Robert Herjavec was born poor in former Yugoslavia in the midst of a widespread communist reform that left little room for dissidents. He might have stayed there forever except for the fact that his father was one of these dissidents – and a vocal one at that. So much so, in fact, that he was thrown into jail 22 times for speaking out against the government. After the final time, Herjavec’s father gathered his things, his children and his wife and crossed the border into Italy. From there, he got on a boat and, like millions of immigrants just like him, made his way across the Atlantic Ocean to Canada.
But that’s not what Robert Herjavec, one of the famous investors on ABC’s Shark Tank, is known for. He’s more known for building companies out of nothing, including the massive IT security firm Herjavec Group, and turning them into multimillion-dollar successes. Watching him from the audience at a recent conference event, I was struck not only by his eagerness to share all he’s learned in the industry, but by his humility. I suppose when you’re the living embodiment of a rags-to-riches story, you gain an appreciation for exactly what it takes to realize your vision for a successful business. Herjavec had a lot to say during his talk, but there were three points in particular that stood out for me.
The one thing that Herjavec really wanted to hammer home with each and every one of us is the importance of sales. “Nothing happens until you sell something,” he told us. “What’s the difference between really big companies that grow and really small companies that stay the same size? Sales.”
Over the years, Herjavec has bought and sold 13 companies, and he’s learned the best approach to suss out whether a potential buy is worth it or not. One of the questions he always asks is, “How do you guys get customers? How do you guys find new business? And if the answer is anything along the lines of ‘word of mouth,’ I know these guys aren’t going anywhere.” The fact is that word of mouth is hard to control and almost
impossible to scale. To truly drive the growth of your company, he says, you can’t think of sales as “a foreign object that controls what you do.” You have to see it for what it is – “an extension of what you do.”
“Nobody in this room makes money for shuffling paper,” Herjavec said. “If one of your top three tasks every day isn’t ‘Sell something,’ you’re going to fail.” The only way to create “constant forward momentum” is by bringing in new revenue, and the only way to do that is to sell.
We all know that people in any industry are always worried about overloading themselves. “We’re struggling to serve the customers we have already,” they say. “What happens if we really do bring in a bunch of new ones?”
This line of thinking will get you nowhere. “It’s a common fallacy,” Herjavec said. “Engineers want to make it perfect before they sell it. True entrepreneurs jump out of the airplane and have the confidence that they’ll figure out the parachute on the way to the bottom.”
The key is to find your niche. Sales takes a long time to learn – years and years of trial and error. But if you can “figure out who you’re selling to,” as he put it, you’re already far ahead of your competition. Find the factor
that differentiates you from the sea of similar companies, leverage your strengths and sell until you drop. That’s the path to success and, as hard as it is, there isn’t any other. Go on Shark Tank sometime and Robert Herjavec will be the first to tell you.