How Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran Leans Into Digital Change to Drive Businesses Forward

Strategy   |   Steve Brodrick   |   Feb 7, 2023

Barbara Corcoran is an expert in building businesses, growing teams, and finding new opportunities during difficult times. Famously, she turned a $1,000 loan into a $5 billion real-estate empire. One of the most successful female entrepreneurs in the world, Barbara has multiple best-selling books, a top business podcast called Business Unusual, and has been a shark and investor for the past 13 seasons on ABC’s four-time Emmy Award-winning show, Shark Tank.

Barbara recently joined me at the Alter.Next virtual summit to discuss why data and analytics are essential to intelligent decision-making. She also offered advice on how businesses can increase resilience and profitability during uncertain times.

Watch the Alter.Next Replay

Improving Decision-Making With Data Analytics

Barbara attributes her early success to having nothing to lose, everything to gain, and an abundance of ambition. She also quickly noticed the power of data analytics.

During the early 80s, the stock market crashed, the real estate market slowed to a crawl, and she had no marketing dollars. But she had an idea.

That year her team had only sold 11 properties when they were expecting to sell 65. Barbara took the sales price of these 11 property sales that year and averaged them to create a one-page report. It included things like real-estate statistics, conditions, and trends. Just two weeks later, the inaugural “Corcoran Report” was referenced on the front page of the New York Times. Her business grew by leaps and bounds, and she learned the importance of data analytics.

Barbara said customers don’t want to hear about your new offer and how great you are. “They want statistics.” In addition, Barbara believes data is the key to making good business decisions. “I’ve invested in so many hundreds of businesses today. I teach them how statistics drive the business.” She added, “Everybody has data, but people don’t know it. They don’t use it.”

Taking Advantage of Adversity

When I asked about the importance of accelerating digital transformation, Barbara said, ”It’s not just accelerating your journey; it’s the only way to survive. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. And if you don’t welcome the changes — all of the changes — you’re not going to be in business.”

She explained there is a significant opportunity within adversity — if businesses are bold enough to pursue it. “I’ve invested in around 130 businesses on Shark Tank, and I took those businesses through COVID. Everyone would agree that COVID was a time of change and duress. But among all those businesses, I’d say maybe 20 of them came out at least twice as strong. How did that happen? … They welcomed digital change.”

She told me that adapting and growing are intertwined with business. “If you aren’t on top of digital change and asking, ‘How do I apply this to my business? How do I get ahead of the next guy?’ Forget it. You might as well close up shop. You’re just maintaining, and what’s the fun of business if you’re just maintaining and not growing?”

Barbara also issued a warning while reflecting on the businesses that didn’t lean into digital transformation. “They waited. [Today] they are less productive, less large, less everything because they wasted that opportunity.”

Making Collaboration a Differentiator

All industries require cross-functional collaboration to be successful — especially in a complex field like data and analytics. “Collaboration is the name of the game,” Barbara said. “I believe that the business climate has totally changed today since when I was building The Corcoran Group.”

Because Barbara believes so much in collaboration, she starts every new idea with a brainstorming session with her key stakeholders. “You never know where the smartest idea will come from. So I listen to everybody.”

Creating an effective team also involves being a good leader. “The minute you start thinking an employee works for you, you’re in trouble — I believe you’re not going to get the best out of that employee. My idea is I’m working for you. How can I make your job easy? What do you want to do? What do you like best about your job? What do you want to do more of?”

Barbara explained that leaders need to emulate what they want to see from their teams, including trying new things, not being embarrassed by failure, and putting everything into what they’re working on. “When you do that, your team keeps up with you.”

She added, “We like to think we’re in the money business. We like to think we do product. We’re not. We’re in the people business. You’re as strong as your team or as weak as the team.”

Want to hear more from Barbara Corcoran?

Watch my full interview with Barbara to learn how you can use data analytics to accelerate digital transformation and drive your business forward.