Unpredictable, charismatic, intimidating, and fun. After this session, Barbara Corcoran (real estate mogul and Shark Tank investor) makes my list of dream dinner guests. If you get a chance to hear her speak I highly recommend it, or you can listen to her on the “How I built this” podcast (highly recommended by several of my peers).
Corcoran grew up in a two-bedroom house with nine brothers and sisters which may describe her tenacity and her natural ability to pull all the attention in the room. I won’t spoil her story here, but I will highlight some of the lessons she shared. While her lessons aren’t ecommerce specific they were too valuable to keep to myself.
First lesson: perception creates reality
When she broke off on her own real estate career, the market was terrible. In an act of desperation, she published her own bogus real estate report called “Conditions and Trends in the Greater New York Area” and mailed it to her media contacts. She heard nothing until she picked up the New York Times with the front page headline “New York City Hits All Time Low.” Her name and company were mentioned in the first line. Her phone lines blew up and didn’t hold up. In her words, at that moment, she set out to become the “queen of bull****.”
She would create a report of what she wanted to be and “run like hell to make it happen.” When Madonna’s pregnancy made front page news, she published “What Madonna Would Look For.” Part of that attention included three invites from news networks, one of which introduced her as a “celebrity real estate agent.” The next week, the calls started to come in from personal assistants for major stars. Whether she picked up the client or not, she published a report. Using (questionable) content marketing tactics, she eventually built a business she could sell for 66 million dollars.
One more insight. There are countless systems for labeling and categorizing personality types (Meyer’s Briggs, for example). Some are backed by more empirical evidence than others. Corcoran has her own and its genius is its simplicity, not to mention, it’s clearly worked. In building every business, she places potential contributors and new hires as either expanders or containers.
An expander is a recruiter, like Corcoran. “I’m full of baloney, I’ll spend every penny I have on a stupid idea. [I focus on] everything that’s exterior that gets you out there to do something.” That’s Corcoran, but, early on in her business, a legal secretary came to her looking for a career change. She knew immediately that this woman wouldn’t make a good real estate agent, but seeing her organizational skills (most tangibly an obsessively organized purse), she knew that she had found someone who was good at everything she was not. She’d found a container. The lesson for me, was find your opposite. It will help define and remind you of your own limitations, but it will also make anything possible.
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