Mark Cuban on race, robotics and why now is a great time to start a business

 Mark Cuban
Mark Cuban poses for a portrait during the 2018 Tribeca TV Festival on September 23, 2018 in New York City. Matt Doyle/Getty

Billionaire entrepreneur, Shark Tank regular and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has never been shy about saying what was on his mind. Recently he sat down with Jordan Harbinger, host of the The Jordan Harbinger Show podcast and a Newsweek contributor, to share his thoughts on protest and racism in the wake of George Floyd's killing, how he learned some tough lessons about leadership, and what America needs to do if it really wants to compete economically with China. Here are the highlights, lightly edited for clarity,

His Advice to Businesses Now

I'm telling them all the exact same thing. One, you have to be transparent. Two, you have to be honest. Three, you have to be authentic. Four, you have to talk. You have to communicate, because everybody's freaked out. Everybody's uncertain. Everybody's working with imperfect information. You have to recognize that when everybody's afraid, the best way to deal with it is by coming together.

[You] only want to do business with people who represent the things that are important to you. And if you're not taking care of your employees, if you're not taking care of your stakeholders, your brand is going to be damaged forever. Young kids are going to carry that with them for decades. I think those big companies are recognizing how they present themselves, how they interact in society, how they worked from the bottom up, instead of the traditional top down, is going to define their brand for decades.

George Floyd: "The only surprise is that it's taken this long"

People are angry. There's systemic racism. The people who have just been disadvantaged their entire lives and every day they wake up, it's a concern and an uncertainty that they need to deal with that just creates unbound stress. They are losing 40-plus million people who've lost their jobs, who knows how many people have had their hours reduced, had their wages reduced....You've got the pandemic where you're not certain about your health and your minority communities are getting the brunt of it. There's a significant percentage of people working in healthcare that are minorities. So there's a disproportion there on the front lines. That's just a lot of stress.... Martin Luther King said rioting is the voice of the unheard. The only surprise is that it's taken this long.

Drew Brees: "We don't have standing"

I actually felt bad for Drew. Honestly, I think he was trying to be positive. It's hard not to be tone-deaf in those circumstances.

I've been there before, where I said something, where I thought I was starting a legitimate conversation on race. I made a tone-deaf statement that I thought was accurate and honest, and I learned from it.

I think Drew will learn from it as well. I think his heart's in the right place, but being white, we don't have standing.

Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Government

I have started to say over the last two years or so, with artificial intelligence, we'll be able to start seeing government as a service more. If we ever have any politicians that ever understand technology and where it's going, which is a whole other issue, then they'll be able to see that as advances occur in AI, there are risks, there are bias risks, there are performance risks, there are accuracy risks. But as we get through those problems, AI as a service can replace that old historical model of the paper pusher. The bureaucrat that just sits at their desk, stamping things all day long and trying to do anything not to work. Technology can start to solve some of those problems in government and make it smaller, but effectively do more and leave more money for the people and the services that we all need.

Why Now is a Great Time to Start a Business

The current new stuff you always want to stay up to speed on: robotics, precision medicine, AI, statistics, math is always a good thing to study no matter what. But the key, I think when you're going to college, is just learning how to learn because the only constant is change. We went from pre-pandemic in January to trying to understand the impact of viruses and will they occur again. Pre-pandemic we never had a concept of working from home and you never would have thought of "How do I enhance the audio for Zoom?" So there's always going to be change that leads to opportunity. And there's never going to be a better time than right now, hopefully, to start a business. Simply because everything's going through this reset.

Keep Learning

Every time there's new technology that I think is impactful, I want to learn it. AI is going to be huge. So I'm taking machine learning tutorials. I'm on YouTube watching an introduction to neural networks. I'm reading research papers about reinforcement learning, and that's how they meet goals and how that works. Or generative adversarial networks because that's how they do all the fancy graphics and pictures. That allows me to start investing in companies and be able to separate what's real and what's nonsense. Because everybody's got an AI component in their company, but 99.99 percent of them are nonsense. I can't tell one from the other unless I do the work. Now I'm starting to dig more into robotics. I always had a good understanding from a software perspective, but not from the hardware side of it.

