Shark Tank’s panel of millionaire and billionaire investors isn’t just made up of rich folks. It is made up of folks who made themselves rich, self-made moguls. So, when ambitious entrepreneurs come on the show seeking an investment, they typically don’t just want money. They also want to benefit from the ingenuity and experience of these people who figured out how to make it big in business.
But, what sort of experience and ingenuity do the Sharks really have? What can their stories tell us about their business savvy and professional expertise? Starcasm has already brought you profiles on Mark Cuban’s remarkable salesmanship and Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary’s uncanny timing. Now, we’re turning our attention to Barbara Corcoran’s back story. How did Barbara make her money? Does she have a financial super-power, too?
Barbara Corcoran knows the power of image. The story of her rise to fame and fortune might be subtitled “nothing succeeds like (the illusion of) success.” She learned this lesson early, acted on it throughout her career, and never stopped milking it for all it could earn her.
According to an article in New York Magazine, young, not rich Corcoran got a hard lesson in the power of image very early on. As she tells the story, she was living with two roommates in an apartment on East 86th Street when her landlord served her with an eviction notice.
I went to see the landlord, Johnny Campagna — the most handsome man in New York, and I asked why I was being evicted. Turns out he thought I was a hooker. That’s when I learned my first lesson about image.
While most of us would be satisfied with just setting the record straight and keeping our lease, Corcoran turned Johnny Compagna’s mistake into her first big business opportunity. She told him she could do a better job renting out his building than the guy who worked for him, and he gave her a chance to prove it.
Johnny decided to give me a chance, and so I rented like crazy. That building became my bread and butter.
Like Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran is first and foremost a salesperson, a master of self-promotion. Though she made her fortune in real estate, she has said that “I’m a marketing person, not a real-estate person.” The distinctive twist on marketing that Corcoran seems to be particularly brilliant about is creating an image of success in order to create opportunities for real success. Her first target for image overhaul? Herself.
According to an interview in Entrepreneur magazine,
When Corcoran got her first paycheck, she didn’t spend it on rent or food; she headed straight for Bergdorf Goodman to buy an expensive coat. “If I looked like I was capable, then I was capable,” she says. “Perception creates reality.”
It didn’t take Corcoran long to figure out that the lesson she learned from Johnny Compagna about the power of appearances could be transferred to her business, and she began working on cultivating a perception for her company that would create its successful reality.
In 1973, Corcoran started her real estate company, The Corcoran Group. Just a few years later, even though she was not well-known at the time and her company was small, she presented herself to the world of New York real estate as an expert by issuing the first Corcoran Report. The current Corcoran Group website describes history and mission of the Corcoran Report this way:
Tracking sales for over thirty years has also provided us with an unparalleled database. With that resource underlying our research, we proudly publish The Corcoran Report, one of the first real estate market research reports. It provides a thorough analysis of market trends by size and types of housing and neighborhoods. The Corcoran Report’s sales statistics and timely market data have long been recognized as the most accurate and reliable in the industry.
Early in its existence, The New York Times made reference to the Corcoran report for its data on the real estate market, and then Donald Trump took out a full-page ad in the Times trumpeting the report since it listed two of his properties as the leaders of the condominium market. Soon, everyone interested in the New York real estate market was reading the Corcoran report, and Barbara Corcoran had established an authoritative voice in the industry.
Corcoran, herself, credits the Corcoran report with giving her the appearance of credibility that opened the door to real success.
When I started the Corcoran Group, it was a little tiny business in a world of giant businesses. And how did I succeed and get to the head of the pack? I had a gimmick. I created the Corcoran Report, which simply reported on sale prices in Manhattan every six months, and you know what that got me? Free publicity. A lot cheaper than paying for advertising.
So every time anything was written about real estate they came to me for statistics, and my name and my company was always quoted. Don’t overlook the power of publicity in building a brand. It’s there for the taking.
Whether your business is dogwalking or making photocopies or making children’s buttons for clothing, become the expert. It’s the quickest way to get to the top.
Corcoran kept the Corcoran Group at the forefront of technology. In the mid-80s she moved the firm to being a paperless office. By the mid-90s, the firm was storing its documentation on the internet. Corcoran also was an early adopter of using the internet to show real estate listings and allow employees to work from home.
We can only imagine what happened when Corcoran got the call with the offer to join the cast of Shark Tank.
(Imaginary)Corcoran: You want me to sit on stage with bunch of other self-made moguls, listen to pitches for business opportunities, and present myself as the person who has the capital, savvy, and power to turn a good idea into a great success? You want me to project an image of success and use it to create success? Um . . . OK. Sign me up. I think I’ve got this.