Robert Herjavec talks to himself as part of his morning routine.
“When I wake up in the morning, I’m thinking business but I’m thinking opportunity,” Herjavec, whose estimated net worth is about $200 million, told Ladders. “I used to say this thing in my head when I was first starting out – I used to say, ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Make it happen.’ And yes, I really do talk to myself.”
The “Shark Tank” judge and CEO of cybersecurity firm Herjavec Group is a truly self-made man. Fans of the show will already know that he was born in communist Yugoslavia, and emigrated to Canada when he was a child. His father, who was an entertainer back in what is now Croatia, had to work in a factory sweeping floors. In the 90s, Herjavec worked a series of minimum-wage jobs before he got into the tech field.
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“The first thing I learned is there is no job that’s beneath me,” Herjavec said. “I come from a really blue collar background. My dad worked in a factory. My mom was a receptionist. I’ve worked as a waiter. I’ve loaded trucks. I’ve cleaned warehouses.”
As a result, he may be one of the most down-to-earth Sharks. “I always try to treat everybody with the same level of respect,” Herjavec told Ladders, while in New York City plugging a survey about business travel for La Quinta by Wyndham. “Every job is a means to an end for something. I never doubt why you’re doing that job. I never look down on people, and I try to find something interesting and unique about everybody.”
Now that he’s spent a decade on television and written three books in addition to his CEO duties, work keeps Herjavec on the road about 100 days a year. The “nicest Shark” came prepared with facts and figures from the inaugural “La Quinta Means Business” national survey.
“My favorite stat of the entire survey was we asked people would they rather have WiFi or clean underwear?” he said with delight. “And what did you think people said?”
“Yeah, which is what I said too. I think it was 64% of people would rather have good WiFi.” He went on to extoll the hotel chain’s 24-hour gyms and readily available coffee.
Travel was hard, he said, especially being away from his family – he met his wife Kym when she was his dance partner on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ – “but if you want to get ahead and you want to create great things in life, you got to sacrifice some things.”
The Croatian-born businessman and investor is also a relentless optimist who, in business and investing, has always relied on a strong sense of intuition. If you don’t have that natural sense, he says, you can develop it by listening closely to yourself.
“We all have a sense of intuition, but as we get older, doubt starts to creep in. ‘No’ is a conditioned response. But I think everybody has a good gut feel … you just have to listen to it sometimes. But that doesn’t mean blind faith. You’ve also got to plan it out.”
On “Shark Tank,” for example, he picks up subtle cues about whether or not someone would be a good investment that have nothing to do with their business pitch.
“Little things. Like, do you come out and are you standing there confidently? Are you standing up straight? Or are you hunched over? The tone of your voice – if you’re soft and meek,” he says. “I want you to exude confidence. I’m giving you money and I really like my money. I want to invest. I want more of it to come back, but the first thing I want to do is invest in the person.”
After seeing hundreds of pitches, Herjavec says there are some basic but fatal mistakes that first-time entrepreneurs make. One of the biggest is loving what you do – but not loving the business end of things.
“Running a business is really hard,” Herjavec said. “Let’s say you want to open up a hair salon and you love cutting hair. It’s not enough to love cutting hair. You’ve got to love running a business.”
Another novice entrepreneur mistake is not getting a feel of the market beforehand to see if there’s a demand for the product. “Most entrepreneurs we see on the show don’t ask paying customers whether the idea is good or bad, and from that, it’s a lot of operational expense.”
He’s learned similar lessons about investing as he’s gone along on “Shark Tank.”
“We used to invest in stuff we understood,” he said. “Now we only invest in things that we think consumers are going to buy.”
One mistake Herjavec admits to in his own business experience: “I haven’t invested enough in scale in order to have it go big. So the business gets to a certain size and people are like, ‘Well, why did you do that? You knew it was going to be big.’ I’m like, ‘I actually didn’t.’ ”
To relax and to clear his head – or to prepare for a big meeting – Herjavec exercises, which has a number of benefits for him.
“It’s not that I’m vain,” he told Ladders, “although I’m probably pretty vain. I’ve been on TV for 10 years. I like to look good and all the other stuff .. but for me, it’s mental and it just puts me in the right place. It’s just as mental as physical. A good sweat clears my mind.”
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