Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

More Than Just a Cuban Cigar

Hard for me to admit, but I almost like Mark Cuban.

mccigartrophyHis boorish behavior as owner of the Dallas Mavericks caused me to lump him into a class of spoiled rich guys. But after watching him on Shark Tank, I’m rethinking my view, at least a little bit.

As a shark investor on the popular cable TV show, Cuban frequently reveals his rough-edged side. But another side of him also emerges. Maybe it’s the contrast with Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary, but at times Cuban almost seems human.

I watched a replay this week of a 2013 episode of Shark Tank that underscores my point. The entrepreneurs facing the sharks included 9-year-old Lily Hooks. After watching her father’s frustrating experience trying to repair a hole in the family’s screened porch, Lily came up with an idea for a screen patch.

Lily observed melted candle wax on a table on the porch and suggested to her dad using it as a way to patch the hole. He tried it and within seconds it hardened and the patch was securely in place. A family business was born.

As with most small start-ups, ScreenMend needed help with manufacturing and marketing. Brian Hooks, Lily and her sister, Emma, took their case to the Shark Tank, asking for a modest $30,000. Reactions by the sharks were predictable. O’Leary patronized the family, then said the screen patch repair kit was too small of potatoes for his investment garden. Daymond John and Robert Herjavec were polite, but said the product was outside their wheelhouse. Lori Greiner, who often lays in the weeds until another shark makes a move, stayed quiet.

marc-cuban-shark-tankThe Hooks were about to concede defeat when Cuban said, “I’m not going to let you leave here without an offer.” Cuban described his start toward a billion-dollar business empire that began with his purchase of a baseball card for 50 cents, which he sold for $50. Later, Cuban said, someone fronted him with a $1,000 because of his uncanny ability to make money, which along the way has included selling garbage bags, tending bar and giving disco dancing lessons. Cuban said he was willing to be the same kind of white knight for Lily Hooks.

Ultimately, Greiner crept out of the weeds and made an offer – $30,000 for 50 percent of the equity in ScreenMend (Cuban offered $30,000 for 25 percent). The Hooks accepted Greiner’s offer because of her proven ability to give products a boost on channels such as QVC. You wonder whether there would have been any offer if Cuban hadn’t spoken up.

2ca6e14f6635819749afb33eb0cd5321.cfNow Cuban is speaking up about how exploding college student debt is a drag on the overall economy because debt-burdened students can’t afford to buy a house or even a car. Rising tuition, he says, doesn’t help the economy as much as increasing student purchasing power.

Cuban’s solution is to limit how much debt a student can incur per year, which he says will force colleges and universities to hold the line or even lower tuition. He claims tuition has gone up like home prices several years ago, creating a bubble that is bound to burst. His solution may be misplaced, but at least he has an idea. And from an unlikely source who traces his political thinking to Ayn Rand.

This isn’t the first time Cuban has jumped into the fray. He set up the Fallen Patriot Fund to assist families of dead or injured Iraq War veterans. He matched the first $1 million in contributions from his personal foundation. In 2009, he introduced the Mark Cuban Stimulus Plan, which was an open exchange for entrepreneurs to post their business plans so he could consider investing in them if they could turn profitable within 90 days and didn’t require advertising. He financed, an attempt at an online investigative report to unmask misinformation dispensed by publicly traded corporations.

I’m not ready to start a Cuban fan club, but he has earned a little street cred with me. Maybe there is more to this guy than a $4o million private jet and a pocket full of cigars.











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