stick-in-the-mud type person who had never been to anything for their whole life came and had fun. And you want to know, they adored me because I gave them fun more than I gave them money to make. Come on. So it’s — you’re right. You start off by saying it’s underutilized or whatever word you used to say that. People are using the business. What a waste. What a waste of a power tool, to create a fun environment. It makes money, no doubt in my mind.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And it’s also — how much more enjoyable it is to build a company based around that culture?
Barbara Corcoran: We gave a party two nights ago for my book party, all right. It’s funny, like what do you do for a book party that’s different? What did we do? It was called “Shark Tales,” so I dressed as a beautiful — I’ll send you photos. All my men at the party had dropped dead gorgeous bodies. They were all in bikinis. We had a giant real-life mermaid in a bathtub with bubbles.
Jonathan Fields: That’s great.
Jonathan Fields: You know what? So what did that cost me? Twice as much as a regular party because I hired all these people. I had to think of the costumes. We had to think of how to make the damn bubble machine work so people didn’t slide on their butt when they went into the bathroom. We had to think of all these things and spend all the time. But guess what everybody is talking about? They’re talking about the book because they went to the best damn party they have ever gone to for a book party.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: And so it’s all in the gimmicks and the energy and the drive and all the work that everybody on my team put into. That’s what made the difference. And if you think that’s not going to sell books, of course, it’s going to sell books because people are going to tell other people about the great party they went to.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: A little example, of course, but it’s so true about anything in business.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And it’s funny, you used the word “gimmick,” and I think a lot of people have a negative association with the word. But the truth is that you use it in the sense of this is built into the culture. It’s built into the way that I do businesses. It’s not just shtick that you throw up against the wall. This is part of the core belief. This is part of the way that I actually make everything happen.
Barbara Corcoran: Well, you know what? I don’t think I realized it’s a culture. I don’t think I ever thought of it that way. And when you do your first gimmick, it’s really just a gimmick, right? Teaching dogs how to shake hands and pass cardboards or talking about Hilary Clinton, what apartment she should buy and waving to the voters in the booth. That’s all nonsense, and it got publicity. But when you do it repeatedly and start thinking in those terms, and see the results of that kind of energy put into it, what happens in the parties and the dress and the — all the ridiculousness of the whole shooting match, suddenly it all adds up to a culture.
And you know when I think I discovered the first culture within the Corcoran Group was when I stuck my Chanel-clad 14 women that worked for me when the company was small on an open-air bus and took them on a bus tour through Harlem as they clung to their pearls, and I purposely had the guy pretend the bus broke down and leave them on 145th Street and Harlem. It was the scariest place in New York. Now it’s not. It’s a great place. And you know what? They told that story to every young salesperson that came into the company for the next 15 years. That’s a culture. I didn’t see it for that. I thought it was a fun night out, and a spoof, but it became a culture. And when I saw that replicating of the tales and the storytelling that happened within the company, that’s when I knew I was onto something that other people just weren’t quite onto yet.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And I love that, and I love your whole approach to business. And it seems like so much of what you do is not based so much on numbers but just based on instinct and intuition and just what feels right to you. And I wonder now in this sort of newer role that you’re — well, you’re actually on the show, and you’re looking at all these people present to you, and everybody is out there, and they’re desperate for some money, and they are desperate for your assistance and your knowledge. What is it that you really respond to with these people? Is it the numbers? Is it the personal energy? Is it the story? Is it a combination or is that a gut reaction? What —
Barbara Corcoran: It’s a gut reaction for sure because you’re not sitting there thinking here’s my checklist. Let’s check off the numbers; let’s check off your whatever. It’s a gut reaction, but when I think about what each of the entrepreneurs that I got fired up about and put my money in and my time much more valuable than money. What is it that I was responding well to? I was responding well to someone with enormous energy. I’ve never seen a person succeed in anything without enormous energy directed toward it. I never have, all right.
