You’ve seen him on Shark Tank. And in the media, sat in his private jet. Or yelling support at his basketball team the Dallas Mavericks. But I wanted to get to know Mark Cuban better. I was curious to find out what, if anything, scares this 6’3″ entrepreneur. And I wanted to know what kept him motivated when he was broke and sleeping on the floor of his friend’s apartment. Most of all I wanted to understand the mindset that turns an ordinary, middle class boy into a billionaire….
So Mark, I want to go back to the beginning. How does a guy who ends up owning the Dallas Mavericks start out. Have you always been a huge sports fan?
Mark: Yeah, I’ve always been into sports, for as long as I can remember. I played baseball and basketball growing up, and in college I took up and played rugby. Then I continued playing rugby pretty much up until I got my hip replaced.
So you were pretty athletic, does that mean you were one of the cool kids?
Mark: I definitely wasn’t one of the cool kids. I just had my group of friends and we stuck together. We weren’t unique or special in any way. I would say we were confident intellectually, but we definitely weren’t the kids going out on dates or being very social. We kept to ourselves. In class, I did OK with my grades, mostly B’s and A’s. But I wasn’t the class clown or always raising my hand or anything like that. Just pretty normal.
How did your school life compare to home life. What was the Cuban household like?
Mark: We were middle class, so we never suffered, we never went hungry, but we certainly were never frivolous either. I got yelled out if I left lights on or took too long in the shower. And going out to eat was a special family occasion. We watched what we spent, but we were never uncomfortable.
How did you feel about that level of family income. Were you content or did you have bigger dreams?
Mark: I really didn’t know one way or the other. I had my own dreams and goals, I wanted to start and run my own businesses. I wanted to be independently wealthy, but it wasn’t in relationship to my parents at all. I knew I would have to take care of myself, I wouldn’t depend on anyone else to support me. I think that motivated me more than anything.
You mentioned being yelled at when you left the lights on. I’m sure some of these phrases we hear growing up have a profound effect on how we think about money. Can you remember any others?
Mark: Mostly “when you have your own money you can buy whatever you want, but until then you get what you get”.
Tell me about the young Mark Cuban, how did the empire building begin?
Mark: I started my first business at age 12, selling garbage bags, I made enough money to buy some tennis shoes. I also started a bar, Motley’s Pub, when I wasn’t even of legal drinking age the summer before my senior year at Indiana University. It was great until we got busted for letting a 16-year-old win a wet T-shirt contest. (I swear I checked her ID, and it was good!). Nothing was over the top great or horrible. Everything was just me hustling and working hard.
What was your motivation back then?
Mark: I liked doing things and taking the lead on ideas and turning them into businesses. Whether it was collecting stamps or baseball cards. If I could find a business angle, I would. If I could make money selling anything, I would try to make money selling.
What important lessons did those early attempts teach you?
Mark: That if I was fair to people, worked hard, under promised and over delivered, I would be successful.
I read that you’d drive around looking at big, expensive houses. Telling yourself that one day you’d live in a house like that. Tell me about that. Did it help? Did it give you a clear goal to shoot for?
Mark: Absolutely it helped. I don’t know that it gave me a goal, but I would tell myself that there were a lot of really big houses. If there were a lot of them, that meant there were a lot of people making a lot of money. If there were a lot of people that were successful, then some of them must have worked their way up like I did. That if I worked hard, I could own a house just like this. It was motivation more than anything. If they could do it, I could do it. I just had to stay focused and work hard.