Book review: Shark tales - How I turned $1,000 into a billion dollar business

by Carol Tice

Real-estate mogul Barbara Corcoran -- now best-known as the only woman "shark" investor on the American reality-TV show

Shark Tank (similar to the Australia's Dragons' Den) -- thinks the best entrepreneurs are more the racehorse type.

"Good entrepreneurs are quirky," she says. "They feel very strongly about their product. They are kicking and wanting to go-go-go. Plodders don't have the fire to run hard when it's time to run. If they're knocked down, they're not going to make it to the finish line."

Corcoran was always raring to go. She grew up poor in a big New Jersey family and washed out of nearly two dozen jobs before borrowing $1,000 from her boyfriend to start a real-estate office. Now, she's a hard-nosed investor looking for startup bargains.

I spoke with Corcoran recently about Shark Tank and her book Shark Tales: How I turned $1,000 into a billion dollar business. The part of her story I loved: While she was living at his mum's house with him and helping his daughter from a previous marriage with her homework at night, the boyfriend turned out to be sleeping with his secretary and they split.

For many, this sort of betrayal might have sent the would-be business owner into a tailspin. But Corcoran just stayed focused: She got her revenge, taking the money and building a real-estate empire. The boyfriend is probably still living with his mum.

Now that she's looking over startups to possibly invest in on Shark Tank, she's kept her scrappy attitude.

She says few of the entrepreneurs she sees have what it really takes to make a product succeed, even with the publicity bounce they'll get from appearing on the show. "Most don't have a vision of who they want to be," she says. "They have a business plan, which is useless for many people. Business plans are logical, while growing a business is illogical. If I was trying to stay true to a business plan, I would have gone awry many times."

So if it's not about the business plan, what do investors look for in a startup business? "We're judging how much fire you have in your belly," she says, "and how much need there is in the marketplace for your product. Those are our quick, gut reactions."

With the Sharks, first impressions are pretty much the only impressions. "Within the first three minutes of meeting the entrepreneur," she says, "immediately, I'm either totally turned off, or totally intrigued."

She watches to see how the business owners hold up under the pressure of the show. When they first come out, the Sharks are coached not to say anything -- to just let the entrepreneur sweat for a few minutes."You learn a lot right there," she says. "Some fall apart. They come in strutting and within a minute, they can't make eye contact."

What's her best advice for entrepreneurs pitching investors? Work on your salesmanship. "If they can't sell the idea to us, if they aren't succinct and clear in their communication, coupled with enough passion to make you believe," she says, "they're never going to do well in business."

is an award-winning business journalist, copywriter, blogger and web-content author. She blogs about small business topics for entrepreneur.com and teaches writers how to earn more at makealivingwriting.com. See her portfolio at caroltice.com.
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