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'Shark Tank' Judges Hunt for Entrepreneurs: Q&A with Robert Herjavec

sony-pic.JPGLast night was the network television premiere of "Shark Tank," a new reality series featuring desperate entrepreneurs trying to sell their business ideas to a panel of five millionaire investors. If judges like what they see, they'll negotiate (or attack each other) for a piece of the venture. More often than not, though, contestants just get chewed up. But hey, with credit markets the way they are, what else can business owners do?

Entrepreneur.com had a chance to speak with each of the "sharks" about the show and their personal successes, so over the next five weeks, we'll be sharing these interviews on the Daily Dose. Stay tuned.

First up is Robert Herjavec. (He's the dark-haired, relatively compassionate one who sits on the very right). The former waiter launched a tech company during the early days of the dot-com boom and is now the head of The Herjavec Group, one of Canada's leading IT security and infrastructure firms.

In the first episode, you mention a spectrum that runs from insanity to genius. Where should an entrepreneur fall on this spectrum?
I think it depends on the life cycle of the business.

In this economy, anyone who starts a business and has a passion for it has to be [closer to] insanity. When you look at the facts and the data, what person in their right mind would go out and take that challenge and risk everything?

But I think as the company grows, you have to go on the other side. Just like any business is a living, breathing thing, an entrepreneur has to be able to adapt over time. Of course, my wife thinks I'm insane all the time. [laughs]

Why put your own money on the line?
I'm hoping to see real businesses with real cash flow and real ideas that simply can't get funding somewhere else. In effect, [the show] might become a feeder for what could potentially become a great investment. And it's a great format for entrepreneurs to learn and possibly get some funding.

You seem to have small businesses' interests at heart.
Oh, I'm all about small business. I think what we've learned from big business and big Wall Street is that unchecked greed and the creation of false value gets us all in trouble. If we look at the American economy, who's really creating value? It's the small businesses.

Then is it hard to judge whether someone's dream is good or bad?
I never try to judge people's dreams, but sometimes I find it difficult [to understand] what makes them pursue them.

If this show had been around when you started out, would you have done the casting call?
Absolutely. I would have seen it as a challenge and as a great way to partner with five successful people, or however many I could get.

And what do you think your chances would have been?

Easy! I would have gotten the money. [laughs]

What's the most important characteristic a successful entrepreneur should possess?

I'm looking for a great communicator, someone who communicates thoughts clearly and immediately--that's different from being a great salesman or financial person.

If you can't get me excited about your idea or business, you're going to have a hard time selling it to other people. That's important because I'm not going to run their business--I'm simply an investor.

And in your own career, what was the best business move you made?

The best business decision was one that was made for me. I was fired from a successful job, which forced me to start a business because I couldn't find another job. I'm not sure I would have ever taken the risk to start my own business if that hadn't happened to me.

So there's no decision you regret?

No.

I presume you ascribe to the "everything happens for a reason" philosophy.
Yeah. You know, I never look back and regret because one, I can't change it; and two, nobody cares. It's the same when our clients ask us, "How are you doing today?" We always say "Wonderful," because really, they have their own issues, their own problems and they don't want to hear about yours.

Jennifer Wang is a staff writer at Entrepreneur magazine in Southern California.
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