So I don’t think I consciously think of that, but if that person doesn’t have overflow of energy. I’m not responding well. If they can’t sell their product well, if they can’t convince me that this is the best thing since sliced bread, who are they going to convince? I mean I’m there to be convinced. I’m prejudiced towards listening. I’m paid to be there. So if they can’t sell me on that, I’m not buying in because how the heck are they going to sell anybody else? They’re the salesmen.
I’ve never seen a business succeed — you’re the salesman of your shop. You might not call it sales but you are. So if they don’t have it, if they can’t convince me, they are out — or I should say I’m out because they don’t have what it’s going to take. And you know what else I’m looking for? I’m looking for someone I can trust. I know it sounds like a ridiculous thing. Why do you have to trust? I’ll tell you why I have to trust because the last thing I want to do is be in bed with somebody that I have to second guess.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: I don’t want to have to check where the money is going, et cetera. I mean you do that as a matter of all sort of after the fact, but you want to have someone you could trust and who is going to be appreciative of the fact that you jumped in and to be with them because that’s spells happiness. And that puts the emphasis on the joy is in the getting there which is what I got out of the Corcoran Group, and what I’m going to get out of each of these businesses or I’m not going to be there. It doesn’t make any common sense.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And that makes so much sense too, especially when I’ve been looking a lot of the — doing a lot of research on how entrepreneurs, especially startups, change their model.
Barbara Corcoran: Yeah.
Jonathan Fields: And very often even after so many has VC funding, they completely pivot their model two or three times. So what they’re doing is nothing — has nothing to do what they got funded to do, but the VCs and the angels invested in the people. There was something that resonates, and they said these people, I don’t know whether this is idea but by God, these people are going to kick ass at something, and I want to be a part of it.
Barbara Corcoran: Yes. And you know what? I think a lot of angel investors really do commit not only on people, but they buy in on the idea. And also those same investors often would get a lot of resistance from the angel investors when they want to totally revamp their model. But you know what? The entrepreneur always comes through, the good entrepreneur.
Jonathan Fields: Right.
Barbara Corcoran: And so there are more success stories — I think a lot more success stories that revamp models than there are original model. And I know that being — on my little businesses that I’m shepherding now, two of them totally reinvented their product — totally. And you know that’s fine with me because you know what? I definitely was on the get go with each of these people, that I was buying into them. I mean the business had to make sense, of course. But the real buy-in was the entrepreneur. No doubt in my mind about that. That’s what gets you to stay with them through the hard times.
Jonathan Fields: Right. And there will be hard times. I’ve never met an entrepreneur and certainly in the ventures that I’ve had, there has never been a, you know, like we said earlier that — where it’s just an easy straight path. There are these big moments where everything sucks for a chunk of time, and you got to figure out how to push through them, and it’s that energy and that belief in the drive that I think really are just critical there.
One last question to wrap this up, and that is you have — as we mentioned when we started out, you’re the only woman on this TV show surrounded by a bunch of other men, and you have also invested. You’ve put your money up when all the other guys on the show have passed. And I’m curious. Do you feel like there is something that comes from a woman’s perspective that allows you to either see something or intuit something or feel like you want to buy into something that’s different from the way a man would look at it, an opportunity?
Barbara Corcoran: Absolutely and it’s a huge advantage anyhow because I have the female perspective, and as you know half the buyers out there are women versus men. So I got that end the covered, right? And I could use their perspective on the male pieces as well. But I’ll give you two perfect examples. When Tiffany Krumins which was from season 1 walked in with her little elephant medicine dispenser clay model. I don’t know if you saw that episode. It was one of the earlier episodes.
Jonathan Fields: I didn’t.
Barbara Corcoran: When I bought into that business to controlling it just for $50,000, every shark once we went off air laughed their asses off that. But the next morning they were honest enough to say their wives who were watching the taping, two of the trophy wives there, bammed their husband that night. They said, “Why didn’t you buy it?” What was missing? Why didn’t they get it? Because none of those guys were up in the middle of night trying to jam medicine down a sick kid’s throat, and they don’t want to take it. They gagged it. The elephant works. Those kids taking those Tiffany’s and now she’s on all the CVS stores. She’s selling like hotcakes. It’s because I could — I’ve been up in the middle of the night too many times, and I know what that’s like. That’s an advantage.
