Investor’s Business Daily: ‘Shark’ Robert Herjavec Secures A Place As An Entrepreneurial Icon

By June 5, 2017 In the News

Entrepreneur Robert Herjavec has seemed to be everywhere in the news in recent years.

Co-starring in the Emmy Award-winning TV series “Shark Tank.”

Mentoring startups like Tipsy Elves, Happy Feet and Drain Strain.

Racing cars, running in marathons, and playing in celebrity golf tournaments.

Gliding across the small screen in “Dancing With the Stars.”

But what many don’t know is that his passion is cybersecurity, with his fast-growing global cybersecurity firm, Herjavec Group, keeping enterprise companies secure with products and services such as its highly-rated “24x7x365 Managed Security Services” and “Identity & Access Management,” which provide companies with expert IT security capabilities beyond their internal resources.

“Online security has become more complicated than ever before,” Herjavec told IBD from his Los Angeles office headquarters. “The global cybersecurity industry is expected to exceed $1 trillion this year and increase to $6 trillion by 2021, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.”

You have to be diligent. You’ve got to have a security framework, an incident response playbook, a proactive road map for your products and services. You’ve also got to educate your team. Security is everyone’s responsibility in an organization.”

For someone now so focused on security, Herjavec, 54, grew up in an environment that offered little of it.

He was born in Varazdin, Croatia, then part of Yugoslavia. His father was a critic of the communist government and was jailed 22 times. The elder Herjavec escaped in 1970, taking his wife and son to Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving with a single suitcase and $20. They moved to Toronto and lived in the basement of a family friend before getting an apartment. Though still new to speaking English himself, 10-year-old Robert translated the lease agreement for his parents.

Kids in Herjavec’s school class made fun of him for his uncool clothes and the way he spoke, but when he complained to his dad, he was told never to complain, giving him a fierce determination to better himself.

After graduating from the University of Toronto in 1984 with majors in political science and English literature, Herjavec worked at a variety of jobs, including a brief stint as a debt collector.

Selling Is Everything

“If you’re thinking that being a bad-debt collector was not the best way to launch a business career, you’re wrong,” he wrote in his new book “You Don’t Have to Be a Shark: Creating Your Own Success.” “Four out of the five Sharks on ‘Shark Tank’ have worked in the collections business in some capacity. … At some point, I realized that my job wasn’t about making threats to people, it was about making sales. If I could sell them on the idea of even paying a portion of their debt, I would make money for the agency. And if I exceeded my quota, I would earn a decent income.”

He became very good at selling solutions, persuading the debtors that it was in their interest to make a deal. At every point in his later career, he realized that “no one achieves success in life without knowing how to sell.” It doesn’t matter what their job title is, he wrote: Lawyers negotiate agreements, brokers convince investors to put in money, and programmers present a project to management for approval, for example.

Some of Herjavec’s keys to successful selling:

  • Keep your pitch simple. “The mark of true knowledge is how well you can explain something to the average person.”
  • Listen more than you talk. “Bad salespeople can’t get over how amazing their product is. Good ones pay attention to their clients’ needs from the start.”
  • Listen for hints that the prospect isn’t going to buy. “People want to avoid confrontation so they lie and just say something complimentary. Don’t have happy ears — ask whether the next step is a purchase order.”
  • Know who to sell to. “A common mistake is trying to sell to anyone and everyone. Make sure what you’re selling is realistic for your potential client’s budget and needs.”
  • Learn how to negotiate. “It’s a skill that will help you overcome obstacles without strife, personal attacks or burning bridges.”

Quantum Leap From Film To Computer Security

Another job shortly after graduation was as a field producer for Global TV when it needed someone who spoke Serbo-Croatian to cover the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

At the end of that year, Herjavec felt that he’d had his fill of the TV business and returned home to hear his roommate complain about not getting a job in a computer startup, LogiQuest, which sold IBM mainframe emulsion boards. Herjavec knew nothing about computers, but was impressed with what he heard about the entrepreneur and landed an interview. The company founder told him he was unqualified, but Herjavec struck a deal: He’d work for free for six months as he soaked up everything about the business; at the end, if he had made a real contribution, then he’d get paid. Meantime, he covered his bills by working as a waiter into the wee hours, getting by on only a few hours sleep, a habit he has continued. He not only got paid by LogiQuest, he rose to general manager, leaving the organization in 1990.

Herjavec then started BRAK Systems, an integrator of internet security software, in his basement, selling it to AT&T Canada in 2000 for $30.2 million in 2000. Three years later, he founded Herjavec Group with two partners. Their first-year sales were $400,000, which fell short of their original projection. A nimble and targeted company, it was able to grow over the years both through acquisition and organically, adapting to the needs of the market. The firm expanded its offerings from basic professional services to include consulting, PCI compliance for payment cards, and four global security operations centers (in Toronto, Los Angeles and Reading, England) to provide enterprises with additional IT security expertise. Fourteen years later, it has a projected run rate of $200 million in annual revenue.

Competitors include IBM Security, part of IBM (IBM); BT Group (BT), the British telecommunication services giant; and Solutionary, an arm of NTT Group (NTT), the world’s largest IT and telecom services provider. But this David has proven ability to slay Goliaths, ranking No. 2 on the Cybersecurity 500, a listing of the world’s most innovative cybersecurity players by research firm Cybersecurity Ventures.

Becoming A Dragon, Then A Shark

In 2006, Herjavec was invited to be one of the on-camera investors in a new Canadian reality show, adapted from the Japanese original, “Dragons’ Den,” appearing in the first seven seasons as it grew in popularity and won awards.

This led to his being chosen as one of the regular stars of the U.S. version, “Shark Tank,” in 2009, along with fellow-Dragon Kevin O’Leary. The others (Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Lori Greiner, and Barbara Corcoran) have also become household names, as the show became one of Friday night’s most popular programs, just renewed by ABC for its ninth season. It has won the Emmy Award for “Outstanding Prime-Time Structured Reality Show” three times. Herjavec has also appeared in a spinoff, “Beyond the Tank,” which follows the fortunes of startups that the investors decide to back on “Shark Tank.”

Of the 40,000 or more applicants to “Shark Tank” each season, only 150 make it onto one of the episodes. A Forbes analysis in November 2016 found that in the first seven seasons, 319 offers were made on camera, but 73% of the deals fell through or were significantly changed afterward. Herjavec has a much better record, with just 13 of 24 deals being changed or not working out, perhaps in part because he’s known as “the nice Shark” and is more adaptable. He leads the team with the most investments in the auto sector (not surprising for a collector of cars). At www.Robert he posts interviews with entrepreneurs he’s partnered with, where they discuss what they’ve learned in the process of making their businesses succeed.

“Although Robert never set out to start his own company, in many ways he’s the perfect example of the modern, self-made entrepreneur,” said Michael Parrish DuDell, author of “Shark Tank: Jump Start Your Business.” “With a fierce determination, uncompromising work ethic, and deep sense of humility, Robert taught himself how to traverse the barriers of building a business and, in the process, has created a powerful and prosperous legacy.”

Herjavec’s Keys

Founder and CEO of leading cybersecurity services firm Herjavec Group and a star of TV”s “Shark Tank.”

Overcame: Childhood poverty to found major tech firms.

Lesson: When it comes to cybersecurity, you can’t be too paranoid.

“A goal without a deadline is just a dream.”

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