Barbara Corcoran is born in Edgewater, New Jersey. Her parents are named Florence and Ed. She grows up as the second of nine children in two bedrooms on the ground floor of a three-storey house. She has dyslexia and finds school difficult.
I come from humble beginnings
Corcoran graduates from Thomas Aquinas College, majoring in education.
Corcoran starts the brokerage after working as a waitress and receptionist. She gets a $1,000 loan from a friend and gets her brokers license.
I started my brokerage firm in New Jersey immediately because my boyfriend had a friend who was an attorney, and as an attorney he was able to license me. So I just went and took the test. In those days, you have to appreciate 35 years ago, there were no barrier entries at all. If you could walk and talk you could pass the test. And I could do both, so I sailed through it.
Corcoran Group opens its first office in downtown Manhattan.
Higgins and Corcoran marry. Higgins:
I’m proud of my wife: And I’m proud to call myself her spouse.
The group opens its second office in Manhattan, this time on the Upper West Side.
Corcoran Group sells 84 cooperative apartments, at prices ranging from $48,500 for a studio to $245,500 for a three-bedroom unit. Corcoran has been hired by MacArthur Associates, which sponsored the cooperative conversion for the buildings, to market the unsold units amid a real estate downturn. She says the ‘sweepstakes atmosphere’ of the one-day sale helps create interest in the properties. Corcoran:
The goal of the owners was to sell these apartments in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of money spent on marketing or improvements to the units. I estimated that the advertisement cost alone for an auction would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $600,000 or $700,000. So we decided to try the one-day sale. It has worked.
Corcoran Group sells another 13 apartments owned by the MacArthur Group in four buildings in a one-day, fixed-price sale. The units on the Upper East Side and in West End Ave. sell out in a little more than an hour, for a total of $1.1 million. Buyers pay an average of 50% below the asking price, and receive a cash payment equal to two years of maintenance. All apartments of the same size are listed for the same price regardless of location in the building. A buyer:
I am thrilled. I saw the apartment. I liked it right away, so I bought it. There was no haggling over the price or waiting for the seller to accept my bid. It was easy; like buying a pair of shoes.
Corcoran sells the firm, now Manhattan’s second-largest independent residential real estate company, for a price reported at close to $70 million.
Not being national was shortsighted. The local business has changed. And we couldn’t grow as aggressively as we wanted without help.
She plans to stay at the company and remain chairwoman:
I can’t imagine doing anything else
Corcoran publishes the book, also titled If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons On Your Pigtails in hard and softcover editions. She wears a pink padded bra and pigtail wig to the softcover launch. The books contains 24 unconventional lessons she said she learned from her mother, and which helped her turn a $1,000 loan into a $4 billion business. One of the lessons:
Jumping out the window will make you either an ass or a hero
She talks about the difference between writing and entrepreneurship:
It’s lonely writing.
Corcoran gives the New York Times a tour of the three-bedroom apartment on 94th and Park, overlooking Central Park and the Manhattan treeline. Since buying it in 2001, she has redecorated in pale blue, cream, and yellow with white Swedish country furniture.
To me, it’s just my dream. All my life I’ve wanted a pretty house, and I never could afford one. Of course, the only thing my brokers could agree on when I bought it was that I had overpaid.
She paid $3.5 million for the 3,500 square foot apartment in July 2000.
Corcoran talks about building her real estate practice, applying life lessons to business, and being called a winner:
If you get labeled a winner, people come along for the ride. Might as well enjoy it and they should too.
She owns 12 buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, a beach house on Fire Island, a schoolhouse in Duchess County, and a Manhattan co-op.
Corcoran publishes Nextville: Amazing Places to Live the Rest of Your Life, identifying eight trends that the Baby Boomer generation is making as they begin to retire. The book encourages people to pursue their dreams, whether that means retiring in a city or college town, living green, or staying put in their home town.
What’s stopping you from taking the big step and moving to the perfect place to begin the best chapter of your life?
Corcoran and Higgins buy the upper-floor condo in the converted town house at 163 East 71st Street in Lenox Hill. The four-bedroom unit occupies the second through fifth floors for a total of 2,700 square feet, and includes a hardwood roof deck.
