Perhaps the most enthusiastically received entrance of Dallas Startup Week so far has been that of billionaire businessman, investor, Shark, Mavs owner, and proud DFW resident, Mark Cuban.
Delivering a keynote event at DSW19, Cuban mirrored the giddy electricity pulsating off the excited crowd. He immediately told the audience “y’all are smart,” and was met with—unsurprisingly—a plethora of applause.
“Seriously,” he said. “I deal with a lot of entrepreneurs; I’ve invested in hundreds of companies over the years in New York, L.A., San Jose, the Valley. There’s no place better to be an entrepreneur than [expletive] Dallas, Texas.”
Because here, he said, the motto is often: “Let’s go to work.” It’s the perfect place to be, because that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about.
Cuban kept this same energy throughout the speech, throwing in personal anecdotes, some colorful language, and empowering encouragement as he spoke on new ideas for entrepreneurs to pay attention to.
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It started with his own personal journey.
As an entrepreneur, Cuban said he started at the bottom. He recalls first moving to Dallas and living with six guys in a three-bedroom apartment—endearingly referring to it as a “s***hole”—in the village. He didn’t have a closet or a drawer, and had a job selling software until he got fired. When it became time to start his own business, MicroSolutions, a computer consulting service, he was terrified.
Back in the mid-’90s, when Cuban wanted to listen to an Indiana University basketball game, he said one of his buddies in Bloomington would hold his phone next to the radio, while he listened, case of beer on-hand, to the speakerphone. “How stupid is this sh**?” Cuban recalls thinking.
That’s when he got the idea of broadcasting over this new thing called the internet, “and that’s how internet streaming was born.”
Fast forward to four years later, and Cuban was selling Broadcast.com, then Audionet, to Yahoo in a $5.6 billion deal.
Despite his astronomical success, Cuban learned some things back in the beginning that still stick with him today, especially when he’s looking for businesses to invest in or entrepreneurs to partner with.
Taking that first step
“One thing that entrepreneurs, we all do, we lie to ourselves. All the time. You have to,” he said. “But you also have to know when you’re lying to yourself and when you’re telling the truth, because we all go through the same thing when we go to start a business.”
Speaking to the numerous founders in the audience, Cuban described that gut feeling you get when you first get your big idea. You might tell all your friends, build off their enthusiasm, then throw the concept into Google to see if it’s original. When it’s not online, you might think, ‘This is the best thing ever.’
But the people who just talk about going for it, rather than taking that first step, is where the ‘lying to ourselves’ comes in.
“Behind the lie are the wantrepreneurs,” Cuban said. “The people who talk about doing it, but don’t take that step. And then you lie to yourself a little bit and you say, ‘I can do this.’ You’re scared sh**less, but you know you can do this. You take one small step. That’s what each and every one of you have right now, that ability to take that step and get to work.”
Cuban said what you do from there is what really matters.
The one thing in life every single person can control is their effort. As a founder, there’s a responsibility to support those around you—you have to have this fervent understanding of how much work is involved.
“No matter what happened, sh** go bad, sh** go good, the one thing you can control is the work you put in. Because that’s your responsibility as an entrepreneur,” he said. “If there were any shortcuts, no one told me. If you go into the Mavs locker room, you see a big sign that says ‘The one thing I can control is effort.’ Because how you would prepare is a lot more important than do you have a will to be successful.”
Cuban’s rules for every company
Cuban also described his three rules that businesses should follow.
“The No. 1 rule in every company is that sales cures all. Has there ever been a company in the history of companies that survived without sales?”
Cuban said that oftentimes, entrepreneurs think they need to look better; buy a nicer suit. But it’s more about being able to sell.
You have to know your business cold.
“Not just the inside of your business, not just your product. Obviously you have to know your product or service better than anybody, but you’ve got to be able to sell it,” Cuban said. “How are you going to sell against who else you’re competing with? Unless you know what they’re selling? Unless you know what their product does or doesn’t do?”
“Rule No. 2: business is the ultimate sport.”
Cuban said if you’re going to succeed, you have to recognize that you’re competing with both those that you see, and those that you don’t.
“I’ll sit down with Dirk—I won’t be able to sit down with him that much longer, which kind of breaks my heart basketball-wise—but I’ll be like, ‘Dude, you practice a lot,'” Cuban said. “Then games are 48 minutes, there’s 82 games, then hopefully playoffs. In business, you’re competing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, forever, against not only people you know, but people you don’t know and people coming up out there trying to kick your a**.”
Cuban said he went seven years without a vacation. He advises to be so involved with your company, you’re willing to learn what you do, and what everybody else does. That’s how you’re going to compete.
“This s*** is hard,” he said. “I taught myself how to code. I remember sitting here with a bucket of ribs, like a big-a** bucket of ribs, and coding. Put aside the fact that I gained like 30 pounds. But coding, and sitting there 24, 25, 26 hours later and thinking I was only there for two or three hours—just being into it that much. That’s what being an entrepreneur is all about.”
And No. 3: “You got to know how to kick your own a**. Seriously, no company is perfect. No company, no product is perfect.”
Cuban said that if you don’t know how to kick your own a**, somebody else is going to show you how. When that happens, you’re out of luck.
“Know for sure what your weaknesses are, and already have in mind how you’re going to fix those weaknesses,” he said. “Because if you’re competing against me, I know I’m going to kick your a**. It’s a given. Because even today, to this minute, I’m working my a** off to learn.”
The future lies in artificial intelligence
In Cuban’s opinion, going forward, artificial intelligence is going to be the new way of doing business. “Point blank, with 100 percent certainty,” he said, “it will impact even the smallest business.” He encouraged everyone in the room to take the time to learn at least a little bit about machine learning and neural networks to start building a foundation.
“I know you’re working 12 hours, and now you’re gonna have to work 14. And I know you haven’t had a day off in 16 months, but cancel that vacation,” Cuban said. “Because now I want you to go to Amazon AWS services and do the machine learning tutorial. I want you to download Coursera and do their business introduction of AI. Because how you make decisions in business going forward will incorporate artificial intelligence and a subset of that called machine learning.”
And it’s all about equality
Cuban left the crowd with a piece of advice that he said would give the audience a “huge, huge, huge competitive advantage.”
Over the years, as the owner of the Mavs, he’s learned a lot about inclusiveness, equality, and diversity. Looking back, he realized too many people in the office looked like him: a bunch of guys, with similar features, around his age. But that wasn’t okay—and it wasn’t beneficial to the company.
“If you look around your office, and you see only people that look like you, whether you’re white, black, brown, purple, male, female, any other version, whatever,” he said. “If you just see people who look like you, think of those opportunities that you’re missing. Because all of us aren’t the same.”
Cuban recommends that when you see someone different than you, reach out to them. Because the chances are, they can sell to someone that you can’t.
And that’s also one of the beauties of being an entrepreneur in Dallas—it’s diverse, there’s something for everybody, and there’s communities that tend to stick together.
“It’s about making money,” he said. “If I would have learned what I learned in the last year, 20 years ago, I’d be a lot richer. That wouldn’t make me any happier, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
He and his team now recognize that inclusivity and diversity isn’t just a checklist. He learned that treating people equally, doesn’t mean treating them the same.
“So open your mind, open your eyes, and look at the people around you, because sometimes the best opportunities are right in front of you,” Cuban said.
“You just gotta go out there and grab it.”
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