Mark Cuban was born on July 31, 1958 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Shirley and Norton Cuban. He wasn’t exactly in rags since his was a middle-class upbringing. But he did make it to extraordinary riches – millionaire at 30 and billionaire at 39, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, owner of Magnolia Pictures and Landmark Theatres, chairman of AXS TV, and star in reality TV show Shark Tank.
These are achievements that most can only aspire to, and the title of his new book “How to Win at the Sport of Business” tells you a lot about how he did it.
Inspiration comes from his grandfather
As a matter of fact, Mark Cuban’s entrepreneurial instincts and tendency to focus on winning the “game” go back one generation further beyond his father to his grandfather Morris Chobanisky, who left Russia to land up in Ellis Island. Morris made a living selling food products from the back of a truck.
Norton Cuban, the guy in the family tree in between Morris and his grandson, worked for decades at the same car upholstery shop. But he says that his son Mark, like grandfather Morris, did anything to make a buck.
That is literally true, because Mark was selling garbage bags when he was 12 to come up with enough money to buy a pair of shoes he liked. In high school, he was selling stamps and coins. Even as a student, Mark Cuban showed the same restless spirit he brings to the business world. In his junior year at high school, he was taking a psychology course at the University of Pittsburgh.
Mark skipped his senior year, went straight to college and then transferred to Indiana University. He paid his own way through college by giving dance lessons. After graduating in 1980, he went back to Pittsburgh and found a job working for Mellon Bank.
His passion for success is unimaginable
At Mellon, Mark’s penchant for taking the initiative and trying out new things earned him a lot of attention, but also got him in trouble with his boss. He left Melon and Pittsburgh, and went back to Indiana to work for a firm called Tronics 2000. After a few months, at the age of 24, Mark was headed out of Indiana and on the way to Dallas.
Mark started off as a bartender in a Dallas club called Elan, and applied for jobs while bartending. He bought a $99 computer and started learning programming. He got a job selling PC software for a company called Your Business Software. A few months later, Mark closed a $15,000 sale, but was fired from his job for disobeying his boss about when to pick up the check.
Mark says the episode taught him a lot, and gave him a business philosophy that he still stands by – “Sales Cures All.” He also says that he still thinks about his boss, but only so that he can avoid the kind of things his boss would do.
Practically speaking, this was also the start of Mark Cuban’s business career. He went back to the customer after being fired and told him he would do the job himself if the customer allowed Mark to keep the $15,000. Long story short, the customer agreed and Mark Cuban founded Micro-Solutions.
The company was soon doing everything from networking to reselling products from Novell. MicroSolutions ballooned into a $30 million company and was subsequently acquired by Compuserve in 1990 for $6 million. His next venture was AudioNet, which he co-founded in 1995 with one of his Indiana college buddies named Todd Wagner. They wanted to be able to stream Hoosier basketball games online, and it turned into a huge success. The company was renamed Broadcast.com and went public in 1998. The IPO, needless to say, came just in time to catch the highest peak of the dot-com bubble and Broadcast.com’s shares were trading at an astronomical price of $200.
The company was acquired by Yahoo! in 1999 for $5.9 billion in stock, and Cuban got a windfall of $1.7 billion in Yahoo! stock.
The dot-com crash could not affect him at all
Mark Cuban shepherded his wealth through the dot-com crash and recession by divesting into different areas. He bought the Dallas Mavericks for $285 million from Ross Perot in Jan 2000. He ventured into the movies by purchasing Landmark Theatres and Magnolia Pictures. He founded AXS TV, the first HD satellite television network. He even bought his own personal jet for $40 million.
In 2009, when he was in the middle of a trial on charges of insider trading, Mark signed as a venture capitalist on reality TV show “Shark Tank.” By the way, he was completely exonerated of the charges by a jury in Texas in March 2013.
Mark says he has listened to a whole lot of horrible pitches on the reality show, where prospective entrepreneurs make their pitch to investors. His advice is simple – Don’t make a big story about how you came up with the idea and decided to start a business. Go straight for what the investors want to hear – what makes the business a good investment. Sales, after all, still cures all.