Corcoran buys the five-family limestone townhouse at 408 Stuyvesant Avenue near Fulton Street in the Stuyvesant Heights Historic District, Bedford-Stuyvesant, at a cut-rate price from the original asking amount of $2.1 million.
Corcoran joins the show as a judge. Investors get an hour-long pitch to convince the panel of judges that their idea is worth investing in, and the footage is edited down to 10 minutes for TV. Mark Burnett:
If you’re coming in desperate for money, it’s like there’s blood in the water. If you want to be a great entrepreneur in the U.S., you had better be ready to swim in shark-infested waters.
Corcoran and Harrington invest $50,000 in the Body Jac after Cactus Jack loses 30 pounds using the weight loss equipment. Corcoran:
It’s going to be painful when that money comes out of the bank. Get out of here Jack, go on, I might change my mind.
Corcoran talks about women’s intuition in business, how being able to handle rejection is key to business, and being fabulous at failing:
Nobody likes being a loser and then you have to claw, figure out, and whip your way into a position of strength, the truth is if you’re great at being a loser, you’re going to be a winner in life…What women will do is take a leap of faith and listen to their intuition even when it doesn’t match up with logic, and that is powerful in business
Corcoran and her husband buy the ground-floor apartment in their coop building to use as personal and office space. Corcoran:
It’s the ultimate luxury to be able to separate when you want to
It has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and was previously a doctor’s office. A private door opens directly onto Park, rather than going through the building’s lobby. The property was listed at $975,000 but Corcoran paid only $900,000.
Corcoran updates Use What You’ve Got to add stories from her stint on Shark Tank and in venture capital.
That’s the rags-to-riches story…and the lessons I learned along the way. Plus, all of the entrepreneurs, and their stories, that I invested in, and what they did right, and what they did wrong.
Whatever happened to Cactus Jack, Daisy Cakes, Tiffany the Elephant Lady. Because these are the questions I’m asked, day in and day out, at every airport. “Hey, whatever happened to . . .” It tells you a story, and lets you know exactly how well they succeeded, or how badly they failed.
Corcoran and Higgins are featured for an article about the dynamics of couples where the wife earns more money than the husband. Corcoran says it challenged her femininity:
The struggle was as much mine as Bill’s.
She says Higgins was previously an FBI agent who made record numbers of arrests and a top Naval Reserve officer in the First Gulf War, as well as other prestigious jobs – he now has a business card with ‘Spouse’ printed on it:
I can readily take my business personality into the home. But he forces me to be a partner rather than the boss. It’s what keeps our marriage healthy.
Corcoran gives a reporter for RealDeal magazine a tour of the $3.5 million three-bedroom apartment on 94th and Park that she bought in 2000 and renovated.
Fields interviews Corcoran about starting a business, being the only woman on Shark Tank, building a real estate empire, and Shark Tales. On creating demand with marketing:
I learned that everybody wants what everybody wants, and nobody wants what nobody wants
Corcoran talks about her books, handling rejection, and her advice for entrepreneurs. On how she handles being turned down:
I’ve gotten pretty good at it. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the insult. …I just make a habit of making sure that I don’t lay low too long. In other words, I feel sorry for myself. I go, ‘Ouch, that hurt. That bastard,’ or whatever. Then, I just tell myself, ‘I’ve got about three minutes to feel sorry for myself, and let me move on to something else.’
On what’s wrong with most elevator pitches:
I will be the first one to tell someone what’s wrong, even though they’re not asking. Maybe I shouldn’t. But most people are appreciative. Entrepreneurs can’t communicate very clearly what it is they do. … It’s like, I’ll meet so many great entrepreneurs, and I’ve already liked them from the first hello. I liked the handshake, and I go, ‘So what do you do?’ and then for the next minute, I hear what they’re doing. It should be more like 10 seconds, because I’m already snoring out somewhere. I can’t stay with it that long. Already, they’re sliding down the scale of what I think of them, right? Clarity of communication, ‘I sell soap.’ Versus, we’re in the cleanliness business, blah-blah-blah. ‘I sell soap.’ Okay, I got you.
Corcoran talks about two key moments in her business career. She realized there was more money in selling than renting:
One was when I accidentally sold an apartment rather than renting it. I was just planning to rent the apartment when the young engineer said that he wanted to buy, that’s what got me in the sales business. It wasn’t a big plan.
