Mark Cuban Speaks to Sy Syms Students

Mark Cuban

On Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, Prof. Laizer Kornwasser arranged for the students in his Kukin Entrepreneurial Leadership Honors Course at the Sy Syms School of Business to have a 45-minute Q&A with the world-renowned entrepreneur Mark Cuban.

Kornwasser opened the event with a 2017 quote from Cuban: “Being Jewish has given me a foundation for everything I am and everything I hope to be.” Kornwasser noted that that the students at YU feel the same way about their Jewish identity, which is why they chose to attend the University.

Before taking questions from the students, Cuban began with a few observations about how success and happiness in life come from how a person makes an effort and pays attention. “The one thing you can control in life is your effort,” he told the audience, emphasizing how important it was that that effort be driven by curiosity, by a desire to be a lifelong learner: “If you’re able to put in the effort, if you’re always curious, if you’re always agile, there will come a point in time when you’ve got a basic knowledge, when all of a sudden there will be a little nugget in front of you, and you’ll say, ‘Wow. I could pick that up and do something special.’ That’s when the magic happens. That’s what always has worked for me, and I think it could work for anybody.”

Over the course of the next 45 minutes, Cuban weighed in on many topics, prompted by the students’ questions. He was very bullish on artificial intelligence, crypto, blockchain and NFTs. He encouraged everyone to come up to speed on these new technologies and went so far as to predict that “just like the internet turned upside down analog and traditional brick-and-mortar businesses, businesses that use smart contracts in decentralized blockchains are going to just rip apart traditional businesses.”

Many students wanted his advice about whether to start a business while still in school versus focusing on studies, internships and careers or doing some combination of both. “Let me tell you,” he said, “that the day after you graduate, you’re a free agent. You get to go out there, and you don’t need to get the best job, you just need to get a job. The whole idea is that you spent four years paying to learn, then you get paid to learn. So, try something. If you get a job you think is interesting, great. If you don’t have a job available to you that you really like, just adopt your mindset and say, Hey, I’m just going to learn. You’ll always be a free agent, and you’ll end up figuring out more about yourself if you try different things.”

When asked what the most important factor is in starting a business, he had a simple answer: sweat equity. “The best businesses are started with sweat equity. One of the biggest mistakes that startups make, that nascent entrepreneurs make, is thinking that you have to go out and raise money first. To me, that’s always a mistake. When you raise money, that’s not an accomplishment, that’s an obligation. If you can teach yourself how to do smart contracts, understand blockchain and really get a feel for how it works, all you really need is a laptop and a broadband connection and the ability to figure it out. Just always continue to tell yourself that sweat equity is always the best equity.”

Several times in his comments, Cuban circled back around to the crucial importance of curiosity, intellectual agility and the willingness to try new things, elements he illustrated with his 2007 appearance on Dancing with the Stars. “When I did Dancing with the Stars in 2007, I was thinking that I’m going to get crushed for doing this, but I don’t want to be 90 years old not having tried it, and that’s just been a theme for my entire life. Sometimes you just have to go for it and try it. And even though I was terrified in front of an audience trying to do the foxtrot, something I’ve never done before, it was just such an amazing experience that I’m so glad I did it. Whether it’s dancing, whether it’s trying to start a business, I just think you regret more the things you don’t do than the things you do.”

He ended by saying that the source of his happiness is his family, which made him “the luckiest guy in the world” and that the real purpose in life is to “find something you love and do it.” To Cuban, the key to success is “waking up every morning with a smile on your face and saying, it’s going to be a good day and I’m ready, let’s go. Just find that that moment to enjoy.”