Some call him a Shark, others a Dragon. But meeting Robert Herjavec of Dragons’ Den fame was less scary than you would think. He’s actually a likeable, down-to-earth, shrewd businessman who has worked hard to achieve his success.
Along with several other “media,” I had the opportunity to sit in on a media conference before he spoke at the Toronto Entrepreneur launch this weekend. What first struck me however was the length of his hair - it was longer than I thought. Overlapping on his collar, it gave him a younger look and he is a lot slimmer than he appears on television, but they say that the TV adds ten pounds.
He talked about the role Dragons Den has played in making entrepreneurship sexy. It is now considered cool to own your own business and at a recent talk at Wilfrid Laurier, he was encouraging the students to “become great at something you do and the money will follow.”
Being on the show he has seen many budding entrepreneurs and he encourages anyone thinking of pitching to the Dragons to do their homework, do the math. “When we ask you what you want the money for – don’t say marketing, “ he advises. “You are wanting us to invest in your business, be prepared for real world questions because if you can’t answer them, then you are in trouble.” he adds.
His parents who came to Canada with nothing and who could not speak English, are his inspiration. Because of the sacrifices they made for him, he was determined to be successful. In the early nineties, he was waiting on tables at a local restaurant and launching BRAK systems in his basement in between shifts.
Ironically, while the Dragons often seek a share of the business in return for their investment, Herjavec himself prefers to keep all the equity to himself. He wants to own his businesses 100 percent.
Herjavec sold his first business to AT & T for $100 million. At the time he was offered stock or cash. Unsure which way to go, he asked his accountant and other advisors, who recommended he take the stock. But that wasn’t sitting right with him, so he asked the one person he knew who would give him an honest answer – his father – who said take the cash. He took the cash but a few months later the stock value was on the rise and he started to question his decision, however not much later, the company folded. Had he taken the stock, he would have been left with nothing.
After a three-year hiatus, he started up the The Herjavec Group and he admitted that it hasn’t grown as quickly as he thought. “In some ways when you don’t have much money to invest, you stay laser-focused and less willing to take risks. Whereas this time I’ve thrown money at different things, and they haven’t all worked out. “
It was interesting to learn that no one within the company has a title on their business cards. From Herjavec’s perspective, all his staff have the same job – to keep the customer happy.
When asked about giving back, Herjavec started by explaining that culturally in Eastern Europe, you don’t give back. Having said that, he went onto say while he can’t help everyone, he’s chosen causes that have personal meaning to him. And family always comes first.
As Herjavec points out, we all have the same 24 hours in a day, it’s what we do with that time that counts. We have no one to blame but ourselves if we don’t use our time wisely.
Clearly Herjavec has made every second count.