“5 Business Lessons I Learned on the Way to Becoming a Shark” Leadership Lessons from Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec
I recently had the pleasure to have a conversation with one of the “Sharks” of Shark Tank, Robert Herjavec. Robert is a businessman, investor, and television personality. In 2003 he founded the internet security company “The Herjavec Group” which has become one of Canada’s largest internet security firms. Robert’s rapid success in business and connection to television prompted producers to feature him on investing reality shows, such as CBC Television series Dragons’ Den, and eventually ABC’s version of the series, Shark Tank. On Shark Tank, Robert shares investment advice and acquires equity in start-up companies along with his co-stars, Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary, and Barbara Corcoran. Robert has written several business books including, Driven: How to Succeed in Business and Life (2010) and The Will to Win: Leading, Competing, Succeeding (2013).
In our interview, we talked about the leadership lessons other founders can learn from his founder experience, about how to scale from a startup to an enterprise company, how to manage personnel, and how he balances two careers while hosting his Emmy winning show.
BE REALLY GREAT AT ONE THING
Herjavec insists that in general, success starts with sacrifice — you have to be willing to set goals for yourself and pursue their achievement relentlessly. Ultimately reaching those goals will prove to be beneficial and those sacrifices will pay off.
According to Herjavec, “One of the things I’ve learned over the years is you have to be really great at one thing. I always say that no one rewards mediocrity”. This means that being average at a bunch of things won’t make you stand out. You should find your talent, be great at it and apply it to the best of your ability. There will always be someone out there trying to outdo you, so you have to stay ahead of the curve.
SOLVE A PROBLEM FOR A GROUP OF POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS
Herjavec told me that a key component of success is solving a problem for a specific customer group — you need to have that customer first and foremost. He gave the following example: “When I started my first business I had an incredible product and found a way to service customers. I knew there was a need for the type of technology I was offering. It was new, exciting, and changed the way my customers operated. But in time others caught up so we had to continue to expand what we offered and how we we could solve new customer’s problems.” You’ve always got to be innovative to find these pain points.
STICK WITH IT, BE FLEXIBLE, AND BE RESILIENT
I asked Herjavec about the lessons other companies can learn from his company’s ability to scale from a small, three person company to 300 employees.
He answered that the key lessons are, “stick with it, be resilient and flexible.”
“When we first started Herjavec Group” he said, “there were three of us with a vision of offering managed security services to enterprise businesses. We fell short of our projection the first year. We tried many different things but what we learned was that many of our contacts had already engaged other security providers. No one leaves “good enough” for “potentially better”. We had to refocus and offer customers something they couldn’t get anywhere else. So we refreshed our strategy, and began offering cybersecurity products in a specific area — firewalls. We sold the product and installed it. We also did some assessments and architecture work. Over time we expanded to other cybersecurity products and services. Eventually we became known as an emerging technology hub across Canada — introducing many emerging Silicon Valley startups to the Canadian market.”
Today Herjavec runs a comprehensive security services firm. He employs over 300 people across the US, Canada and UK and he offers a suite of services including Consulting, PCI Compliance, Architecture, Identity & Access Management, Managed Security Services and Incident Response. They are recognized as a leading global managed security services firm.
They achieved this goal but it took them longer to get there than they anticipated. “Had we given up after year one and said, “the market isn’t ready for managed services”, we would have missed out on a tremendous opportunity and lots of growth along the way”, Herjavec said.
They were able to maintain the long time vision while they executed and built up their customer base in the short term. They “stuck with it, and demonstrated resilience”.
HIRE PEOPLE SMARTER THAN YOU
Herjavec started out with 3 co-founders in Toronto in a small office space. They had all worked together previously and came together with the goal of growing a managed security services business in Canada. They grew slowly, organically as well as through acquisition. Both presented opportunities but challenges as well. How does one manage personnel as the company workforce multiplies? Herjavec gave the following five pointers.
1. As you grow you need to learn that you can’t do it all yourself and you need to trust your teammates. You also need to communicate a clear vision so that everyone is moving in the same direction.
2. Hire people smarter than you. You have be able to trust your leadership team because you can’t do it all.
3. When you have a small staff you can get away with being informal. With a large staff of 300, you must have accountability, structure, and “more process than I would like”.
4. You have to automate and build processes that can be replicated and aren’t dependent on one person. According to Herjavec, that is probably the biggest piece to overcome as a founder led business.
5. When you have a large staff, you have to communicate with the entire staff differently. The days of getting everyone together in a small boardroom, will be gone. “But we found new ways”, Herjavec said. “Kick offs, company wide conference calls, email communications, skype calls etc”. Herjavec believes that it’s important that the broader team understands the big picture and can take part in the excitement of the business.
WITH EVERYTHING GOING ON STILL HAVE ONE PRIMARY FOCUS
So how does Herjavec juggle being the star of the Emmy award winning Shark Tank and at the same time balance two careers, his speaking engagements and mentor the companies he invests in? I asked him.
His reply was, “It’s funny, people think Shark Tank takes a lot of my time. In reality, we only film 17 days of the year. Granted they are 12–14 hour days, but during breaks we are all checking our phones and ensuring our core businesses are running at full speed. My main focus is always on Herjavec Group and I have a solid team that helps me with my Shark Tank Ventures. It’s always surprising to people to learn that I actually run our business day in and day out as the CEO. Cybersecurity is my passion and it’s what I do 24x7.”
Even when Herjavic is away from his office, he is still heavily involved in the business. Speaking engagements are a great way to connect with other executives and learn what’s going on in other businesses. He enjoys his travel schedule because it gives him a chance to connect locally with his customers as well.
He also uses the time efficiently. “Whenever I travel”, said Herjavec, “I use it as a way to catch up on email, or to hold a meeting. Just ask my team what it’s like to be stuck with me on a five hour flight! That’s a lot of time for Q/A.” Even with everything going on, one still has to have one primary focus.
Robert Hejavec has proved that these 5 lessons have helped him succeed in his own business. Hopefully, if you apply these lessons to your own business, you can be on your way to becoming a “Shark” as well.