Lessons Learned – Kevin O’Leary’s Cold Hard Truth

He believes that being up front about everything is doing a favour for that person as he hates to see people invest their life savings, their time, their energy into ventures that have no future.

Kevin O’Leary, also known as the <insert your PG-rated angry reference here> person from Shark Tank and Dragons Den.  He was the reason I didn’t watch the show for a long, long time.  I just felt plain old sorry for the people he would brutally destroy in the commercials for the shows.  So much like watching a person get hit in the groin and doing that whole prune faced look as if you just swallowed a lemon whole, I opted never to watch the show for a long time.  Even though entrepreneurship is a huge interest to me.

Eventually, curiosity did kill the cat and I did want to know more.  More about why this person was so “evil”.  More about why he was so mean to those entrepreneurs who had worked so hard to build their ventures.  Why he wasn’t at all tact about anything he said.  So I started by picking up his book on Amazon – the link can be found here – and I’m glad I did!

This book is about his journey, as a young man who survived an abusive father, a learning disability and going from nothing at all to becoming a self-made millionaire.   It was by understanding his journey that I came to understand the man and even become a fan.  This is truly one of those books that I literally learned a new lesson each and every page I turned and I couldn’t put it down for even a minute.

So lets talk about what I learned from this book – one of the most interesting things I learned was how his mother was his number one influence in his life.  His step-father number two but it was his mom, a courageous lady, who taught him to turn his dyslexia from a disability into an ability.  That, nobody could make him feel bad about himself without him giving permission – famous words that originated from another famous lady – Eleanor Roosevelt.

O’Leary’s philosophy on money itself is something that I aspire to and yet at the same time, I find a bit dangerous.  He views money almost as a living being and though he makes some valid points, it can almost make someone want to worship money in that regard which is the dangerous part.  One of my favourite ideas from him is that money will go to those that will multiply it.  By multiplying he then goes on to say that you have to respect money in order for it to respect you.

He also says that you should never buy on credit cards – a difficult think for the average person to consider these days but a valid one.  Credit cards can be so easily mis-used and mismanaged that it doesn’t take long for someone to be drowning in debt.   So the key takeaway from his early years is to respect money.

He eventually starts a software company called Softkey that is renamed to TLC and eventually bought by Mattel.  He created cheaper versions of software that was already on the market for a fraction of the price to be sold at checkouts at Walmart.  Infact, it was his story of the landing of the Walmart contract that I found very intriguing.  He speaks about being in a meeting with the buyers of Walmart.  At the time, he was selling his software for around $30 at other places.  The Walmart buyer came in and said he will sell the product at $20 and it will be at the checkouts take it or leave it.  O’Leary, sweating tried to negotiate but in the end took the deal.  It was the turning point in his company’s growth. But the challenge was how does he reduce his costs to make a substantial profit.  The solution was to offer just the CD and a slim case with minimal inserts and thats it.  Eliminating the majority of packaging and thus reducing his cost to a profitable one.

Another lesson I found intriguing was his experiences being bought by Mattel and going from entrepreneur to employee.  When he was running his company, if he had an idea, he could get it into Walmarts shelves within 6-8 weeks of conception.  After being bought by Mattel, he had all kinds of amazing ideas for learning software using Barbie and other Mattel properties.  But he couldn’t deliver within that short timeframe any longer because of the bureaucracy  that existed over the use of images and graphics and the legalities behind it.  He couldn’t get any support from the executives and in particular the president of Mattel at the time and eventually when he did get in contact with her, he was reminded that he was now an employee of Mattel and needed to follow the rules.  Something, that he wasn’t used to.  It was incredibly frustrating for him and eventually his company failed.

One of the things I didn’t like about him was his views on software engineers.  He called them “a dime a dozen”.  As a software engineer myself, I don’t consider myself as such and take a lot of pride in my craft.

Interestingly enough, one of the most interesting references to O’Leary came not from this book but from another written by his Dragons Den / Shark Tank co-host Robert Herjavec in his book entitled “Driven”.  Expect a future review to be on that book as it is a fabulous read as well.  Herjavec refers to O’Leary as someone who genuinely believes that he is a nice guy.  O’Leary feels that he is a nice guy because when he encounters someone on the show whose ideas and plans are way off, that he is doing them a favour by telling them outright to do something else.  That he doesn’t want to see someone encounter heartache and financial loss if it can be avoided by doing something else.

Finally, to address the reason why he is outspoken and has very little tact in what he says.  Part of it came from his dyslexia but he makes no qualms about it.  He believes that being up front about everything is doing a favour for that person as he hates to see people invest their life savings, their time, their energy into ventures that have no future.  So he believes that he is doing everyone a favour by not beating around the bush and to move on to the next thing.  It was this reasoning that helped me to change my thinking about the man and to find a new found respect for him.

So now I enjoy watching Shark Tank and Dragons Den.  I no longer fear what is about to come out of his mouth nor do I swell up like prune when he is about to lay the smack down on someone.  But the biggest lesson I learned from this whole experience is that if you fear or loath someone, take a moment to understand their world and their shoes.  You may come to a newfound understanding and learn something from them.  I most certainly did.

So I highly recommend his book.  Check it out on Amazon.

Until next time, go out there and make your dreams come true.

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