Last night I caught part of Big Idea with Donny Deutsch on cable. Donny was interviewing billionaire Mark Cuban, who is one of the smartest entrepreneurs I’ve ever followed.
The best written article I’ve seen about how Mark turned Broadcast.com into a multi-billion dollar company is the chapter in Net Entrepreneurs Only, published around 2000, to highlight a dozen or so successful online entrepreneurs. The work ethic that Mark and his partner Todd had back then is nicely described there. Mark talked about it again last night. He described a typical work day.
He works from home most of the time. Never lets anyone call him on the phone (except his wife). If they want a phone meeting or if he needs to have a meeting in person, he arranges it through email. His wife has 2 girls, including a 6-week old girl, so Mark describes a typical day as involving playing with his girls, feeding them in the morning, he even mentioned watching the Wiggles and Stanley with his older daughter. He had a great daddy-gleam in his eye as he talked about his girls. He seems to care more about his family than anything else.
I think there are at least three major lessons we can learn from Mark Cuban. (I happen to have almost the exact same approach to work that he does, and is has taken me places, but not nearly as far as Mark. Not even close. So we’ll use Mark as the reason why internet entrepreneurs should adopt these practices.)
1. He reads like crazy and uses email like crazy and has access at his fingertips to all his correspondence for the last 15 years. The way he described it on the Big Idea was really cool.
(I have used Folio VIEWS for 16 years as my full-text database, and now I use gmail for my email archive. Someday I’ll combine the two into a single seach engine.)
Mark dives in deep to any new technology. He learns everything he can about it and talks to all the pioneers in developing it. He knows his stuff.
2. He is willing to do the blocking and tackling to build a business, even if it means thousands of hours of what others might think is tedious work.
He described launching AudioNet (the precursor to Broadcast.com) and working crazy hours doing nothing but posting on forums and emailing and doing everything possible to generate interest and usage of his internet sports radio channel.
3. Like Warren Buffett, who claims that being an investor made him a better business man, and being a business man made him a better investor, Cuban obviously does both, does them a lot, and loves them.
The reason he was able to sell his internet company at a peak valuation of $5.7 billion is that he had seen the hardware industry, the networking industry, and the software industry all go through bubbles. He sold a computer software company for $6 million in 1990, and started investing. So he knew some of the macrotrends in the investment industry and saw the internet bubble for what it was. He got out when he could.
He said, and he is 100% right, that most entrepreneurs aren’t willing to do the required blocking and tackling to build a successful company. John Bresee, at BackCountry.com, describes pretty much the same approach in the first few years of BackCountry.com. It was mostly going online all the time, trying to get links to your site, posting in usenet groups, on message boards and doing email. Same thing for the 2nd person at eBay. I remember reading that he used to answers something like 1,500 emails per day.
Most of the internet millionaires I know and the internet billionaires I’ve read about were completely willing to work 12-16 hours a day doing the most tedious possible things, like email and guerilla marketing, in order to get their companies in a position to win in their market.
How many of you are willing to do that? Have you ever spent till 2 or 3 in the morning working on your web site, visiting and posting on message boards, looking for the hundreds of online directories that should be linking to your company, finding email lists to advertise on, and visiting thousands of sites looking for the ones that ought to be your affiliates?
How many times have you done that? Would you be willing to do it many times a week, for several months, or even a year or two, to get your company in a position to succeed.
For some people, it might not be worth it. There is definitely more to happiness than financial success. And sometimes the pursuit of financial success costs people their health, family, friends, and peace of mind.
So it’s definitely not for everyone. But it is an essential ingredient in most entrepreneur success stories.
Another lesson I’ll point out, is that Mark Cuban is an avid blogger, and probably has one of the most interesting and controversial blogs in the world. He is never afraid to say what he thinks, no matter what fine the NBA might throw at him. He is incredibly smart and outspoken.
I have said before that every CEO should blog. It is so healthy for CEOs to be in touch with customers, employees, and to get feedback from everyone. And I love the transparency of blogging. That is healthy for companies.
If you are an internet entrepreneur, definitely check out the Mark Cuban blog regularly. He talks about trends that most people ignore. He got into HD TV when so many people ignored it, partly because he saw computer pricing drop over the years which led to a huge adoption rate, and he saw the same thing coming with plasma screens. He knows that we will all have amazing high-definition screens in multiple places in our homes in the coming years, and so just like with Broadcast.com where he and Todd went on a rampage and signed hundreds of licensing deals for audio content on the interenet in the first years in business, he repeated that approach with HDNet, and he is a leader in that marketplace now.
He has more ideas that he can handle himself, so sometimes he’ll throw things out that he won’t be doing personally, like this post about “3 ideas that are all yours.” Not well received by some of his readers (he has a TON of comments on his blog.)