Mark Cuban’s Interview in Esquire

This one was good enough that I wanted to blog it and have a copy in my archives. Following is Mark Cuban’s take on media, technology and American business. It was featured in the December 2006 issue of Esquire.

Wherever I see people doing something the way it’s always been done, the way it’s “supposed” to be done, following the same old trends, well, that’s just a big red flag to me to go look somewhere else.

I think the underpinning of transition right now isn’t technology; it’s the fact that there’s so much money out there and there’s so much pressure on public companies. Back in the nineties, the Internet was booming and everyone looked like a genius. You know, everyone’s a genius in a bull market. But, of course, we’re no longer in a bull market, so everybody is trying to create the next something. There’s a lot of desperation out there. In my opinion, right now there’s way too much hype on the technologies and not enough attention to the real businesses behind them.

Whether it’s downloaded video, streaming, YouTube, or the Internet in general, there isn’t anything new anymore. There’s not anything right now that you can point at and say, Here comes a whole new rapid-fire change. To me, it’s like this: When you’ve got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001? There’s just no good reason. Now, if you have something superstrategic or amazing, great. But 99 percent of the time, it’s just people lying to themselves.

Which doesn’t mean that the Internet and all that technology is bad. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And today’s hammer is the Internet, or digital. To me, it’s like electricity. Once it was invented, it’s great. I’m not going to all of a sudden stop using electricity. I’m going to continue using the Internet and all things digital–high def, digital cameras, new tools, whatever. But now that we have a society that’s integrated all of that, you have to start asking the question: What’s next?

For HDNet, I’m just looking for programming that I think is going to be memorable, that is going to impact people personally, and stuff that people will think is funny–kind of like a baby HBO from a content perspective. Most companies, most media companies or public companies, are geared toward earnings per share, and that drives everything: hitting the numbers, hitting the quarter mark. But to me, it’s not about that. It’s about: Can we have an impact? If it’s Dan Rather or Dennis Rodman, it doesn’t matter–I don’t care, as long as it’s something unique. Everybody else does nothing more creative than following the trend. It’s like: Let’s do another poker show. Now let’s extend that to blackjack. Now let’s mix blackjack with poker. Now let’s pimp my ride, let’s pimp my house, let’s get tattoos, let’s get bounty hunters. If everybody else is doing it, I don’t want to do it. Rather than trying to grovel for an extra share of viewers like most media companies do these days, I’d rather just throw it up against the wall and take some chances.

If I had more time? I’d get into places where people are so afraid right now that the economics dominate the common sense. I’d get into a business like newspapers–local newspapers. Newspapers are a perfect example of how economics dominate common sense. Contrary to popular belief, newspapers aren’t dying. Newspapers are making tons of money; they just aren’t keeping their shareholders happy, they aren’t meeting the expectations on Wall Street. The problem with newspapers is that they’re trying to grow like they’re Internet companies in 1999. Their shareholders are bitching at them about not showing growth in share prices. The minute you have to run your business for share prices, you’ve lost. It’s over. They’ve focused on that and so they’ve lost. What they should do is step back and ask, “What makes us special?”

I don’t care how Internet savvy you are or whether you’re in ninth grade or college, you’re not going to read twenty-five pages of text online. In newspapers, you read more pages, you read more words. There’s no way around it. But newspapers don’t see their own value. They just don’t get it. So they do dumb-ass shit, like they can’t figure out who their customer is, they can’t figure out what business they’re in. They have all these news-wire reports, these breaking stories, but anyone who’s Internet savvy knows that breaking stories, sports events, all that stuff is available on the Internet thirty seconds after it happens. The people who are in tune to wanting stuff immediately are going to get it online. But when you read The New York Times or you read the L.A. Times, you read the Chicago Trib or The Dallas Morning News, when they break a story that is unique, not just first, but unique, a story that you can’t just pick up on the wire, you have to read it. And if it’s geared toward different demographics, fine. Like, businesspeople have to read the New York Times business section–even though from personal experience I know they’re wrong a certain percentage of the time. You still have to read it, just in case something clicks. Like for me. If I want to keep up with what’s going on in Dallas, I have to read the local paper. So newspapers aren’t dying; they’re just undergoing an identity crisis. They don’t know who they want to be.

We’ve got our iPods, we’ve got our PDAs, we’ve got our e-mail. Those are our time killers. You’ve got to realize: That’s the role they fill. These things are not the be-all and end all–I don’t think people think that through. They just think: Oh, everybody’s doing it; that must be where everything’s going. It perpetuates itself. It’s just small-minded. ? With the Internet, life’s become an open-book test. You don’t need to know anything. There used to be value for memory. Now you can just Google it.

In running a private company, if I’m making money, I’m happy. If we are profitable, great. If I make more than last year, great! It isn’t like, Dang, I’ve got to grow 15 percent this year. If I’m making money, if I’m paying my bills, I’m happy. Save a little bit, all the better. What’s fucked up is, the people who run public companies don’t think this way. They’re just trying to get rich. The idea of running a public company isn’t “Wow, I can run a company.” It’s “Wow, I might be able to get rich!” Not just a-couple-million-dollars rich, but a-couple-million-dollars a-year, fuck-you-money rich. The guy who has a $50 million gold en parachute is thinking, How can I get them to fire me? That fucks up a lot of things when it comes to business.

The number-one job of the hedge fund manager is not to make sure that you can retire with a smile on your face–it’s for him to retire with a smile on his face.

No balls, no baby: That’s what I like to say. It’s so true. Most people don’t want to cross that line. There’s safety on one side, uncertainty on the other. Most people don’t take that step. And it’s not even so much that they’re afraid to take the step; it’s that they know deep down that they didn’t do the work necessary to be prepared, and that’s the big difference. Most people think, Oh, I have a great idea, and the only thing missing is that I don’t have the connections, I don’t have the access to money. But that’s the biggest bunch of bullshit. The minute anyone says that to me, I know they’re a failure. Because if you’re prepared and you know what it takes, it’s not a risk. You just have to figure out how to get there. There is always a way to get there.

You can find any type of discussion group across the Net that is finite enough to make you a hero. It might just be three people, but in that group, you’re your own David Koresh. And I think that gives people a false sense of wisdom. And I think that’s kind of a hassle right now.

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