A couple of weeks ago, I moderated a panel discussion with Lori Greiner of TV’s Shark Tank at the Staples store on 5th Avenue. Staples (with whom I do some work) is launching a line of Shark Tank products at select stores and online. So they brought in Lori, myself, and Alison Corcoran, the Staples Senior VP for North American Stores and Online Marketing, for a lively roundtable discussion about entrepreneurship and small business.
After our panel discussion, I had a chance to sit down with Lori and ask her some questions about what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur, especially if you are new to it. Lori certainly is the right person to ask. With over 100 patents and 400 products to her name, Lori isn’t called “the Queen of QVC” for nothing.
One of the first things Lori mentioned was that entrepreneurs are a different breed. You need to have certain characteristics if you are going to be successful at it, including, she noted
- Being a risk taker: Lori’s first product was an earring holder which she eventually licensed to JC Penney. But before she got to that point, she took some huge risks with the product, including spending $10,000 on the tool-and-dye prototype process, and taking on a significant loan. Why? She knew it was a winner.
- Confidence: Taking a risk like that requires confidence, that’s for sure. Indeed, Lori said that she was “fearless” when it came to getting that earring holder on store shelves. That sort of drive, passion, and confidence are critical, she says. But for Lori, confidence is not enough. It also has to be mixed in with respect and kindness. “Those are the kinds of people I like to work with.”
- Hard working and driven: If you ever watch Shark Tank, you know that this is a characteristic of both the sharks and the entrepreneurs who are successful.
- Creative: An often-overlooked trait, great entrepreneurs are very creative.
But what about those things that new entrepreneurs may not know; what do they need to know of which they are possibly unaware?
“One thing they need to understand up front Steve, is that starting your own business is a 24/7 endeavor,” she noted, adding, “Once you get in, it has to be a 100% commitment.” Lori also suggested that to be successful in business, you need to have to two other attributes:
- Organizational skills
- A map of the big picture of where you are going and how you will get there
Interestingly, Lori was of a different mind than many experts when we talked about getting help. She strongly believes that, especially in the beginning of your venture, you need to work at and learn all aspects of your business. Whereas some business experts suggest that you should quickly bring in the help you need to round out your business (guilty as charged!), Lori thinks that before you get to that place, you need to put in the time so that you know your business inside out.
As we wrapped up our chat, I had to ask a question that I always wonder about: When investors look to invest in a new venture, what is it that they are looking at most closely? Is it the entrepreneur, the idea, or the financials? I have often been told that it is the entrepreneur. If you watch the show, you know that Mr. Wonderful thinks it is all about the money, the numbers.
What about Lori? When I watch, I notice that she seems analyze things differently a purely financial perspective.
“Yes, that’s true. To me, the product is number one. I like products that fill a need and hit a broad audience. I always say I can tell if a product is a hero or a zero.” Next on her list is the entrepreneur. She looks for folks who have those traits that are mentioned above. Finally, of course the numbers are important – “especially a proven sales history” – but if someone does not have that, that’s OK too. “I like new products and new ideas.”
What I loved about meeting with, and speaking to, Lori Greiner is that she shows that it is indeed possible to be both successful, and kind. No wonder she is called, “The shark with a heart.”