Made in the USA

If we're going to bring manufacturing from overseas to domestic, the only way we're going to beat low-cost employees and lack of interest in the environment and environmental protections, we're going to have to do that through robotics. Then there's going to be disruption because of that. The traditional manufacturing that was done here, the limited amount, is probably going to be displaced. [We have to understand] what type of jobs we can create and how we can scale that, so that in the aggregate you create a lot more jobs....

But if we do what the administration is trying to do and just recreate 1985 manufacturing and add tariffs to protect people, we're going to get torched because what they're missing is—China, Germany, Russia, Japan—they're not standing still in robotics. They continue to invest. And China, every single day, is asking themselves "How can I kick America's ass in the business?" And unless we recognize that and invest and push forward as a sovereign state, we're going to get torched.

Things That Need to Be Gotten Rid Of

Patents across the board [and] licensing. I think it's the state of Louisiana that in order to wash hair, you have to be licensed and you have to have some ridiculous 200 hours of apprentice experience. That's ridiculous. The fact that just starting a business isn't just one-button click. In the city of Dallas, you want to start a business, you go online, you fill out a couple of forms, you hit one button, maybe you put in your credit card and it's $99. Just stuff like that, you have to remove the friction from those things. Crazy licensing protects people who don't need to be protected.

Billionaire's Luck

In my first company, the stock market wasn't huge for those types of companies. My second company, the stock market was huge for that type of Internet company. I didn't plan that. I didn't predict it, but I certainly benefited from it. Could I become a millionaire again? Absolutely. Multiple times over. I've done it many times, but could I hit billionaire again? Only if I got lucky.

Goodbye 9-to-5

I got fired because my bosses hated me because I was too belligerent and too aggressive. That's just the way it was. First three jobs I had never lasted more than nine months.... Then I knew I had to do it on my own and I just didn't have a choice. I'm living with six guys in a three-bedroom apartment, and this is at a time when unemployment was above 10 percent the year I graduated from college. That extended for a few years and so it wasn't like jobs were easy to come by.

How to Be an Entrepreneur

There are people who are born to do it. I was born to do it, and I just had it. I was just always selling and selling and selling. And if you can sell, you can be an entrepreneur, you just have to start that company for whatever you're good at selling. But for everybody else, if you have a vision, but you're willing to do the work to follow through, it's more about preparation and it's more about investing the time to become knowledgeable.... And most people aren't willing to do that. So it's not that anybody can't be an entrepreneur. But if you're finding yourself asking "What kind of companies should I start?," you're not ready. "What do you think I should do?" You're not ready. "Am I ready to start this company?" You're not ready. If you find yourself, "I know this so much better than this company, this company, this company, if I can get in there and just get one account," then you're ready.

Made in China

You can manufacture in China, but we still should be doing everything possible to kick their ass so we don't have to anymore. I get all these emails from people. "Oh, you push people to manufacture in China." No, I don't. Every single product I've ever had manufactured, I've tried to make it here first. But now what we're doing that's different, I'm working with those companies because the cost of robotics is dropping and the software is improving. You still don't have full manual dexterity, so you can't do everything. But we've got to get to a point where we can kick their ass. Just making it here is just going to make it harder for us to compete globally.

Business Pitches He Will Actually Read

If you go into your backstory, "I went to college at Indiana University and my junior year, I did this and my sophomore year I broke my leg skiing. So I wasn't able to do that." No. Delete. If it's "I wrote this software package that I don't think anybody else is able to do; here's the problem it solves. I'm in Cincinnati, Ohio. I don't have access to a lot of resources. Could you keep on reading and tell me what you think?" I'll keep on reading.

