Don’t Follow Your Dreams and Other Wisdom from Our Interview with Mark Cuban

Don’t Follow Your Dreams and Other Wisdom from Our Interview with Mark Cuban
When a billionaire offers advice about work ethic, luck, and standing out from the crowd, we're all ears.

There are guys who have made it, guys who have it made, and then there’s Mark Cuban.

Icon, entrepreneur, maverick, rebel billionaire. Whatever prefixes are attached to his name, Cuban is undeniably a symbol to guys everywhere of having your cake and eating it too. From humble beginnings, Cuban got his first taste of the business world as a child, selling baseball cards at school and garbage bags door-to-door. Since then he’s parlayed his love of business and technology into a multi-billion dollar empire and has come to symbolize a more relatable breed of mega-wealthy individuals (how many rich people do you know who rarely wear ties?).

When he’s not in a team jersey screaming from the sidelines at his beloved Dallas Mavericks’ home games (I mean “his” quite literally, as in he owns them), you’ll find him as one of the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank, where wannabe inventors and businesses get a chance to impress the show’s judges with their ideas and try to convince them to invest. You might even find him working at Dairy Queen if you catch him on the right day.

Cuban grew up in a working class family in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and moved to Dallas after graduating from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, working as a bartender before starting MicroSolutions, a software company that would make him a millionaire upon selling.

From then until this very day Cuban’s hot streak has continued. In 1999, right as the dot-com bubble was bursting, Cuban sold to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion in Yahoo! stock. Today in addition to the Mavs, his diverse portfolio of media properties includes Landmark Theatres and Magnolia Pictures. He’s also chairman of cable network AXS TV.

We asked the man with the touch of gold himself how he reached his enormous level of success, about luck, and about the virtues of failure.

In media you've been occasionally called ‘the luckiest guy in the world'. How big a role do you think luck plays in success?
That’s a description I give myself. I will take as much luck as I can get as often as I can get it. How much luck has impacted me? I have no idea, but I’m happy I got every bit of it.
Make your own damn luck.
What's a lesson about work ethic or a hack for getting stuff done you learned early on that's served you well throughout your career?
Every no gets you closer to a yes. Every company needs sales, and in a startup sales don’t come easy. They take a lot of work and you have to be willing to fight through the inevitable doors that will be slammed in your face. I learned to ignore the doors behind me and find more doors that might say yes.
Looking back, what do you think you did in your 20's that your less successful peers didn't?
Read everything I could find. Most went to work, I never stopped learning.
What was the hardest period/phase in your professional growth?
When I started MicroSolutions. I had no idea how long or if it would last. I remember vividly counting every month that we survived. I was learning technology, building a company and flying by the seat of my pants. There were a lot of days that I had to teach myself some new tech all night and use it the next morning for a customer.
No funding. No experience. No excuses.
You're well known as a maverick (see what I did there?) who goes against the grain in many facets of your life and work. How did you learn or train yourself to plow ahead and forge your own path regardless of what others thought?
I never cared what they thought. I remember being in high school and getting sent home because I wore a shirt that said “Bullshit” on it. My mom told me I would get in trouble, but if I wanted to deal with the consequences, go for it. I went. I got sent home and smiled the entire time.
Most never end up with your definition of success – so why do you care what they think?
Can you think of any big early screw-up or failure of yours that turned out to be a blessing in disguise once the dust settled?
There are so many, no one stands out.
What is some commonly perpetuated life advice you think is just plain wrong or actually impedes success?
“Follow your dreams.” Everyone has dreams. They are fun to think about but notice where you apply your time. If you follow your effort you may just get to your dreams.

mark cuban quote

In today’s business world where the most powerful figures so often seem out of touch with the rest of us, a figure like Cuban is like a breath of fresh air. Love him or hate him, it’s undeniable that the guy has a style and a method all his own. He is a rare breed who is not only among the powerful, but also speaks his mind to them whether they like it or not. He bucks the very system he’s a part of, which is where true influence lies.

Chris Nesi

Chris Nesi is a writer and editor born and raised in New Jersey but currently living in Orlando, Florida. His work has appeared in more than a dozen publications including TechCrunch, The Huffington Post and Consulting magazine. When he isn't writing he enjoys swimming, reading, and cycling.