What Mark Cuban Doesn't Like About Your New Business Idea

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NY Premiere Of "Woman In Gold"
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By Andrea N. Browne

As a repeat entrepreneur, Mark Cuban knows a thing or two about how to start a business from the ground up. His first company, MicroSolutions, a software distributor, grew to $30 million in revenue before he sold it in 1990. Nine years later, he sold his next business, Broadcast.com, an Internet broadcast company, to Yahoo for a reported $5.7 billion in Yahoo stock.

In 2000, Cuban bought a majority stake in the NBA's Dallas Mavericks franchise. Along with business partner Todd Wagner, Cuban also co-owns the Landmark Theatres cinema chain, the film distribution company Magnolia Pictures, and the cable television network AXS TV. His estimated net worth is $3 billion, according to Forbes.

Kiplinger asked Cuban about his professional journey, what small business owners need to do to succeed, and his strategies for maintaining wealth amid a changing economic environment. Here's an edited excerpt from our interview:

What's one piece of advice you'd give to a budding entrepreneur?

Be prepared. Know your business, your industry and your product better than anyone else. You'll have competition. They're not just going to hand over their business to you. Your new company has to have a compelling reason for people to want to do business with you instead of [the competition].

Looking back at your professional journey, when did you realize you were on the path to becoming wealthy?

After the money was in the bank -- I never took anything for granted. I've had businesses that have failed, so I knew that at any moment things could go wrong. I never thought "I made it" until after I made it.

What's the biggest risk you took?

I was never a big risk taker. When I started my first businesses, I really had nothing to lose. I was sleeping on the floor. I had five roommates in a three-bedroom apartment. My car was a junker. I had absolutely nothing to lose when I started MicroSolutions, so it really was never a risk.

Today, I don't step out of my comfort zone. I work hard to be prepared and know my business and industry first. If I'm not comfortable with it, why would I do it? I'm not saying take a year. But I do believe you go all in to learn as quickly as you can. When you're prepared and have nothing to lose, you can go, go, go.

What are you doing to make your wealth last, other than invest in new ventures on Shark Tank?

I make sure I understand the markets and the risk factors. I try to look for things that could create another Great Recession. [Those include] high-frequency trading; the flash cash is one example. I look at student-loan debt, and I am exploring what happens when universities start losing students or have to cut back tuition. I pay attention to what the central banks around the world are doing. I worry about whether our markets can be disrupted by a cyberattack or massive spoofing attack. Because there are so many unknowns, I have a significant portion of my portfolio hedged.

Unfortunately, the stock market and many other financial-instrument markets have become platforms for hackers. The days of individual buyers being the greatest impact on the market are long gone.

What are the key factors that make a Shark Tank pitch a winner to you?

It has to be something that's compelling. It has to be obvious why people would pay money for it. It has to be something that can scale to be big enough to more than return my money, and then some. It has to have someone who is willing to put it all on the line and work hard. The person has to be willing and excited to sell to as many people as possible.

What are the show-stoppers that turn off your interest immediately?

People who aren't self-aware. They think they're the best and that they have the best company when it's obvious they have no idea how wrong they are. You have to be able to know how others see you. You have to be brutally honest about your strengths and faults. If you can't be honest with yourself, it's going to be very difficult to know what it will take to be successful.

If you were starting out today, which industry would you choose to enter into?

I created a product called CyberDust.com. It's an ephemeral messaging and communications platform that has been a springboard for networking and learning from influencers and experts. So I guess privacy and communications [would be the industries].

What about those fields attracts you most?

In a lot of respects, we're the product online. Our digital footprint tells the world who we are. The minute you hit "send" on a text or an e-mail, you no longer own that message. The person you send it to does. That's an incredible amount of risk. I used Cyber Dust to negotiate my Shark Tank deal with Sony, which owns the show. I had no idea they were being hacked at the time and neither did they. My negotiations never came out and all was safe. We saw what happened to their e-mail.

That will be the risk all companies and individuals face. Everything we do digitally is valuable to someone, and you can bet they'll try to get what you have. I'm not saying everyone will get hacked, but every company you do business with is at risk. What we've seen with credit cards isn't going to stop.

How do you give back to the community?

I try to find leverage points. Sure, I give to charities and those in need. But for me, I try to help people create and grow their companies, and build a future for people. The hope is that they can become self-sustaining and grow to be a pillar of their community. That's what I love to do and think has the most impact.
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