Why Healthcare Ought to Be Job Number 1

Because here we are in the middle of a pandemic. We're having riots and looting, and we don't know how that's going to intersect with the pandemic. And there's a lot of uncertainty. We know that more people are going to get sick but no one's talking about healthcare. There are some basic things on people being added to the ACA. There's not a lot of talk about Medicaid or the expansion of Medicaid. We've got hospitals who're laying off people and not going out of business yet, but we're subsidizing. What should hospitals look like next? What should healthcare look like on the other side of this pandemic, recognizing we might face this again? No one's having that conversation even a tiny bit.

"How Would You Feel Every Single Day?"

Imagine you put on a MAGA hat and red MAGA t-shirt, and you walked through downtown New York, or you walked in one of the protests, peaceful protests. How afraid would you be? Even though all those people around you are law-abiding citizens, would you be concerned? If you walk into a store with that same MAGA hat and MAGA t-shirt, do you think people are going to stare at you and look at you twice?... Now imagine if you could never take that hat off. Imagine if you could never take that shirt off and no matter where you went and no matter what you did, you were always wondering how people were looking at you and whether or not all they saw was that red hat and a red shirt that said, "Keep America Great." How would you feel every single day? That's still not as bad as what African-Americans and other ethnicities have to go through every single day. ...I'm not trying to speak for the African-American or ethnic communities, they have leaders to speak for themselves, but when we talk about white people having to do a little bit more, at least trying to understand it, it gives you some concept and lets you understand that their perspective and what they have to go through and the stresses that they go through are far different than what we go through.

Treating People Equally

What we went through at the Mavs with sexual harassment just changed the game for me. I learned very painfully -- but it was more painful for some of the women that work there -- that treating people equally does not mean treating them the same. I always thought that man, woman, white, black, it was more like a math equation. ...I was going to treat them exactly the same. And didn't really realize that the power dynamics are so different that you can't do that. You can't literally treat them equally. You've got to be able to recognize who they are, where they're from, what challenges they have. Once I did that, our business got a lot better and our CEO Cynthia Marshall certainly educated me a lot more, but it's a process of learning.

The Best Part of Being Rich

I don't have to worry about the bills. I couldn't tell you what my electric bill was last month. Probably I don't want to know with my kids. I don't stress about bills anymore and that's the biggest difference. People say, "Well, what's the worst part about being a billionaire?" Nothing. Nothing, absolutely positively nothing. I've been on both sides where I had credit cards cut off -- like I said, I lived with six guys in a three-bedroom apartment. I didn't have any money. My roommates and I would go to the grocery store and be there at midnight because that's when they pushed down the price of chicken and we'd get our chicken packs.... I stress about my kids, like any parent does. When my 16-year-old learned how to drive and started driving, every time that door on her car closed, I was terrified and money can't change that.

Reasons to Be Cheerful

There's no better time to start a business than right now because all businesses are effectively going through a reset as we start to open back up and figure out what's going on. Big businesses are protecting their legacy businesses. Medium-sized businesses are doing the same thing. Small businesses are just trying to adapt. If you're starting from scratch, you can build a restaurant that already deals with social distancing and HVAC that considers the virus and all that. If you're starting a service company, you can start off working from home and be comfortable because people have already gotten used to Zoom. You don't have to find that first office. So there's a lot of advantages. And with the protests and the riots that give us just one inkling of hope that maybe we'll make progress. That maybe this time, we'll listen and that's why I've tried to speak out. I'm trying to get involved in the minority community, going to events, go into black-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses. I'm trying to help any business that was looted and impacted. But in particular, those people who are at the greatest disadvantage right now, I've been trying to connect to and help.

Newsweek contributor Jordan Harbinger is the host of The Jordan Harbinger Show, where he deconstructs the play books of the world's most successful authors, entrepreneurs and artists. Find his full interview with Mark Cuban here

Mark Cuban
Owner Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks reacts against the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena on February 28, 2020 in Miami, Florida. Michael Reaves/Getty