Barbara Corcoran

Defining Entrepreneurship

Editors’ Note

Barbara Corcoran became one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country by parlaying a $1,000 loan into a $5-billion-dollar real estate business in New York City called The Corcoran Group. She sold the business in 2001 for $70 million. She is the author of If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails, a national best-seller. Corcoran is the real estate contributor for NBC’s Today Show and a columnist for MORE magazine and Redbook. In addition, she is the lone female “shark” on ABC’s popular Shark Tank.

It was easy to be optimistic about real estate over the past years with the type of growth we’ve seen, but when you look at how real estate everywhere, and more specifically in New York, has been affected, is it difficult to be optimistic?

New York is always the last to fall, but it’s also the first to recover because of the depth of the demand for properties here. There are so many different countries we tap into for revenue to buy here; we’re truly an international versus a U.S. market. Although I sold my brokerage firm, I keep my ear open to the brokers and I’m convinced the market is already turning around.

In the early days, many looked at real estate brokerage as a part-time job, but today it seems that deals have become quite intricate. Has the talent pool changed significantly?

It has nothing to do with the intricacy of the deals. If anything, deals are more transparent and easier to make. The amount of money coming into and drenching our market, especially for New York, is greater than ever and coming from many more sources.

What has changed in the business as a result of so much money being earned by the brokers is the emergence of a different breed of broker – people who could easily succeed at another business but choose to be in real estate. We’ve attracted them into the field simply because there is a lot of money to be made.

For you personally, did you know that you had what some refer to as an entrepreneurial gene and that desire to create and grow your own business?

No, people really know that only after they see their own success. What I had was enough ignorance not to know how hard a fall could be. Ignorance is a wonderful empowerer – you don’t know what to be afraid of. For many entrepreneurs, that is the single best gift you get when you’re young. By the time you have 10 years under your belt, you start to realize how many near-death experiences you actually lived through, and it gets scary. And it gets scarier the longer you go, because you know what you have to lose and that fear becomes your enemy. You’re no longer open to the universe and willing to trying a dozen things at once.

For The Corcoran Group, which grew significantly in size and scale, was it challenging to maintain an entrepreneurial culture, and can you do it at a certain size?

Definitely, but the larger the company, the harder to keep creativity front and forward in any business because you have more layers and points of contact to communicate with, and more committees. Committees are a death sentence for creativity, because people are very adept at saying what’s wrong with an idea versus saying, let’s give this a shot. The bigger the company, the harder it is to innovate.

As an investor in companies now via ABC’s Shark Tank, which characteristics do you look for in the senior management?

It’s always the same. It doesn’t necessarily mean that person will become senior management down the road, because different entrepreneurs have different talents. But I’m always looking for a high energy level, because I’ve never seen an a person with low energy succeed. I’m also looking for someone who can present well, and who has intelligent answers to the objections I raise. But primarily, I’m looking for a salesman, because there is no such thing as a company that succeeds without a great salesman selling it. So if someone is super intelligent and answering all the questions right but they’re not a salesman, and they don’t have a partner who is a great salesman, I’m not investing. If they can’t sell it, it’s not going to go.

Via Shark Tank, you have the opportunity to invest, help grow, and make money with others, but do you long to start your own enterprise again?

I’m doing that with each of these entrepreneurs – I’ve started eight businesses in the past two months. I really feel I picked the winners in the lot, because I have a good nose for that. Each of them, by far, is exactly like my past super salespeople. It is second nature to me to help them along as I did in the past. They’re each super salespeople with a good idea and the passion and energy to go with it. Yet, none of it is real estate.

At the Shark Tank, do you prefer to invest on your own, and is it hard to partner with others on the panel?

I find it’s both good and bad investing with another shark. The good news is that each shark has a different circle of influence and a different knowledge base, and that’s a lot of extra power. The bad news is I have more people to check in with, so the deal moves slower. Speed is key to an entrepreneur. So I’d rather do deals on my own, but sometimes, I don’t have the knowledge or contact pool I need to help the entrepreneur and that’s when I partner up.

How challenging is it to get away from business and maintain a work/life balance?

The largest challenge for me is the constant flow of e-mail. It’s a terrible thing to constantly feel that your business is never done and someone is waiting to hear from you. There is an urgency and speed that is taking place in the business climate that is terrible for doing quality work, because you’re too often reacting versus thinking. I don’t know the answer on that one but I’m going to figure it out.