Mark Cuban: agreeing and disagreeing with his ideas

I ran into Mark in Sundance as he had just wrapped up a short interview for an event he had been invited to speak at. At that time I was teaching an MBA class on entrepreneurship and mentioned to him an episode from a few weeks back on Shark Tank in which the class had thought he made the deal because he liked the guy, not necessarily the concept (It was “I want to draw a Cat for you.”). He said, “You guys were right. I call that a “buyquisition.” That way I keep that talent in house and when that business moves on that guy is with me to do the next thing.” I didn’t ask for more of his time — he was kind and polite and wasn’t upset at a total stranger accosting him for a photo and a few minutes of chatting.

Mark Cuban is a well-known entrepreneur. While he hasn’t penned a full length book, he has taken at least some time to crystallize some of his business lessons into short blog posts, then collected them into a tiny book entitled How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I can do it, you can do it, which I finally picked up to read the other day.

Rather than give a usual book review, I thought I might share points he makes that I strongly agree or disagree with.

In every job, I would justify it in my mind, whether I loved it or I hated it, that I was getting paid to learn and every experience would be of value when I figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up.” p. 3

What an excellent and positive attitude. Getting “paid to learn.” I, like Mark, have been fired from many jobs and those have all been learning experiences in one way or the other.

It’s okay to start slow. It’s okay to grow slow…the reality is that for most businesses, they don’t need more cash, they need more brains.” p. 45–46

YES. This is an oddly “sustainable” attitude from Mark, and is in direct contradiction to the 100 hour work weeks that he seems to champion in startups on Shark Tank. This school of thought aligns well with what Jason Fried talked about in Rework. Build slowly and well.

Entrepreneurs always need to be reminded that it’s not the job of their customers to know what they don’t.” p. 65

Pure gold. I think many business owners know this, in a way, but this phrasing really hits the nail on the head. Again, something that Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp, hits on in Rework. You spend all day thinking about your business. Customers don’t. Yes, every now and then you’ll get a really wonderful insight from your customers. But most of the time, trust your instincts on what your company should be doing/making/spending time on instead of giving serious consideration to every random email sent your way on things.

I’m just beginning to get good. It is too early to write a book.” p. 1

Well, except that you’ve already become a billionaire and manage dozens and dozens of companies. The act of book writing isn’t just for others. The act of writing and composing a book will lead you to retrace your steps and lead you to insights and connections that you’ve missed because you haven’t taken the time to reflect. Don’t write a book for us, Mark. Write it for yourself.

The sport of business is the ultimate competition. It’s 7 x 24 x 365 x forever.” p. 21 
I’m fortunate. I have done well enough financially that I don’t have to play 24 x 7 x 365. I can and have cut back to 18 x 7 x 365. Family first, now.” p. 23

I can’t be the only one who laughed out loud when reading that Mark’s definition of “family first” means only dedicating 18 hours a day to work. We’ve seen this same motif from Robert Herjavec, a fellow “Shark” on ABC’s Shark Tank. Herjavec has said he’s “always on” and his family just has to “understand” when he leaves them at any given time.

Gentlemen, I’m not married yet. I do want to be married, and when I do get married, I don’t think that the point of it is simply to “add wife and kids.” The idea is that your life and priorities change. And ultimately, what is it all for? You can’t take any of this with you. It’s for your kids — so don’t imply (which is what these quotes do) that family should be a competitor with your business. Your family has to come first. Now, Mark and Robert may spend lots and lots of time with their families, in which case my point here is lost, but what troubles me is that their quotes imply it’s okay to put business and family on an even footing, or even to give business the priority.

In his book How to be Rich (which I reviewed here) billionaire J. Paul Getty quotes Sir Francis Bacon: “No man’s fortune can be an end worthy of his being.” I think that I would like to know the answers of Robert and Mark to the premise of John Bogle’s book, Enough. When will it be “enough?” I’m afraid they might not have an answer to that question.

Whining is the first step towards change.” p. 51

Now, some context. Mark spends this whole chapter explaining that he construes “whining” as asking for opportunities. I think that the phrasing is off here. I think he might better position “Asking why not” instead of “Whining” as the start of his maxim.”

If you have an exit strategy, it’s not an obsession.” p. 67

Mark’s first rule that precedes this is “don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession…” Jason Fried takes this up in Rework as well by saying: “What is it with people who can’t even start building something without knowing how they’re going to leave it? What’s the hurry?”

So the clash I have here is that I’m a huge advocate of Stephen Covey’s “Begin with the end in mind” maxim. I don’t think it’s wise to tell young (or new) entrepreneurs to “not worry” about the exit strategy — or in Mark’s case, to dismiss the idea entirely as illegitimate. Didn’t we learn in Alice in Wonderland that it doesn’t matter which direction you go if you don’t know where you are going? At least have an idea of what your exit looks like. You don’t need to decide whether it will be a cash deal or an earnout or whether you’re out in 5 years or 20. You can always change it, modify it, tear it up, whatever. But saying it doesn’t matter? That’s just wrong. Take the time to think about it and have some serious thought on it.

Ultimately, the people I mention in this review — Mark Cuban, Robert Herjavec, and Jason Fried are exactly the sorts of people who are open to feedback. So, here’s hoping that they take some of these pushbacks with a note that I do admire their work and that’s why I read and am interested in what they say in the first place.

This story originally appeared on Goodreads. It also appeared on Linkedin.