People who have not been to Pittsburgh, PA might imagine it to be a steel town – dirty with soot-filled skies. The image might be one which includes a town past its prime, comprised of a blue-collar population with a strong work ethic and a love for their NFL team – the Pittsburgh Steelers. Those people’s perceptions would be selling Pittsburgh short. The city – located in a beautiful confluence of three rivers – has a rich heritage and boasts more than a dozen universities and colleges, a thriving arts and literary community and strong entrepreneurial lineage in the person of Andrew Carnegie.
There are as many people who would expect a boy born in Pittsburgh, the grandson of Russian immigrants and the son of an automobile upholsterer would end up being one of those blue-collar, life-long residents of the city. That thought would be selling the boy short.
His entrepreneurial spirit first surfaced at the age of 12, driven by his love of basketball. He wanted to own a rather expensive pair of basketball shoes. He earned the money he needed by selling garbage bags door-to-door. His business drive continued through high school where he sold stamps and coins, taught dance and promoted parties. He also took psychology courses at the University of Pittsburgh as a high school junior.
He then enrolled as a full-time student at Pitt, foregoing his final year of high school. A year later he transferred to Indiana University, from which he ultimately graduated, having paid his own tuition. Throughout college, he continued his business pursuits – most notably owning at one time the most popular bar at IU.
After a brief return to Pittsburgh, he moved to Dallas, where he took a job selling computer software. After a dispute with his employer about his choice to close a big sale rather than clean the office, he left and began his own consulting service – MicroSolutions. Not only did he become an expert in the field of computing, he had honed his business building skills so that he was able to sell his company for $6 million. He was 32.
He was also nowhere near ready to rest on his rather lofty laurels. His passion for basketball had continued – especially for his beloved Indiana Hoosiers – but he was frustrated that he was unable to listen to the games in Texas. Once again, basketball had ignited his drive and he set out to find a business solution. He and his friend – and fellow Indiana U alum – Todd Wagner started a company which would stream over the internet. Not only was he able to listen to his team’s games, a mere four years later he sold the company – Broadcast.com – to Yahoo! for nearly $6 billion.
It was his love of basketball that had resulted in a new pair of shoes as a child and tremendous wealth as an adult. His passion for basketball had also led him to be a long-time season ticket holder for the lowly Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Once again he integrated his passion for basketball with his tremendous business talents – in 2000, he bought the Mavericks.
Today his personal wealth is estimated to be $3 billion. His team boasts an NBA championship. He is a fixture on Shark Tank – a reality show supporting entrepreneurs – and one of the highest rated programs on U.S. television. This stratospheric success does not define a fearless brand, they are the results of one – Mark Cuban.
Fearless Brands combine their passions and skills to generate powerful results.
It’s clear that Cuban doesn’t fit the expectations – the mold – many might have for someone born in Pittsburgh, a grandson of Russian immigrants. For that matter, he doesn’t fit many – if any – molds. There is certainly a level of irony in the fact that Mark Cuban is the owner of the Mavericks. Cuban himself is a modern-day maverick.
He is not one to follow the norm – nor sit still once he sees an opportunity. He is direct. He is provocative. He is not bashful about sharing his opinions through the media, on Twitter (@mcuban) or on Blog Maverick – The Mark Cuban Blog. He often wears his feelings on his sleeves – certainly at Mavs games. Cuban has amassed over $2 million in fines from the NBA for expressing his opinions in words and actions :). Some find him to be a loudmouth, a brat – even a bully. Others find his candor refreshing, honest and necessary. He can be all of that at times – it’s part of what makes Cuban so successful.
That is especially true on the show Shark Tank. His interest in the entrepreneurs and their ideas is genuine. Whether or not he intends to invest in a given project – he gives valuable guidance and insight. Not all pitches are legit however, and it’s not uncommon for Cuban to confront them with a “blank you – there’s no blanking way that’s true…” – of course he’s having fun and knows the segments are all edited.
Cuban is very vocal about the outstanding $1 trillion debt of student loans – the impending negative impact. As is his norm however, he has partnered with Paul Quinn College to initiate a “new urban college model”. He has also warned that the next tech bubble is here and when it bursts, it will be worse than the first one.
Mark Cuban is a nearly perfect example of a fearless brand – one to emulate in building your own brand. Cuban embodies the basic elements of a fearless brand:
- Be authentic – There is nothing false or pretentious about Cuban. What you see is who he is. Like him or not – he’s as authentic as they come
- Embrace your passion – Basketball has played a big role in his success – it’s something he loves. His passion extends to all areas of his life – personally and professionally. It’s that passion that will drive you to achieve your dream results.
- Leverage your skills – We all have talents – natural gifts and learned skills. Cuban had to learn the world of computing to take full advantage of his business and people skills in building MicroSolutions. Know what your talents are, use them and continue to improve them.
- Be relevant – Key to Cuban’s success is his ability to bring unique – yet relevant solutions to bear. Your brand has to be relevant to yourself as well as to those you will serve.
Mark Cuban is a maverick – but that doesn’t mean you need to be a ‘free spirit’ to become a fearless brand. Focus on the basic elements which Cuban so clearly demonstrates – incorporate those into your brand and you too will achieve your dream results.