At Longhorn Startup Demo Day last week, Bob Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet, co-founder of 3Com and professor of innovation at UT, interviewed Billionaire Mark Cuban, co-founder of Broadcast.com and owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Cuban also stars on the popular TV show Shark Tank on ABC. This is some of the advice he gave on pitching him.
1. Know Your History. “The biggest error I see in startups that pitch to me is no sense of history” – Not everything is in Google. Companies fail and their servers are no longer online, Cuban said. He gets pitched from entrepreneurs who do not know that their idea has been tried before and failed. He suggests entrepreneurs put their idea in search engines with the word “fail” after it and see what comes up. He also suggests they talk to people who have been around and find out what they know and dig deeper than Google to find out as much information as possible. Cuban said it’s OK if you pitch a deal that has failed before, but just make sure you don’t make the same mistakes and you know how to make it work.
2. Know Your Product and Market Better Than Anyone Else. Cuban looks for “someone who knows their industry cold. Knows their product cold.”
3. What’s Special About Your Startup? “I always look to see what’s the special sauce,” Cuban said. They have to have something that differentiates them from everyone else. They need a “special sauce” that sets them apart from the competition. Superlatives don’t benefit the entrepreneur, Cuban said. Anything that ends in “er” or “est” like cheaper, fastest, better – are big red flags because the competition isn’t going to go away, Cuban said. They’ll just improve on their product. “I try to find entrepreneurs that aren’t lying to themselves and that’s very difficult.”
4. Don’t Ask for too Much. He doesn’t invest in deals that require $300 million in venture capital to succeed. His shares get diluted and the founders spend too much time just looking for capital.
5. Work Hard. He likes pitches from hard-working entrepreneurs. “You’ve got to grind, grind and grind” says Cuban. Entrepreneurs only fail because of lack of effort and brains.
6. Don’t be a Copy Cat. Everyone thinks the Internet is new. But bits are bits, Cuban said. The servers that YouTube uses are no different than the servers that Comcast uses. If 10,000 people are distributing something on YouTube, why do you want to be 10,001, he said. I try to look where people aren’t looking. I try to look where people think it’s archaic or wrong, he said. That’s why he put his movies made for Magnolia, his production company, on video on demand. For example, he thinks video on demand is growing much faster than Internet viewing of video. It’s going to grow even faster as the satellite and cable companies get their user interface perfected, Cuban said.
7. What’s the best way to pitch him? Send him an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. He will at least glance through the first paragraph of them all. He is very quick on the delete button. But he has invested $10 million in companies he discovered through email and at least $6 million of that are entrepreneurs he has never met.
8. Don’t pitch him directly, if you want to be on Shark Tank. If he knows anything about the financial elements of your company, he has to recuse himself from the deal on Shark Tank.