” Do not worry. You have a wonderful imagination, you will learn to fill in the blanks. That’s what a stay-at-home mom told her 12-year-old daughter, an undiagnosed dyslexic, when she found out she was called “the silly kid” at school. That little girl was Barbara Corcoran and she probably never imagined that she would one day be a real estate mogul and the star of a hit ABC TV show called Shark Tank.
In a LinkedIn post a few years ago, Corcoran said dyslexia made her a millionaire. “My teachers and classmates constantly calling me stupid have only made me more determined to prove myself. Self-doubt makes you too prepared that you can’t be caught with your pants down! worked harder than anyone to overcome my ‘weakness’ and that’s a big part of my success,” she wrote.
Before Corcoran landed the role of “Shark,” investing her own money in startups that showcase their businesses on every episode, she first had to climb the ranks of the New York real estate world. To do this, Barbara used a $1,000 loan from a boyfriend to start her own brokerage in 1973 selling low-end apartments on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. This small brokerage has grown thanks to its innovative approach to the real estate sector. She became known for her cheerful smile and brilliant costumes, but she was also a calculating trader who negotiated cheap, short-term space on billboards and building wraps. She would come up with creative marketing stunts, like getting media coverage for opening a forgotten safe in the basement of a building she was selling (it ended up empty but still served its purpose).
In addition to smart marketing, Corcoran would also push to change the nature of the real estate industry to be more open with listing data, its own first foray into tech, corcoran.com, failed in the dots crash. com in the 90s, but set the stage for the online real estate era. Perhaps most importantly, she did her best to create a fun working environment, unlike the competitive Glengarry Glen Ross style brokers of the day, to poach top brokers from other stores.
It all paid off big, and she eventually sold her brokerage for $66 million in September 2001 (the deal was signed on September 9). Since then, she’s become a celebrity, speaking at events, advocating for dyslexia, writing for popular publications and, of course, being a shark. She often talks about her disability and humble upbringing as important character builders, hopefully inspiring others like her to follow their imaginations, no matter how grand.
What I find most appealing about Barbara Corcoran is how she built her business around her personality, not the other way around. Corcoran is surely a shrewd businesswoman – real estate can be a fierce industry – but by most accounts she conducts herself with a cheerful and welcoming demeanor that goes against the win-at-all-costs mentality that prevails in the real estate industry. She never allowed dyslexia to limit her and she shamelessly embraced her feminine qualities. Corcoran is a great example of someone who succeeded because of these traits, not despite them.