2014 NACUSO Annual Conference

Business Insights from Inside the Shark Tank

‘The language of success is technology and money.’

April 16, 2014

Robert Herjavec

Co-starring on a hit TV series has opened a lot of doors and provided quite a rush for Robert Herjavec. But his proudest achievement from ABC’s Shark Tank has been educating the public on the language and mentality of business.

Initially, producers insisted the Canadian mogul and his cohorts explain terms such as valuation early in the show’s run. Now, they toss around complex theories and yet have become a highly rated show and cultural touchpoint.

“We’ve made it cool, in a small way, to be an entrepreneur,” Herjavec told a crowd packed with credit union entrepreneurs Tuesday at the NACUSO annual conference in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Herjavec shared some of the insights he regularly delivers on Shark Tank, where he and a colorful cast of judges evaluate product pitches and bid against each other to fund the ideas with their own money.

His most important message: It’s not easy to succeed in today's competitive climate. That’s evidenced by the fact that just five businesses funded on Shark Tank and its various incarnations in other countries over the last decade have become megahits.

The flip side: “If you hit, baby, you can hit really big,” he said.

Herjavec, whose appearance was sponsored by MasterCard Worldwide, would know.

His family fled poverty in communist Croatia before emigrating to Canada when he was eight years old. He launched a computer company from his basement and eventually built and sold several technology companies to major corporations.

Now Herjavec leads a cybersecurity firm, The Herjavec Group.

Herjavec accomplished all of this without a traditional business education: his degree is in English literature.

But he does believe certain skills have grown in importance during the information age.

“To be successful, you have to understand the language of success,” Herjavec said. “The language of success is technology and money.”

An author of two business tomes, including “The Will to Win,” Herjavec touched on several of his principles in a free-flowing presentation:

Refinement rules. “There are no great ideas,” he said. “It’s all about better execution.”

• Persistence pays. Along the road to success, you’ll hear “no” more than “yes.”

“Just because we say ‘no’ doesn’t mean we’re right,” he said.

• Having a stake raises the stakes. Judging on Shark Tank is “fun and games, and it’s cool being a celebrity,” Herjavec said. “But the funny thing about money for me is I actually want it back. So you get intensely interested in what that person is pitching.”

• Personality pays. Don’t underestimate the power of being likeable because people will want to do business with you.

• Embrace reality. “In life, the biggest lies are the ones you tell yourself,” he said. “I’ve seen more businesses fail because they’re not brutally honest with their own situation.

“I’ve seen businesses on the verge of bankruptcy that have no idea they’re on the verge of bankruptcy. It’s OK to be Brad Pitt in your mind—but you’ve got to realize you’re Robin Williams.”