Woman Around Town: Barbara Corcoran Tells How to Swim with the Sharks Without Losing an Arm or a Leg

Barbara Corcoran is a bit of an enigma. Whether you’re watching her on ABC’s hit show, Shark Tank, reading her bestselling books on how she turned a $1000 loan into a billion dollar real estate empire, or helping viewers as in-house real estate expert on the Today Show, Barbara Corcoran knows what it takes to succeed in the face of failure.

I first met Barbara when I was a young news producer back in the 90’s at WCBS. Greeting her in the green room, which is customary when booking guests for a show, I was blown away by her producer-like attention to detail and an engaging ability to come across as genuine, without taking herself too seriously. She had such an infectious energy about the future, that when she offered me a gig managing media relations for her, I couldn’t resist.

Flash forward ten plus years, a few jobs, marriage, and a move later, and I remain impressed at how a nice girl from Edgewater, NJ could brand herself into a business powerhouse. After selling her real estate company, the Corcoran Group, in 2001 for a reported $66 million, many expected Corcoran to go out quietly. Turns out she was just getting started.

You’ve worked very hard to become a business success. From your game changing real estate business, the Corcoran Group, to your work as a best-selling author, to being a subject matter expert on what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur in any number of business types. When people ask you how you did it, what do you think is the common theme that’s woven itself throughout all of the businesses you’ve tackled?

Only one thing would come to mind; my extreme fear of failing at something. That’s been the gasoline, the push, the motor that goes through everything I do. I worry myself sick with most of the nuances in everything I’m doing. I‘m always thinking, “I’m going to fail!” I do everything in my power not to appear with my pants down without an answer. As a result, I’m an over preparer. I try 150 percent harder than the ”A” students out there or the capable people out there. So I’m probably always running against myself.

With so many opportunities for women in business these days, more so perhaps then when you first started your residential real estate business years ago, what do you think is the biggest hurdle women face today in trying to launch their own business or idea? Is it the same hurdle as yesterday?

I don’t think it’s a different hurdle now. It’s pretty much the same. It’s a god given hurdle. It’s called having children. There’s not a single doubt in my mind, that the biggest obstacle women have in business, is that. It’s not struggling to get hired. It’s not struggling to get the promotion. Those hurdles are still alive and well.

It’s the need or the requirement of doing the job of bearing the children and then for the most part, also rearing the children while balancing a career.

I built my real estate business from age 23. At 42, I decided we would start trying to have a family. And when I was finally able to have Tommy at the age of 46, instantly, INSTANTLY, my business changed.

I wanted to be a great Mom because I like to do well at everything I do. And I wanted to be a great businesswoman. And you know what? Everything shifted. I couldn’t put 150 percent into both; something had to give. I just don’t think it’s possible to do both. I know that even having all the help in the world on the work end, I could have never built the Corcoran Group if I had had children at that time. Even if you have the most doting husband in the world, the great majority of the women I know in business are doing all of it. It’s very hard.

Shark Tank just started another hit season. I think it does so well because you all invest your own time and money into these new businesses, not somebody else’s. But what I love is that your fellow sharks like Mark Cuban and Daymond John are all men! As the only female shark on the panel do you have an advantage?

I have a great advantage in having a female perspective. I look at every product totally differently than they do. And most of the products presented are female products. I would say 75 percent of them are; so I have a huge advantage there.

I often like a product that they’re not interested in. So there’s less competition. When I like a product that we’re all interested in, I play the female part each and every time, because half the time, the entrepreneur’s a female. I play that card as they would play their card as men. Sometimes they’ll cry ‘foul play’ or “Oh no! Not the female thing.”

But guess what? Women trust women a little bit more than the guy in the suit. I’m always working every angle I can, to get an advantage, if I want to get something.

So, how do you decide which ideas fuel that fire in your belly that makes you want to invest?

I’m always sizing up the entrepreneur. It’s got to be someone who’s not just going to take the publicity of the show or never close the deal and waste my time and money.

You know my female test that I use in my mind that the men aren’t doing? Picture a war and you have to throw your baby into this guy or gal’s arms and you say to them “take care of my kids for a couple of years while I’m gone.”

Then, ask yourself what will your child be like when you get them back from that person. Either I would trust them that they’d be fine or I wouldn’t.

So I never go for the ones I don’t trust. I just don’t care how much I want the business. I don’t want a problem partner. I want a nice person because I’m going to live with them so I want someone I want to work with in the end. So the getting a good vibe on the person is really 75 percent of it for me. I would say for the guys, the entrepreneur is 25 percent of it. So I really reverse that ratio.

