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Robert Herjavec's Success: From Humble Beginning to a Nine-Figure Net Worth

“What is great about entrepreneurship is that entrepreneurs create the tangible from the intangible.” And actually, he did: starting from the bottom, Robert Herjavec worked his way to the top where he says he is “living the American Dream”.
By Kaley Nguyen | 9 min read
on August 10, 2020
Image credit: Inc

In addition to being widely recognized as the beloved “nice judge” on ABC’s Shark Tank, Robert Herjavec is considered one of the most shrewd and successful businesspeople of the new age. Despite humble beginnings, while growing up in former Yugoslavia, Herjavec managed to leverage his endless drive and acumen into a long list of multimillion-dollar business ventures, which include the Canadian-based information technology company Herjavec Group, now a global leader in IT security services.

Should you be an enthusiastic player within the tough entrepreneurship world and wish to become a distinguished figure someday, just like Robert Herjavec, then let’s read on to explore an inside perspective of his entrepreneurial journey as well as acquire some proven tips for the future flying success!

Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec: How Has He Lived His American Dream?

"When I was younger, I didn't know that people could start a business, and I always say now that if I knew what I know now, I would have dreamed bigger," shared Robert Herjavec. "I don't have an MBA or a business degree, and I wasn't very good at accounting. I remember when I wanted to start a business; everybody said to me, 'you can't do it.' Fundamentally, I owe my success in business to the fact that I really love what I do."

Such a passion has empowered Herjavec to lead two multimillion-dollar technology companies, one of which - The Herjavec Group - has grown from three employees and $400,000 in sales to nearly 200 employees and staggeringly $125 million in sales in just nine years. "When people ask me what I do, I say I am in a very complicated technology business, which is incredibly boring to anybody that isn’t in it, but I love it," Herjavec went on. “Give me a free afternoon and I'd rather go to work than race cars, play golf, or do anything else."

From a Poor Immigrant to a Millionaire 'Shark'

What makes his success story even more extraordinary, though, is how it all started. "I am not even a first-generation immigrant, I am a guy off the boat," said Herjavec, who was born in Zbjeg, Croatia. "My dad escaped from jail in a communist country and grabbed my mom and me and we came to Halifax when I was 8 years old.  We landed with literally one suitcase. My mom remembered she knew somebody in Toronto, we took a train there, and lived in their basement for 18 months. It all started from there."

Such a transition proved challenging for Herjavec, who found motivation in the struggle he had adapting to a new country as a child. More than that, Herjavec experienced a tough time getting to grips with the new way of life in North America, where for the first time he suffered a hard truth of economic class differences.

"It was really interesting because, where I came from, we lived on a farm and my grandmother raised me and everybody lived like us," said Herjavec. "Then, we came to North America and it was my first impression of not being well off. I realized that compared to everybody else, we were really poor."

To earn a living, the 'Shark Tank' judge began working as a newspaper deliveryman and also a waiter in the early 1990s. In retrospect, Herjavec did not view them as laborious works for paying the bill but as crucial experiences for his later business career. "The most important relationship in business is the one between you and your customers. All my experience is customer-related. When I was delivering newspapers, you used to have to collect the money," he optimistically recalled. "When I was a waiter, it was all about maximizing a tip and ensuring enough turnover. All these odd jobs always related in different ways to customers." 

Nevertheless, at that point of time, before becoming an entrepreneur and investor, Herjavec felt adrift as a young person. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was a bit of a mess, partying, hanging out,” he said season 9 of “Shark Tank.” “People would say, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ I’d go, ‘Ah, it doesn’t matter.’”

Things gradually changed at his age of 21, when his father sat him down for a serious talk. “I went through hell so that you could have the opportunity I never had,” Herjavec’s father told him. And it gave Herjavec the drive he needed to succeed.

"I had this incredible sense of desperation that if I didn't do something with my life, all the sacrifice wasn't worth it," Herjavec explained. He landed a job at a technology-based firm called LogiQuest, and excelled, becoming the president of this company in his 20s. Despite some initial hardships, he eventually turned that experience into the foundation for his first technology company BRAK Systems, which he later sold to AT&T Canada for $30 million in 2000. Since then, Herjavec also helped to negotiate the sale of another IT company to Nokia for whoppingly $225 million. 

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Image credit: Herjavec Group

When asked about the establishment of the Herjavec Group, he shared, "The reason I started The Herjavec Group was because I was at home for three years … I was a stay-at-home dad because my kids were home then, but they went back to school. I turned 40, my wife stopped working and I said, 'man, I have to get out of the house.' That was really it. The idea of being retired was wonderful for one year, but after three, I was just too young to stay retired."

After starting the Herjavec Group, Robert Herjavec 's outstanding business prowess led him to television where he starred on the hit Canadian show, "Dragons' Den" and later, he joined the American version of the show, "Shark Tank." Recently, Herjavec added best-selling author to his resume with the publication of the book "Driven" (Harper Collins, 2010).