I’ll give you an example from last week if you saw it. There was a product on there about toys, that get shipped out once a month. Because your child gets a not — your child gets tired of toys, so why not ship them every month and you replace them, they’re sterilized, and it’s only $80 a month or something like that. I listened to that and I thought, “What a terrible idea?” The men thought it was a great idea, and shark competed and drove that price up. Why did I think it was terrible? I don’t know if it’s a terrible idea. That’s my female response. I thought, “Uh-uh, I’m the one that’s always buying my five-year-old toys and half the joy is letting you buy the $2 toy, $4 toy on a Saturday. The next Sunday they’re looking forward, the promising, the bribing. Here you can have a toy [0:48:41] [Inaudible]. And all of that is gone. You can get a neat little shipment once a month for your kid.
So I realized that was missing, the excitement and the control — a control in child rearing through toy buying. I see that in my family. So I was out the minute I heard the common sense. Those guy went like crazy bidding on that product. So there you have it. Men and women look at things differently. But you know what? Who knows who’s right? Who’s right are the businesses that two, three years from now are going to fly to the moon and back and succeed. And I hope we all win because we’re all picking out great products. But I hope I win more than those guys. I really do. I want a better report card.
Jonathan Fields: That’s going to be awesome to sort of follow along actually and see how all the different companies do over time. But anyway, we’ve actually —
Barbara Corcoran: Friday night, you better promote the time. You have Friday night. What time is it on?
Jonathan Fields: Nine o’clock.
Barbara Corcoran: Eight o’clock.
Jonathan Fields: Eight o’clock, right. ABC.
Barbara Corcoran: You bet.
Jonathan Fields: Friday night, ABC.
Barbara Corcoran: One hour later on Central Time.
Jonathan Fields: One hour later Central Time, Shark Tanks. And —
Barbara Corcoran: Let me check that. I’m always mixed up on numbers. What time is it, Chelsea? Oh.
Jonathan Fields: Oh.
Barbara Corcoran: What is it? Tell me again quick. Come in here. Tell him. You tell him. Here she is. She’s good at numbers.
Chelsea: Hi. It’s 8:00, 7:00 Central on Friday night.
Jonathan Fields: Fabulous. 8:00, 7:00 Central, Friday night, Shark Tank and — I’ll put it underneath the show.
Barbara Corcoran: It’s going up substantially every month, but we’ve only got eight weeks here. We got to slam it home. Think of a Shark Tank song. Play that guitar. Come on, give us a lift here.
Jonathan Fields: I’m going to have to get — create a little bit of a jingle now. The Shark Tank jingle.
Barbara Corcoran: Thank you.
Jonathan Fields: And hey, Barbara, thank you so much. It’s been a real joy just hanging out with you and hearing your stories and diving a little bit deeper. Again, everybody, the book is Shark Tales. You could see the big, giant, cool picture behind Barbara. I will, of course, give you a link and pictures below this on the show page. Again, thank you so much, and I look forward to the next episode of Shark Tank this Friday, 8:00 Eastern, 7:00 Central on ABC.
Barbara Corcoran: That’s great. Thank you.
Jonathan Fields: Thank you
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[FTC Disclosure – You should always assume that pretty much every link on this blog is an affiliate link and that if you click it, find something you like and buy it, I’m gonna make some serious money. Now, understand this, I’m not talking chump change, I’m talking huge windfall in commissions, bling up the wazoo and all sorts of other free stuff. I may even be given a mansion and a yacht, though honestly I’d settle most of the time for some organic dark chocolate and clean socks. Oh, and if I mention a book or some other product, just assume I got a review copy of it gratis and that me getting it has completely biased everything I say. Because, books are like a drug to me, put one in my hand and you own my ass. Ethics be damned! K, you’ve been warned. Huggies and butterflies. ]
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