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Barbara Corcoran Listens for 3 Red Flag Words. If You Use Them, She Knows You Won’t Be Successful

How Barbara Corcoran quickly susses out entrepreneurs to decide who’s a hard pass.

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BY Betsy Mikel - 18 Jan 2019

barbara corcoran successful

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Barbara Corcoran took a $1,000 loan and built a $5 billion business. She's achieved extraordinary success and wealth, and everyone wants to know how she did it. The Shark Tank investor has dispelled her wisdom on everything from weeding out complainers in interviews to managing her inbox.

Last year Corcoran launched a podcast called Business Unusual, where she shares her straight-talk advice for entrepreneurs. On a recent episode, she talked about how she quickly sizes up every entrepreneur who walks into the Shark Tank. She immediately knows if she is going to pass on the investment based on two things.

Looking the part

Before she samples the product or hears the numbers, Corcoran puts a lot of stock into first impressions. She has to immediately be convinced that you -- and you alone -- can sell this particular product or idea.

When Daisy Cakes founder Kimberly Nelson walked into the Shark Tank and said she made the best cakes, Corcoran wholeheartedly believed her. "She looked like a Southern belle next door with an apron on, smiling from ear-to-ear," Corcoran says. "I could just picture her in the kitchen."

Corcoran shares another example of Heath Hall and Brett Thompson, the founders of Pork Barrel BBQ. One of them dressed like a pig when they appeared on Shark Tank. They looked the part. They were a shoe-in.

The guy selling shrimp wearing a bloody apron? Corcoran doesn't know what he was thinking. Hard pass.

Using clear and simple language

Corcoran's not impressed by business jargon. If you step into the Shark Tank and speaking in buzzwords, she assumes you have something to hide. You don't have to "speak business" to sell your business. Your business should sell itself.

For Corcoran, many of these words are coded and mean something else entirely. She hates three words in particular:

Burn rate

If someone boasts about their burn rate, Corcoran just sees that they're burning through their investor's money. And now they're asking to burn through hers. She's not interested.

Pivot

Pivoting is not something to brag about. It means you're making mistakes and never had a clear business plan to begin with. "I'm not going for someone who likes to pivot," she says. "Each pivot is a wrong decision."

Disruptive

Don't describe your business as "the Uber" of anything. If you say you're disruptive, Corcoran believes you don't have a chance of surviving.

This is particularly bad if you don't have any sales yet. You're not poised to disrupt a $5 billion business if you haven't made a single sale. Those entrepreneurs haven't even proved their concept yet. Corcoran isn't willing to invest in a business based on projections alone.

Entrepreneurs who look the part and keep communication simple with words everyone can understand, then Corcoran is willing to hear them out. But if they don't pass her test? She's out.

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