Critical “Ingredients” of Robert Herjavec’s success

Whereas 'Shark Tank' Robert Herjavec has, to some extent, accomplished the howling success that most people dream of, he does “credit” the passion he has in business as the reason behind that success.

"The best advice I would give to somebody is, don’t ever start a business that you are not incredibly and deeply passionate about," shared Herjavec. "It is hell, and you will spend more hours with your business than you will with your family and friends. You will have horrible days that will make you want to quit and question everything you have ever learned. Along that journey, if you don’t absolutely love what you do there is no way you will survive."

"The biggest mistake I see people do is they start a business to make money," said Herjavec. "The problem with that is on those cold days, money doesn’t keep you warm at night. For me, it is impossible to expend the effort required to start a great business because you want to make more money."

In addition to the strong passion, Herjavec also believes that those looking to start a business must be just as comfortable with failures as they are with successes. "People ask me if there is a quality or characteristic for entrepreneurs, are they born or made?" shared Herjavec. "The one characteristic that I find in most people who start a business is, they are very comfortable and adaptable to change. I always say my greatest skill is if you throw me in the middle of the forest, I'll figure out the game."

"One thing I always say is that you need to be in a place of pain to make change. I firmly believe that," he wrote on his Linkedin. "Real change -- yes tough, fundamental life change -- doesn't happen when things are going well and you're coasting."

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Image credit: ABC

While adaptability may be a winning factor in the ultimate success of every single business, his success is also attributable to the fact that he was able to work in his area of expertise - the field of which he is highly knowledgeable. "The other thing I notice is that lots of other entrepreneurs make the mistake of changing fields all the time and start businesses where their knowledge level isn’t very high," said Herjavec. "I always say to my kids, become an expert at something and become such an expert at it that you can walk into a room and people will pay you for your knowledge."

Proven Tips from Robert Herjavec for a Winning Business

The inspirational rags-to-riches story of Robert Herjavec saw him escape from poverty in Croatia to beautifully live the American dream. Should you wish to be another “Robert Herjavec”, should you be in search of real, tried-and-tested routes to success, then he's the man to listen to.

#1. Get Out of Your Pajamas

As Herjavec wrote on his Linkedin, "My workday starts before 6 am, regardless of how late I worked the night before. It can be difficult to wake up early but doing so gives you the extra time you need to accomplish your goals and stay ahead of the competition. I always say, even Superman only has 24 hours in a day. It's what you do with that time that counts. Nothing will get done while you're sleeping unless you include dreaming, and dreaming rarely produces sales and profits. If you want to be successful, make the commitment to yourself to wake up early – it's a must."

After all, success eats time; thereby, you’re better off prioritizing it. If you're there, working on your dream before the rest of the world wakes, there is every likelihood that you have a super-fast head start off the blocks. Early rising is an encapsulation of the work ethic needed to drive success, which you have to devote yourself in order to achieve.

As Herjavec once stated: "If you are under the illusion that you can start a business and run it at your life's schedule, you are mistaken." Within such an ever-evolving business landscape, the concept that a balanced life equals success is over – at least for the business owners. In the meantime, let’s get out of your pajamas and devote your life to the energetic pursuit of success.

#2. Don’t Care About “Who You Are”

Anyway, true success is by no means dependent on who you are or where you come from. "Everyone can do it. Everybody has the tools and ability to get there." It does not matter who you are – what really matters is whether you believe you can succeed. Although it seems to be a self-help statement, it is completely true. It does take a willingness to reevaluate wherever you are in life and a willingness to change. Wherever you are on your journey, don't stagnate but actively look for new opportunities and believe you can do it.

#3. Visualize Yourself & Your Goals

"Without the ability to visualize a goal and believe it will be reached, nothing of substance will be achieved. Not by anybody. Not at any time. Not in any place." The ability to visualize yourself - not only on the journey but also at your goal - can be the difference between success and failure. Such a self-belief alone is, of course, never enough for success, yet it is one that carries you onward and empowers you to combat the fears that can hold you back. At the very first beginning, let’s focus on belief and predictability and see the planning that comes later.

#4. Grasp the Art of Making the Decision

After all, decisions are the crossroads to success! Along your business journey, you're going to tackle a plethora of decisions, some of which are pretty tough, if not very. Then, it's your action at these points that makes the difference. Tradeoffs between your dreams and external pressures are things you cannot avoid – and so as to succeed, sometimes, you have to be ruthless!

#5. Prioritize & Work Smart

Whilst a huge number of people work extremely hard, many of them are not successful, which refers to the truth that hard work is significant, yet working smart is crucial. You are required to work fast and outstrip your competition while being both diligent and responsive. You need to be continually feeding back into your goals the opinions of real paying customers, and you need to check and double-check everything, but fast.

With such a full plate of responsibilities to balance, as an entrepreneur, you tend to feel overwhelmed. This is exactly why you have to make prioritization – not just a tip but a long-term habit - should you wish to be a successful figure. Smartly working also includes noting down your goals and keeping them in front of you so that you’ll always know what to prioritize each day and then set the ball moving forward on your main aims.

