He’s opinionated and ruthless, and he hungers for big deals. Yet he made millions helping children learn how to read. Nothing if not a polarizing force, Kevin O’Leary pulls no punches when it comes to the good, the bad, and the ugly as it pertains to markets and economic opportunities. In this article from Fortune, O’Leary gives some harsh, but wise, words for aspiring business owners:
Kevin O’Leary, or “Mr. Wonderful” for you Shark Tank fans, is a seasoned entrepreneur and investor that doesn’t hold back when it comes to dishing out advice to contestants that appear on the hit television show.
Like him or not, his advice is spot on. Here are 10 quotes from O’Leary that every entrepreneur can learn from.
1. “It pains me to see good entrepreneurs chase bad opportunities.”
Successful entrepreneurs come up with bad ideas all the time and many continue to pursue them because they are blinded by passion. Past success doesn’t necessarily guarantee the next idea will be a home run. While it helps, it isn’t always guaranteed.
Seek honest feedback and opinions about your idea from outside your inner circle. Family and friends aren’t always going to be brutally honest in fear of discouraging or upsetting you. Feedback from your target market in the early stages can help you engage the breaks on a bad idea before you get too deep.
2. “Whatever you pay attention to grows!”
This applies to everything in life. Imagine if you didn’t pay attention to your significant other—that relationship is eventually going to fall apart, not grow.
Your business requires your full attention in the same respect. Everyone knows that one person that is full of great ideas but nothing ever comes to fruition because they are chasing too many things. They spread their attention too thin and no idea ever receives the amount needed to grow.
3. “I like to take risks. That’s how I make money. But they are calculated risks.”
Without risk there is no reward, but that doesn’t mean you should jump into a situation blind and hope for the best. For example, if you are considering quitting your job and giving 100% of your time to a new venture you need to make sure you have some safety nets in place.
Waiting until you have several months worth of business and personal expenses in reserve will come in handy in the event that you encounter a bumpy launch. Taking that risk without the financial reserve planning is almost suicidal—a single hiccup could spell disaster and complete failure.
4. “Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.”
Anyone can come up with a good idea—past experience, success, net worth and connections have nothing to do with it. Those that want it bad enough will do whatever it takes to bring that idea to life. Those that make excuses will say, “I had that idea—I just didn’t have the resources to make it happen” when someone else steps up and delivers.
Don’t ever think your idea is too small or you don’t have the ability to bring your vision to life. The only thing that can stop you is excuses. And if you find out that someone already took your idea, don’t stress—come up with something else. There will never be a shortage of brilliant ideas.
5. “I’ve probably heard more than 10,000 pitches…and truth be told, most of them sucked.”
It seems that everyone has a startup these days and this leads to investors and members of the media being bombarded with pitches every direction they turn. It doesn’t matter what you are trying to attract—an investment or press for your startup—before seeking either you need to make sure you are fully prepared.
You might only have five minutes for a once-in-a-lifetime pitch opportunity and you are only in pre-launch media exposure-seeking mode once. Never assume you will receive a second chance.
6. “People are very aware what I stand for on TV. Nobody gets rich on television, but a chance to build their brand. That’s what I’m attempting to do.”
O’Leary is paid approximately $30,000 per episode of Shark Tank, according to 2014’s TV Guide annual industry salary report. While this might sound like a lot of money, it’s peanuts compared to his net worth. He isn’t on the show for the money—he’s there for the branding exposure.
While O’Leary has been a successful entrepreneur for quite some time his personal brand really took off because of the exposure Shark Tank provides.
Look at all opportunities in terms of long-term branding and not necessarily an immediate revenue boost.
7. “It’s a stupid idea, it’s going to zero, take it behind the barn and shoot it.”
We constantly hear entrepreneurs on Shark Tank talk about how they took out a second mortgage or borrowed absurd amounts of money from family members to start a company based on what O’Leary calls a stupid idea.
Not every idea is stupid in the beginning, but when it becomes apparent that there is trouble ahead, knowing when to pull the plug can help minimize financial disaster. The faster you quit a bad idea, the sooner you can start another idea that shows more promise.
8. “Assholes get rich because they’re not afraid to ask for what they want.”
You can sit there and think about what you want or you can go ahead and ask for what you want. It’s quite simple—and if you don’t ask for it someone else will.
“I wonder how he got linked up with that company?” “How did they land that deal?”
Don’t be scared to ask for what you want. What is the worst that can happen? If you get turned down then get back up and ask again. If you are scared of rejection you are going to have problems. You need to be able bounce right back up after getting kicked to the ground.
9. “Never let them see you sweat…and never pay with credit.”
I’m going to focus on the second part of this quote. There are several ways to raise the funds required to start a business, including bootstrapping, which is easier if you have a business model that generates immediate revenue, or you can take on an investment round, raise funds via a crowdfunding effort or max out credit cards.
The credit option is the most dangerous. While it may seem like the easiest option, you have to consider the consequences. If you rack up $20,000 in credit card debt you are going to have to pay back high interest payments. If the business fails you are still liable for that mountain of debt, whereas if you were bootstrapping and failed, you wouldn’t be faced with that negative balance.
10. “My partners…taught me that in order to create wealth, I needed to pair up with people whose strengths compensated for my weaknesses.”
You aren’t going to be great at everything—it just isn’t feasible. The sooner you can identify your own weaknesses, the sooner you can put people in place to fill those voids. This is how successful organizations are built.
Not only will you lose your mind if you try to do everything yourself, but your business will suffer. Align with other individuals that share your same vision and work ethic—but specialize in the areas where you are weak.