Best known for his appearance as an investor on ABC’s “Shark Tank, Mark Cuban is one of America’s wealthiest and most controversial entrepreneurs. He has come a long way from his humble beginnings in the country’s midwest. Forbes Magazine estimates his wealth to be a little more than $3 billion. Here is a look at how Cuban made his fortune.
Early Life, Education and Early Business Ventures
Born in July 1958 to Russian and Romanian immigrants, Cuban, along with his two younger brothers Brian and Jeff, grew up in a Jewish middle class household in Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania. His mother, Shirley Cuban, was a homemaker while his father, Norton Cuban, worked in an automobile upholstery store.
Cuban, like many successful entrepreneurs, caught the entrepreneurial bug at a very ripe age. In a 2014 interview with Bloomberg’s “Masters in Business” podcast, Cuban told the story of when he was 12 years old and had asked his father for money so that he could purchase an expensive pair of shoes. He never forgot his father’s response, “Those shoes on your feet look like they’re working pretty well. If you want a new pair of sneakers, you need a job and you can go buy them.”
That moment inspired Cuban to start his first entrepreneurial endeavor. Determined to get the shoes that he wanted, he began to sell packs of garbage bags to families in his neighborhood. He bought each pack for $3 and sold them for $6 apiece, thus doubling his money every time someone bought from him. A natural salesperson, Cuban started his pitches off by asking, “Hi, does your family use garbage bags?”, and typically followed them up with, “Of course you use garbage bags, and I bet you pay more than six cents a piece.”
A few years later Cuban, who was 16 at the time, found another opportunity to make money when workers at the local newspaper company were on a strike. He knew that people generally liked to keep abreast with what was going on in the world, so he ordered papers from a company in another city and sold them in his area until the strike was over.
Cuban chose to skip his senior year in high school and instead enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh. After a year there he transferred to Indiana University where he studied business. As one can imagine, his entrepreneurial journey continued throughout his college years. In order to pay for his tuition, Cuban began to offer dance classes on campus for $25 an hour. He and his friends then started to rent out space from a bar near the college to put on disco parties. They ultimately ended up buying the bar from the owner. Cuban graduated in 1981 with a degree in Business Administration.
Building a Million Dollar Business
Armed with a degree from one of the country’s top undergraduate business schools, Cuban returned to his hometown in Pittsburgh and launched his career in the real world with a banking job. Burdened with college debt and unsatisfied with life in his small community, he and his friends moved to Dallas, Texas to search for a more fulfilling life.
In a 2004 blog post describing his early days in the Lone Star State Cuban wrote, “I remember being 24 years old, living in Dallas in a 3-bedroom apartment with 5 other friends…I didn’t have my own bedroom. I slept on the couch or floor depending on what time I got home. I had no closet. Instead I had a pile that everyone knew was mine. My car had the usual hole in the floorboard, a ’77 FIAT X19 that burned a quart of oil that I couldn’t afford every week.”
Cuban eventually got a job as a computer software salesman however he was fired within the first year of taking the job. Unemployment forced him to once again start a business. This time it was a software company called MicroSolutions that fiercely competed with his former employer. After building an impressive client list, Cuban sold the business in 1990 for $6 million and decided to go into early retirement.
Welcome to the Billionaire’s Club
Cuban’s retirement was short-lived. Around 1995 he started to become restless and as a result began to explore various opportunities to get involved with a new business. A man by the name of Christopher Jaeb approached Cuban with the hope of getting him to fund his business idea. It was essentially an online service that streamed various sports events. As Jaeb described it, Cuban was eager to become apart of the project within a few minutes of hearing the pitch. He initially invested $10,000 in the company, which was at the time called AudioNet, and ran it along with Todd Wagner, a fellow Indiana University alumni.
Cuban and Wagner eventually bought out most of Jaeb’s share of the business and renamed it Broadcast.com in 1998. That same year, the company had its initial public offering (IPO) which was a complete success. Many of the Broadcast.com’s employees became millionaires the day the company was listed while Cuban and Wagner both became billionaires. Just after nine months of going public, Broadcast was acquired by Yahoo for $5.7 billion.
Since the sale Cuban has made a series of investments across a very wide range of businesses. In 2000, Cuban paid $280 million for the “Dallas Mavericks” basketball team. According to Forbes, the sports franchise is now worth $1.4 billion. Other businesses owned by Cuban include the theater chain Landmark Theaters, private messaging app Cyber Dust and an apparel company called Three Commas (inspired by the fact that there are three commas in a billion dollars).
Cuban is probably best known for his role as a “Shark” on the hit reality television show “Shark Tank”. He has invested just under $20 million in more than 80 small businesses on the show since joining the program in 2012.
The Bottom Line
Mark Cuban is one example of a billionaire who fell in love with the world of entrepreneurship early in his childhood. Since the age of 12, Cuban has ran a number of business ventures. By the time he was 32, he had already built and sold a multi-million dollar technology business. The vast majority of his billion dollar fortune came nine years later at the height of the infamous dot com bubble when he sold Broadcast.com, one of the first online live streaming platforms, to Yahoo for more than $5 billion. Following the acquisition of his second company, Cuban purchased a professional basketball team, the Dallas Mavericks, and has since made a number of investments in upcoming startups.