She later made enough profit to buy her parents cars:
The other wonderful thing that happened was one year I actually had $80,000 in profits. Probably had maybe 500 salespeople and I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got enough money to buy my mother and my father a new car.’ So, I bought him a Lincoln Continental — hey, what the heck, my dad dreamt about it his whole life — and I replaced my mother’s old rickety, old blue whatever-the-heck-it-was. And so, the idea that you could buy each of your parents a new car in one week and have it delivered was mindboggling, and I ended up going, ‘Whoa, maybe my business is actually a business.’
The company achieves sales of 10,000 a week since appearing on Shark Tank. Corcoran:
Prior to that, she had sold roughly 1,000 cakes over two years.
Corcoran and O’Leary kiss to test out the Fire and Ice flavored combination lipsticks made by Shark Tank participants Kiss Mixx. Kiss Mixx founder:
You have to hold it for just a second
Daisy Cakes has sold 25,000 cakes in each state, including Hawaii and Alaska, since Corcoran’s investment on Shark Tank episode 20. Kim Nelson, the mail-order company’s founder, says part of the secret is that she uses family recipes. She also uses American-made products for all parts of the production process:
My cake tins are not made in China. They’re made in New Jersey. My labels — everything is printed — is made here. My doilies, my cellophane. My cousin is a designer. She designed my logo, and she gets these printed for me and shipped here.
Corcoran offers tips for selling your house in a down market. Why it doesn’t make sense to wait:
Everybody’s thinking that way
Corcoran reveals her best and worst deals on Shark Tank. She lost money investing in Cactus Jack and the Body Jac weight loss/exercise equipment:
My worst was investing in a fast-talking cowboy selling exercise equipment who needed to lose 50 pounds. Instead, he lost my $50,000.
My best so far is Daisy Cakes, the absolutely best home-made cake you’ll ever eat! [Founder Kim Nelson] was right, and 100,000 cake eaters agree with her. It was also the first time I asked that I be paid “a dollar a cake” until my initial $50,000 investment was paid back. I got that money within three weeks, and her cakes are still selling like, well, hot cakes!
Corcoran writes about how the show initially went with another female investor:
My old spunk came rushing back and I banged out an email to Mark Burnett. It read:
I understand you’ve asked another girl to dance instead of me. Although I appreciate being reserved as a fallback, I’m much more accustomed to coming in first.
She suggested inviting both to the show’s tryouts, and eventually got the part:
The thing about successful entrepreneurs is that they don’t quit. They consider rejection, as I did, a ‘lucky charm’. I didn’t give up, because I knew Shark Tank was what I wanted, and that attitude got me my seat.
Corcoran invests in the food truck business on the 44th episode of the show. Cousins Maine Lobster co-founder:
It doesn’t scare us at all. It’s exciting. We are trying to really perfect it, and dial it in. Barbara has provided us with advice and insight, and we are workaholics. When someone presents us with something, we go 90 miles-an-hour one way towards it.
Corcoran tells the UP Conference what it was that gave her confidence in the business world:
My wholehearted belief that [I] had the right to be there
Corcoran talks about risk-taking, failure, and how to get back up at the Entrepreneur Magazine event in Dallas. Creativity and flexibility are more of an advantage than big amounts of money:
The times when I moved ahead was when things were bad…When things are bad the universe is open to new things… Unless you’re the top dog, the time to move ahead is when things are bad.
Corcoran answers a question for Entrepreneur magazine about how to present ideas to get them crowdfunded:
The main ingredient is you have to entirely genuine when you make your pitch. The video is key.
Corcoran tells Entrepreneur the biggest challenge isn’t the competition:
It’s what goes on inside your own head
Corcoran reveals that she once had a panic attack while speaking in public. She was building her real estate practice and decided to speak at a home buyers seminar to increase business. In front of 800 people, she started with a joke, but blanked on the punchline, and the moderator had to take over. The next day, she called NYU and pitched a course in real estate sales. She described her qualifications for teaching:
Excellent public speaker
She taught the course for the next five years, and became and excellent public speaker.
Corcoran talks about advice from her mother that inspired the book title, If You Don’t Have Big Breasts Put Ribbons On Your Pigtails, and says it worked in attracting attention from customers when she was a waitress. The business lesson:
Corcoran and Greiner sit down and talk about the female sharks are catching up on Shark Tank, and about high stakes, and the tell-tale signs of a solid investment. Corcoran:
We bring a different perspective. Most of the men have trophy wives, they don’t shop, we bring a different view to the product…Our collective IQ is three times more than the men combined.
