‘Shark Tank’ Investor Kevin O’Leary Shares Keys to Small Business Survival During Coronavirus

Neil A. Carousso
April 29, 2020 - 9:06 am

Entrepreneur Kevin O’Leary stresses communication and a pivot to digital sales during the “unprecedented” coronavirus pandemic.

“Learn to communicate,” O’Leary advised in a wide-ranging interview with Joe Connolly on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank.

“Your employees and your customers: They want to hear from you every day,” he said.

O’Leary is known as “Mr. Wonderful” on ABC’s hit Friday night reality TV program “Shark Tank.” He is also a contributor to CNBC that re-runs episodes of “Shark Tank” when the market is closed. In 1986, he founded Softkey, an educational software company based in Toronto, that he sold to Mattel for $4.2 billion in 1999. He owns O'Leary Financial Group, which is a conglomerate of brands that includes investment firm O'Leary Funds. He also owns O'Leary Fine Wines. His net worth is estimated at $400 million.

“When you’re honest with your customers, they become incredibly loyal,” O’Leary said, adding, “The minute they smell B.S., you’ve lost them forever. Don’t lie to people.”

He shares his philosophy on business with Connolly, including that owners should become profitable by their third year in operations, or “take it behind the barn and shoot it.” During the global health crisis, O’Leary says owners must adjust to the changing market while playing to one’s strengths.

“They genuinely care about companies and products and services that they’ve grown to trust and they want to support them during this period of difficulty to make sure that these businesses survive,” he said.

One way to stay afloat, O’Leary underscored, is to learn digital marketing and focus one’s energy on targeting local customers.

“It means you may have to get a Shopify license, you may have to learn how to use DocuSign, you may have to understand the geo-locking tools of Facebook,” Mr. Wonderful said on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast.

“Geo-locking” is a tool within paid Facebook campaigns that allows users to target a preferred audience to optimize a paid post’s impact by demographics.

“I only want to spend my advertising dollars, reaching out to people in this specific area,” O’Leary explained, adding, “That’s what we’re finding is really working, being very concentrated in what you’re trying to do, because in times like these, you really want to play to your strengths.”

O’Leary told WCBS 880 he’s looking to cut real estate costs as his employees work from home. He said if employees are being productive and companies are using digital conferencing services and maximizing on digital marketing strategy, businesses can “save a ton of money.”

“Now the only thing is, it’s not good news for rates, it’s not good news for landlords, it’s not good news for retail space, it’s not good news for real estate, generally, because we don’t need it. Yeah, we need our houses and our apartments, but nothing else,” said Mr. Wonderful.

 Hear more from entrepreneur Kevin O’Leary, including what opportunities he spotted in his “Shark Tank” investments, on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast above and on the RADIO.COM app.

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