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Mark Cuban’s Advice to Denver Startup Week

The TV star spoke alongside DISH’s Charlie Ergen and Colorado-based investor, Brad Feld


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Mark Cuban, an investor, entrepreneur, personality on the ABC show “Shark Tank” and owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team discussed entrepreneurship and current events during Denver Startup Week 2017. Brad Feld, a venture capitalist at Boulder’s Foundry Group and co-founder of Techstars, moderated the conversation between he and Charlie Ergen, founder of Dish Network.

The discussion took place Tuesday, September 26 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, covering the beginnings of Cuban and Ergen's businesses.

During the talk, the three men covered their early careers, politics in America, diversity in the world place professional sports and more. Feld asked the others when they knew their ventures had become “unambiguously successful,” to which Ergen said early on when he and his co-founders “bought a piece of electronics that captured imaginations in the [telecom and media] industry.” Meanwhile, Cuban called his moment “less dramatic,” referring to a portion of 1998 when Audionet (which later became Broadcast.com and sold to Yahoo! A year later for $5.7 billion.) when his venture attracted 1 million users and “people had to come to us.”

Ergen touched on the fact that DISH satellites are one of the few “communication links in Puerto Rico,” following last week’s devastating Hurricane Maria, and casually mentioned that Cuban will run for president in the future.

The hour-and-a-half live panel discussion lasted 1.5 hours before a packed house.

Here are a handful of teachable moments that emerged from the conversation:

SCHOOL YOURSELF:

As Ergan and Cuban shared their origin stories, Ergan said he and his co-founder Jim DeFranco became experts in satellite dishes and ultimately built a business out of that expertise. Meanwhile, Cuban taught himself about computers following his first job out of college.

BUT ALSO GO TO SCHOOL

As Cuban looked to the future, Feld prompted him to talk about what his community, Dallas, Tex., would need to be competitive in the next 20 years.

“There are so many fundamental issues,” Cuban said. “Not everybody has access to the same opportunities. [We need to make sure that] everybody has a quality education and the opportunity to get a good job.”

Later in the talk, an audience member asked whether a business degree was a valuable use of his time.

“I’m a believer that you stay in school,” Cuban said, adding that in business you “have to learn the language of business, [or] you’re always going to be dependent on other people.”

TRUST

Ergan spoke of selling one of the original systems in Pagosa Springs. Despite a tumultuous trip to get there, they sold and installed one of their first dishes, and he recalls having partners he could turn to and confidently depend on.

“Two years into Micro Solutions, I get a call from the bank,” Cuban recalls. The receptionist had whited out the accounts payable and typed in her name. “We had $84,000 in the bank; she took out $82,000.” However, “We had great partner vendors, [we] had to go back to work and solve the problem. I called our vendors and asked for more time.”

BE OBSESSED

During the audience Q&A finale of the program, Feld he has a set of three filters when he invests in a company:

  1. “We’re looking for founders who are, not passionate, [but] obsessed with what they’re doing.”
  2. We need to have “some affinity for what they’re doing.”
  3. Founders who want us – Needs to be a two-way street

Cuban added to Feld’ commentary, saying he looks for people who are committed, life-long learners, people who can sell and people who “look to reduce the stress of others.”

APPRECIATE YOUR SUCCESSES

When asked what his advice to your younger self would be, Cuban said: “Don’t F*** it up!” He followed up by saying he wouldn’t change any of the highs or lows that have brought him to here and now and that he considers himself the “luckiest man in the world.”

THE HARDEST PART IS JUST DOING IT

The final question of the night came from 11-year-old Jack Bonneau, who asked what advice the three panelists would give children entrepreneurs.

Ergen’s response was: “The hardest part is just to do it ... burn the bridge behind you ... get the best education you can, and when you’re ready, just go for it.”

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Gigi Sukin

Gigi Sukin is digital editor at ColoradoBiz. She can be reached at gsukin@cobizmag.com.

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