The Toronto-based businessman, investor, and CEO of the Herjavec Group, a security software company valued at $200 million, is best known for his role as a panelist on ABC’s Shark Tank. He’s also a race car enthusiast who won four races in 2012, earning him “Rookie of the Year” honors. (Ironically, he did crash a $350,000 Ferrari at Daytona International Speedway in Jan. 2013, but his ROY status was not tarnished.)
CSQ met up with the blue-eyed entrepreneur at the LA Auto Show, where he spoke of his entrepreneurial roots, the ingredients for success, and of course, the educational business show that has become a hit across mainstream America.
Unlike fellow panelist Mark Cuban, who was hawking mustard as a kid, Herjavec revealed that his road into business blossomed a few years later. An English major who started his first business after getting fired, Herjavec never envisioned becoming rich. Escaping with his parents from a Communist country to Canada, success for him meant having a decent job, being able to pay a mortgage, and then finally, being able to afford a Corvette.
The biggest obstacle to his success, he notes, was fear of rejection and fear of failure. In that respect, Herjavec was no different than anyone who comes on his show. Those fears subsided after a few years, thankfully, due to a simple antidote: success. When the fear of not achieving what you know you can achieve becomes greater than the fear of failing, he notes, success is almost inevitable.
One of his mentors, Warren Avis, founder of Avis Rent-a-Car, was an early influence. He also overcame the fear to ask questions and absorbed as much information from others as possible. (He even turned the tables on me, posing a number of questions about what I as a psychiatrist thought made for successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs during our interview.)
Many entrepreneurs will say the key to making it is to fail big, early, and quick. Herjavec agreed with that but added that it’s better to fail small, because failing big means you’re out of touch with the market and your own capabilities. He also noted that the smartest people are not the ones with the best answers but the ones with the best questions. The two best questions to answer are: a) What problem am I solving? and b) Will anyone write a check for it? He also advised would-be entrepreneurs to become an expert and provide value by finding a better way of doing something that is quicker, better, and cheaper.
Shark Tank is not a charity show, he emphasized; it is about making money. “[He and the other ‘sharks’ are] five oversized personalities with oversized egos, and we all like the limelight and can banter between ourselves,” he explained. “But when an entrepreneur comes in who has a really great business idea, we stop playing around and like sharks, we smell the blood of opportunity. When that happens, the power shifts from us to the entrepreneur, because we all start bidding against each other.”
For all his success, Herjavec is not one to shun his roots. Asked what has driven his success through the years, he replied, “I wanted to justify all the sacrifices my late parents made for me. They’re both gone and I’d love them to know that it was worth it.”