Corcoran answers the question How do you deal with rejection?
Show me someone who can take a hit, and I’ll show you an entrepreneur
Corcoran gives a talk titled Rethinking Failure. She says failures in school, business, romance, and public speaking all led to her successes.
I can distinctly remember being in the class not being able to read or write until I was in third grade…and being ashamed of myself.
She says during elementary school, she was sent back to the second grade classroom with a recent Italian immigrant and a girl that other students called ‘retarded’.
Sister Stella-Marie told me that if I didn’t learn to concentrate, I would always be stupid. That was the day I discovered I had a label…In a situation where the education system judges a child’s intelligence based on their ability to read or write…I couldn’t wait to get out of that jailhouse.
Corcoran joins a Google+ hangout to talk about the Shark Tank cover issue. Corcoran responds to a female reader’s question about how to become a better negotiator:
Think like a man…You know what a guy does? He just says what he thinks, for the most part. He just puts it right out there.
Corcoran starts Barbara Corcoran Venture Partners to syndicate all of her deals outside the ones made on Shark Tank. The terms of the syndicate show that she will get a total carry of 20% per deal. The company is expected to syndicate 12 deals per year at $50,000 per investment, and the minimum backer investment is $1,000.
Corcoran tells Big Think about her hiring strategies:
I am very good at hiring because I’ve made a lot of mistakes
Corcoran says the three essential qualities for an entrepreneur are sales skills, the ability to motivate, manipulate and convince people, and being able to take a hit:
If you by nature can take a hit and are stupid enough to pop back up and say ‘Hit me again, hit me again,’ you’re perfect for an entrepreneur
Corcoran discusses how startups have an advantage over incumbents:
Being a little guy, you have the corner on creativity over the corner on money that the big guy has. I learned that when I was starting the business and in those early years, when I got very intimidated by the fact that the real estate brokerage field was owned by men who inherited the business from their father, and they had access to cash all the time. I felt, how could I compete, how could I beat them at the game? I soon found out that while they were having a new idea, passing it through a committee, vetting it with their attorney, checking out with their accountants to see how much it could cost, I could be out the gate with a new idea, throw it against the wall and try it. That was largely responsible for pushing my company ahead.
And how she mentors her Shark Tank investments:
My worst entrepreneurs listen to everything I say and do it that way. My best entrepreneurs listen to me and do as they please.
Corcoran writes that waiting until you feel ready can hamper business growth:
When I started the Corcoran Group, I grew the company just like my mom did her family. We grew from six to sixty salespeople in our first five years and from sixty to a thousand salespeople over the next twenty because I knew the secret to growing a business fast is to never wait until you’re ready.
She says that although she never had room to hire all the salespeople that she wanted to, this strategy forced her to find creative ways to hire the very best people.
Corcoran talks with LinkedIn executive editor Daniel Roth about seeing the Corcoran Group grow now that she is no longer a part of it, the future of the brokerage business, why Shark Tank is a hit, and how she hires people:
Who did I look for in a partner? Someone who was opposite…And the bigger the business gets, the more it’s gotta look like a giant crayon box with a million different colors. That’s what gives the business its substance. Most people like to hire pals that they get along with that are similar to themselves. Always the wrong call.
Corcoran shares four lessons she learned building a business with Entrepreneur:
- Bootstrap: This helps learn to manage finances, and keeps the business in the founder’s control
- Show selling power: She looks for founders with confidence, high energy, street smarts and business knowledge
- Achieving work-life balance is difficult: But being really engaged with the people one cares about is something all business owners can strive for by taking small steps, like putting down the phone
- Recover from hard knocks: The best entrepreneurs are the ones who can take a blow and come back stronger
Corcoran says she had a system at the real estate practice for firing underperforming sales people:
I put a dollar sign on their back, which sounds so cold but, bottom line, each sales person is there to produce money.
She says the people ranked in the bottom 25% would be given three months to improve, or face being fired. Having the system in place helped her get rid of underperforming people before they became a problem for the company:
I call that shooting dogs early. You can’t carry people in a small business.