Exclusive Conversation with Mark Cuban

mark_cuban

Mark Cuban, Successful Innovator and Entrepreneur

Most people in America know of Mark Cuban as the owner and face of the 2010-11 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks, as well as one of the entrepreneurial stars of the smash TV show “Shark Tank.” In the business world, Mark is known in a different way: as the highly successful pioneer of HDTV (through HD Net, now AXS TV), and most recently, as one of the principals of Magnolia Pictures. Magnolia is the first studio to deploy truly 21st century technology, from the way it produces films to the way it advertises and distributes them.

Mark is one of the most successful entrepreneurs America has ever seen, with an irrepressible combination of insight, vision, energy and business savvy. We had the rare opportunity to catch up with Mark for The Legacy Series Magazine. This is an excerpt from the interview that will appear in our premiere issue in mid-November.

Q: First of all, Mark, you live an entrepreneur’s dream. How did your entrepreneurial instincts sharpen during the journey to create what you oversee today?

A: I was able to see a lot of repeatable patterns that occur from business to business which allows me to move faster than most. I also make a point to always ask myself to always re evaluate my businesses so that, if I were to start from scratch, what would I change? Then I try and change it.

Q: Magnolia Pictures seems to be a 21st century version of the vertical integration found in the Hollywood studios in the 1930s through 1950s: a production company, distribution arm, the Landmark theaters and cable rolled into one chain. What did you see in the movie world that created an opening to develop this business model and run with it?

A: We realized that because we are vertically integrated, with AXS TV, Landmark Theaters, Magnolia Pictures and 2929 Films, not only could we make, distribute, show and sell movies, but we didn’t have to play by all the old Hollywood rules. I decided to look at the technology opportunities that would allow us to change how the game was played that others may not be aware of.

Back then, everyone at the internet as the big opportunity for movies and distribution. Many still do. I have a rule: if everyone is looking in one area/platform for solutions, that probably is not where the new opportunities are. In this case, everyone was ignoring the fact that cable and satellite had already gone digital. From a tech perspective, everything that Youtube and other online video sites could do, cable in particular could do as well. Knowing that cable TV providers would leverage new digital technology, we made a big push to understand how we could leverage their VOD platform to sell movies.

We changed the game and now we are starting to see Lions Gate and others starting to try to copy us, and consumers are pushing hard to see windows for films collapsed to the Magnolia/AXS TV model.

Q: A great feature of Magnolia Pictures is the types of films you produce – adventures, tight thrillers, smart character and ensemble pieces, and truly innovative documentaries. We’re curious as to what you saw in the documentary market’s potential to choose this route, since most other studios tend to shy away from docs?

A: It’s tough to get people to leave their houses to go to a theater to see a movie. It has to be very timely and topical to a great number of people for docs to work theatrically. Because we make our docs so easy to buy, via VOD, we can reach a far greater audience than other distributors can.

Q: What prompted you to climb aboard Shark Tank? What is the biggest takeaway message you try to give contestants — whether or not you invest in their businesses?

A: I loved the idea of making the business decision-making process public. Most people feel that they aren’t in a position to start or run a business, because they don’t have connections or are missing something else. Shark Tank allows people to see that anyone can start and run a successful business. I wanted to be part of that. The biggest takeaway I try to create is that, although a shark may not invest in their business, hard work and smarts are always more important than money.  If the entrepreneur keeps on working hard, anything is possible.

Q: When discussions on innovation ensue, it seems everyone can speak the language, but not so many move forward with innovative ideas. How does one focus their instinct and vision to create something truly innovative in such an apparently crowded marketplace?

A: By doing your homework and being honest with yourself.  You have to know more about your industry than anyone else in the world. If you don’t, someone else out there is in better position to win your customers than you are. It comes down to effort. It’s surprising, but most people think they work hard and smart enough, but they don’t. They get outworked.

INTERVIEW: A Few Words from the “i” Behind Apple Branding, Ken Segall

Ken Segall

Here are a few excerpts from our exclusive interview with Ken Segall, author of the bestselling book Insanely Simple and formerly part of Apple’s famous advertising and branding juggernaut. Before setting off for his successful writing and blogging career, Ken was the man who originated the “i” branding in Apple’s product names, beginning with the iMac computers in 1999. Today, the lower-case “i” is as ubiquitous to daily life as cereal.

Ken’s comments on Apple’s success, the late Steve Jobs and branding are fresh and insightful, as is his blog, “Ken Segall’s Observatory,” which many in the industry follow. You can read the full interview in Legacy Series Magazine, which will be on newsstands in November.

Q: First of all, Ken, why do you feel that Apple’s streamlined, simplified approach to product development made such a big splash at a time when the rest of the marketplace seemed more specialized and complex than ever?

A: You’ve actually answered part of the question already. The world is a very complicated place, so it’s only natural that simplicity stands out as it does. Apple puts major effort into distilling its products to the essence, so in most cases they have an intuitive nature — even though they are performing some very sophisticated functions. This same drive to achieve simplicity is present throughout all of Apple’s behaviors, including its advertising and retail operations. It’s in human nature to prefer a simpler approach, and Apple is mindful of this in everything it does.

Q: Could you review the 10 elements of simplicity that Steve Jobs espoused — and how what might seem obvious now was anything but when he first integrated them into Apple’s operations?

A: One of the interesting things about simplicity is that it seems so natural that you don’t always notice it. The point of my book, Insanely Simple, is that Steve had a way of looking at a wide range of things through this lens of simplicity. He’d make product design decisions this way, as well as advertising decisions, financial decisions, manufacturing decisions, and so on. There came a point when I realized that I was witnessing a pattern of sorts, that Steve was relentless about adhering to this notion of simplicity, and it guided his judgment in so many different ways. I felt it even more when I found myself working with companies that did not have a champion of simplicity like Steve. In those places, processes were far more complicated, projects took longer and cost significantly more — while achieving inferior results.

Q: You started the “i” naming series for Apple products. What did you have in mind when coming up with this naming concept? Did you ever imagine the branding goliath it would become?

A: Naming iMac was just another job on the table at the time. I thought it was a neat opportunity, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would turn into what it did. Steve just wanted a cool name for the computer he was betting the company on. We did note that the “i” was a foundational element and could be used in future products. After iMac came iBook, iPhoto, iMovie, etc. Keep in mind that in those days, Apple didn’t make any consumer devices, it just made computers. So it was way outside the scope of our thinking to believe that the “i” would become such a critical part of Apple’s product naming framework.

Q: What were some of your most enjoyable experiences while putting together and writing Insanely Simple? What do you hear most from readers when you make appearances or give talks about the book?

A: To get all the material for the book together, I poured through tons of documents. though it wasn’t all that long ago, you know the way it works — you come upon things that you had completely forgotten about, and they bring back some terrific memories. (Maybe a few painful ones as well.) Those memories spurred me to get in touch with various people to help fill in the gaps. So what I thought would be a relatively straightforward exercise in solitary writing became a journey of rediscovery.

When I talk to various groups, I’m always struck by the degree to which people are interested in the story of Apple and Steve Jobs. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Apple is fascinating to people in virtually every industry — because so many people own Apple products, and have followed Steve’s story over the years. So even though I may be speaking to organizations in industries that have absolutely nothing to do with technology, people are always eager to find out more about how Apple works, and how they might be able to adopt some of Apple’s principles in their own organizations. And of course there are always people in the audience who just want to know: “What was it like to work with Steve?” It reminds me of how fortunate I am to actually know the answer to that question. Steve truly is a historic figure.