Don’t take no for an answer. Have your employees stay in their lanes. Don’t be afraid to fail. And sell best-of-breed solutions.
These are but a few of the pieces of advice that business entrepreneur and TV personality Robert Herjavec offered to attendees of the Tech Data TechSelect Partner Conference under way this week in Henderson, Nev.
By day, Herjavec serves as CEO of The Herjavec Group, a $150 million, Canada-based managed service provider that focuses on security. By night, he is better known as “the nice” guy on the hit TV show, “Shark Tank.” For nearly an hour Friday morning, Herjavec offered insights to fellow technology entrepreneurs eager to hear his compelling personal history and business advice.
For those who don’t know his story, Herjavec grew up dirt poor – literally. As a young boy in the former Yugoslavia, Herjavec’s childhood home had no floors. (Today, it’s a barn.)
After his father ran afoul of local Communist authorities, the Herjavec family emigrated to Canada, where the younger Herjavec became enamored by technology. He started selling modems nearly 30 years ago. He also sold Check Point security solutions when the one-time leader in security technology had just five employees. From these humble beginnings, Herjavec amassed a fortune in technology after selling companies to Nokia and AT&T. Then he retired to raise his daughter.
But after a few years, Herjavec started a new company, hoping to make another fortune in the then-nascent cloud computing market. His first year in business, he expected to generate $5 million in sales. But after nine months, Herjavec’s company had yet to complete a single sale. When he asked his potential customers why they wouldn’t buy from him, they told him they would not forsake good-enough technology and compromise an existing relationship for an imprecise promise of something better. He passed the lesson along to TechSelect attendees.
“We made just about every mistake you can think of,” he said.
But Herjavec didn’t give up. He overbought inventory, he confided. And he failed to recognize when one of his salespeople set up a parallel business on the sly and funneled some of Herjavec’s sales to it.
Despite the setbacks, Herjavec persevered by distinguishing his company from others in the local market.
“It took Oracle 12 years to get to $50 million. We thought we would do $5 million in the first year; instead it took more than five,” he said.
“What I have learned is that what we do in this [conference] room is not that exciting unless you’re in this room,” he said. “So you have to learn to resonate.”
To drive home the point, he shared an anecdote from TV.
“On TV, you can be too tall, too bald, too short, etc. The producers, of course, want you to be perfect, but that can be overcome. The only thing that is bad on TV is if you’re boring. Boring cannot be fixed.”
To stand out among the 70,000 computer VARs in North America, then, partners must be engaging. And instead of the dream, pursue the “green” –or money.
Herjavec told attendees not to be afraid of failure or risk, though it is important to gauge the latter, he added.
“If you’re going to jump off a cliff, climb down first and see how deep the water is,” he said.
As for failing, he reminded the audience that he once gave an award for successful entrepreneurs to one Canadian company that had been thoroughly rejected by the “Shark Tank” experts. At the time, the Sharks thought they knew better. But the determined entrepreneur ignored what they said and proved them wrong.
Similarly, Herjavec said ignoring a “no” is one of the most important skills in business. When he wanted to use the number “007″ on his race car, for example, he was told that he could not because no one was allowed to use a number that started with two zeros. When he checked the rule book and found that there was no such stipulation, he protested and was given his number.
“I was shocked,” he said. “The one number that every guy would want to put on his car wasn’t available?”
No, he realized, it was simply that every guy but him accepted ‘no’ when they called to make the request.
Herjavec offered other gems to attendees, including advice on technology selection. Offer best-of-breed platforms, he said. Why? Because he’s never seen a case when one vendor have been able to offer an entire stack of products that is superior in every way to a solution comprised of top products from multiple companies. The day someone makes a combination toaster, microwave and fridge, he said, you can forget the advice.
When it comes to managing talent, he offered two pieces of advice. You cannot build a business on talent because it doesn’t scale and “talent” isn’t a strategy, he said. Also, managing superstars often turns into a game of keeping them in their lanes and not allowing them to stray into other disciplines. In other words, he said, keep top salespeople focused on sales, and top technologists focused on technology integration.
Finally, Herjavec closed with another story from the world of racing. When faced with a disaster, he said, drivers are trained to look for a safe spot and not focus on the wall or another car. Human nature wants to look at the disaster ahead, he said. But the body cannot react as quickly as the brain. If a driver looks to the wall when out of control, that’s where the car will end up.
But an entrepreneur who can focus on opportunity instead of a pending disaster is more likely to finish in front, Herjavec said.