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Image credit: ABC

#6. Not Just Reinvent the Wheel but Make It Better

This is where success lies. As Herjavec stated in an interview with Shark Tank, there exist a myriad of good ideas, but "most great businesses are built on better execution of an existing idea." What's specifically notable about this tip is this: In the digital age, it's within everyone's reach.

With the ubiquitousness of the Internet as well as the introduction of technology, you can approach your business and industry in a way the other predecessors haven't.

#7. Hone Your Laser Beam

“The world is a competitive place, and someone, somewhere, is waking up with the goal of beating you, or your company. If you’re not set on winning, or if you’re uncomfortable with competition in general, you’re not going to be the one who gets ahead. The most successful people I know are the ones who love to win.”

The smaller you are, as a business, the more laser-like your focus on success is required to be. To be more concise, it’s a “must” that you have a focus on exactly what you need to do and be prepared to combat the worst. "A single man cannot defeat an army unless he finds their weakness and attacks them at that point, one-on-one."

#8. Don't Manage but Lead

Rather than managing, you’d better off inspiring others through leadership – by this way, you likely have them work on your side and 100 percent behind your goal - not theirs. Undoubtedly, winning and influencing people is absolutely key to success. It’s your persona, your self-belief, and your visualization that all come into play when it comes to how you inspire and lead people.

#9. Keep yourself Capital-Realistic

Actually, it's all too easy to turn over-obsessed with the capital investment when a loan will suffice. Should you not be prepared to ‘put your money where your mouth’ is, how is your business idea going to take shape and possibly succeed? If you, yourself, doubt whether your idea is worth the risk of a loan, then investors certainly will too!

#10. Everyone Lies

The Herjavec Group CEO and founder pulls the punches with his own hard truth: Everyone lies. Whether such lies may be deliberate, or not, to accomplish the final success, it’s imperative that you’re aware of when they happen together with how to mitigate them. Understanding that, you may wish to test everything you are told and invoke your "spider senses" to realize and combat untruths when they happen.

The Black Swan “Coronavirus” & Herjavec’s Advice for SMB Owners

"The coronavirus takes an emotional toll on business owners who have invested their lives building a company and brand." In the case of his own businesses, he confirmed that with the intensification of economic threat from the coronavirus, he has had to lay off roughly 8% of Herjavec Group's 350-person workforce - a "painfully brutal" move.

“We had to do some initial layoffs to nonessential services so that we could actually increase our services people,” he stated. “I’ve got to tell you, it’s brutal. It’s absolutely, painfully brutal. You feel guilty. You feel bad.” 

Given the grave economic storm following the COVID-19 outbreak, “the thought of it possibly all going away is really scary,” Herjavec said on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley.” “I don’t care if you’re a Shark. I don’t care how much money you’re worth. I don’t care if you’re a small business. People take a lot of pride in their small businesses.” 

After all, entrepreneurs do not launch their businesses “just for a paycheck.” “They have their entire ego and who they are and everything tied into that, so it’s been really hard,” he genuinely shared. 

Beyond any doubt, government mandates to contain the spread of COVID-19 have brought the U.S. economy to a near halt. Several businesses have to take the extreme measures of layoffs and furloughs; and accordingly, millions of the Americans have filed jobless claims.

Herjavec, who owns stakes in a large portfolio of small and medium-sized businesses, said the jobless claims were of "biblical proportions" and expected that they were going to grow in the following months.

Regardless of whether you wish to accept or not, “the emotion for every small business owner is really difficult,” he said.

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Image credit: Oral TV

Nonetheless, no matter how challenging it may seem to be, it's a "must" that small business owners make decisions that are for the best sake of their companies.

"The key to every small business is you have to survive.” He continued, “I think it’s easy to say, ‘Don’t let anybody go. And do the right thing,’ but nobody really knows how long this is going to last. ... If the business doesn’t survive, there’s nothing to come back to.”  

To be more specific, his idea to all small businesses will be the “hoard cash.” “Not physically in your house, but in your bank account. Take anything on your balance sheet that you can put into liquid cash right now and do that.”

“And then look at all your expenses and put them off,” Herjavec added. “.. I know that’s awful and I know that every time you don’t pay a bill that is another business that is affected.” 

Furthermore, although there may be challenges in dispersing the $350 billion set aside for the program - due to significant demand, he advised that entrepreneurs who qualify to apply for the small business loans that were created as part of the $2 trillion economic stimulus package.

"But it's coming, and again, you've got survive in order to get that stimulus. If your business isn't around, then there's no point in getting the stimulus.”

The Bottom Line

“What is great about entrepreneurship is that entrepreneurs create the tangible from the intangible.” – Robert Herjavec. And actually, he did: starting from the bottom, Robert Herjavec worked his way to the top where he says he is ‘living the American Dream’. From humble beginnings, he has been able to create nine-figure net worth. And you’re, too! Should you be looking to be inspired on your path to success, there is no need to look further than the ethics, hints, and tips of business tycoon and incredibly successful entrepreneur Robert Herjavec.

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