Fans of Shark Tank likely know the rags-to-riches story of panelist Barbara Corcoran. The former waitress got a $1,000 loan from her boyfriend — whom she later ditched — and eventually built and sold one of New York’s largest real estate firms, The Corcoran Group. Corcoran, who hailed from a large New Jersey family of nine siblings, was taught early on the value of work. In the past, she’s been open about her academic challenges, including a diagnosis of dyslexia.
Now, in a new interview with NPR reported on by CNBC, Corcoran makes a surprising admission: she spent her first commission check on a lavish purchase, which turned out to be an investment in her career. After selling a difficult-to-market apartment, which she described to NPR as a “dungeon,” she received a commission check for $360. She promptly bought a nice coat that she wore regularly over the next few years, allowing her to dress the part of a high-rolling real estate agent.
“I wore that coat for the next three years. It was the smartest thing I could have done with the money because, in it, I felt powerful.”
Before that shift, Corcoran revealed, she reflected the environment of her youth, which to her was inconsistent with the image she wanted to project.
“I dressed like a poor kid from Edgewater.”
Corcoran is known for being hard on Shark Tank entrepreneurs who do not, according to her assessment, present a powerful image. Corcoran famously criticized eyelash company CEO Mikki Bey for crying during her pitch, leading Bey to defend herself in an op-ed after her Shark Tank episode aired.
But Corcoran’s success was not just due to a fancy coat. As Smart Company reported, she also became a master of her own marketing. In order to get her name in respectable print, she fed real estate data to the New York Times, which resulted in a feature that included her picture. All of a sudden, Corcoran was not just another agent slogging away on the city’s real estate circuit — she was someone who knew what she was talking about.
Quickly Corcoran discovered she could not do it all and focused her skills on what she was best at. She tapped sales agents to do the on-the-ground business of bringing in revenue, while she stuck to other tasks. According to Smart Company‘s analysis of Corcoran’s actions, there is a business lesson here: “an opportunity cost to the time you spend doing tasks you hate.”
Corcoran has developed a strong business sense, including customer psychology. Smart Company reported that Corcoran sees people as interested in short-term problems and benefits, without a clear idea of how things may work in the long term. Her sense of people is central to her overall success in business, not only with those to whom she’s selling but with whom she’s working. Anyone who’s watched Shark Tank knows she sometimes butts heads with other members of the panel looking to get the next big deal.
Eventually, Corcoran sold The Corcoran Group and reinvented herself as a media personality. That’s how she eventually got the gig on Shark Tank, joining the panel in the show’s first season and staying there for the following eight years. She’s made several notable investments, including grilled cheese chain Tom + Chee and seafood outfit Cousins Maine Lobster.
Shark Tank recently aired its Season 8 finale. Reruns of the program air nightly on CNBC and weekly on ABC.
[Featured Image by Taylor Hill/Getty Images]