Do you have a favorite business that you’ve invested in? I don’t want to pit your partners against each other but you must have some sibling rivalry.

You are absolutely right! Believe it or not, I do have sibling rivalry, amongst the women. My favorites are the ones who are successful. Let’s see…“Daisy Cakes” is one because the entrepreneur there is probably the most charismatic front end of the product.

I would say Tiffany Krumins is also one of my favorites or the most respected person because she came down with a rare type of cancer and put her business together while she was on her back in the hospital.

She developed the “Ava the Elephant” talking medicine dispenser that has been wildly successful. Life has been tough for her, but she bounces back. Oh and I love my two guys from Pork Barrel Barbeque. They’re great marketers and great social marketers.

Part of your success in business has been attributed to your gift for branding and re-branding yourself. Years back when we first met, you had your eyes on building your brand beyond Manhattan real estate. What drives you to keep moving forward?

I think for me, what was largely responsible for me getting the $66 million for the Corcoran Group that I did, was because the brand was so much bigger than the reality. They were paying for a power brand, so I’m happy that I put the time in to build the brand that we did.

One other thing that has influenced my success is that I feel like I always have the right to be there. I think I learned that from my mother very well.

When we were kids, she would have us apply for these contests, like writing about citizenship, etc., she’d find in the newspaper. We used to get very upset because we would never win! But she’d always say you don’t have to win it, you just have to finish it. My mom did a very good job of getting us to go thru the door, without having the answer.

I have found that good entrepreneurs will jump off the cliff, go thru that door, understanding that they’ll figure it out on the fly, on the way down without the answers.

I have always felt I have a right to be in the room whether it’s the old boys club, you know maybe they’re not talking to me or giving me the cold shoulder. I told myself “I have a right to be here.”

Years back, I remember going up in that famous gold plated elevator, to meet Donald Trump for the first time, purposely putting myself in harms way to get his support. I remember being scared to death but saying to myself “I have a right to be here. I have right to be here” like a mantra. It’s a little bit of an arrogance I guess, that helped me build myself, repackage myself, even reinvent myself when I didn’t feel welcome or on the heels of embarrassment.

Do you think your fear of failing pushes you to walk through that door?

Absolutely. This idea that I’m very good at failing; everything that was ever really, really big in building my business, was really discovered on the heels of some big belly flop! One such situation was the invention of Corcoran.com.

I was looking to save face for putting all of my apartment listings on videotape. People didn’t get why I was doing that. I didn’t want to have my January meeting that year and let everybody there know that I blew a profit, including my business partner, who wanted to kill me. And I didn’t want people to think I was a loser. So I covered up by saying, “Oh, we’re bringing you now into cyberspace with this new thing called the `internet.’”

I never expected that website to be anything; putting those videos onto the Internet. I ended up having two sales the first week! Boom! Boom! It was exciting! And I was like “Holy shit, what is this thing?” So I think this idea that you just get back up and think of some other angle, I think I’m good at that. I encourage that sort of fast thinking.

Of the many people I’ve hired or trained over the years, there’s been an important difference between the people at the top and the people who never seem to fly. It’s that ability to get back up and spend less time than the average guy feeling sorry for themselves. It’s not like you don’t feel that hit in the gut, but they don’t spend much time feeling sorry or taking it personally. Good ones don’t make the time for that. And neither should you.

Barbara is the author of the best-selling book, If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails, as well as Nextville, Amazing Places to Live Your Life. Her latest book is Shark Tales. Click on the title to buy on Amazon.

About Jill Schuck-Brown (14 Articles)
Jill Schuck-Brown has worked as a writer, producer, and director, in NYC broadcast media for some 20 years, starting initially as an intern for CNBC during her freshman year at Ramapo College. Jill worked as a news producer for WCBS-TV, as well as in creative services, for Disney, Sony Domestic Television, CBS, NBC, FOX, and others, managing branding for a variety of talk, news, and entertainment shows, including “Mad Money”, “the Apprentice”, “The Ricki Lake Show”, “Judge Hatchett” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” Her work has earned numerous local Emmy nominations, as well as multiple (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011) Telly Awards for “Outstanding Health and Science Programming” for an original online web series,, “On Call with Dr. Rob.” Jill currently consults as a strategist in content and brand development for a number of media and corporate clients, including QVC and NBC Sports. In her free time, she is a Conservation Commissioner in Fairfield County, CT advocating for open space and environmental conservation, and a volunteer for a number of animal rescue groups in NY, PA and CT.

1 Comment on Woman Around Town: Barbara Corcoran Tells How to Swim with the Sharks Without Losing an Arm or a Leg

  1. Great piece, Jill. Especially not taking too much time to feel sorry about disappointments.

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