Always on the lookout for hidden value, multi-billionaire Mark Cuban doesn’t seem to find “shy” or “retire.” The owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, whose rampant dress-down by league umpires has cost him millions in fines; panelist on Shark Tank for the past 13 years; the kind of guy who loved playing himself on HBO’s Entourage — Cuban is a high-functioning multitasker.
Axelrod asked, “Is it impossible to stay connected to what most people consider ‘normal’ life?”
“Yes and no. It’s not that my friends are rich; they are not. At the same time, if you jump on a plane, that’s it your Airplane.”
But if you want to know what’s catching his attention these days, check out his latest venture: Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company, which aims to change the way we fill our prescriptions — such a huge potential shift as the industry has seen.
When asked how much of his head is being eaten up by Cost Plus, Cuban replied, “About 99.99%. Financially, emotionally, intellectually, all that breadth goes to Cost Plus.”
Prescription drugs is a half trillion dollar market in the US. Cubans want more transparency about how prices are set — an opaque and complicated process largely controlled by middlemen.
Cost Plus works directly with manufacturers and consumers, offering higher profits to drug manufacturers and lower prices to those who take them. His prescription for pricing = the cost of the drug, plus 15% for Cost Plus, plus $3 pharmacy fee, plus $5 shipping.
Cost Plus currently offers 1,100 drugs, mostly, but not all, generics, such as atorvastatin (the generic version of the cholesterol drug Lipitor), which retails for $55.08 for 30 pills. costs plus? $3.60 for the same amount.
Cuban said, “When I was in my 20’s, my 30’s and my early 40’s it was all, ‘How much money could I make?’ But at this point in my life, where the next dollar I bring in isn’t going to change my life, my kids’ lives, their kids’ lives, the capitalist reward of making a difference comes.”
The 64-year-old Cuban has been focused on the next dollar for nearly 50 years since he was a kid in Pittsburgh. “Selling garbage bags door to door, selling magazines, selling candy door to door. ‘Hello, my name is Mark. do you use garbage bags If you just call me every time you need garbage bags, they’re only $6 a hundred, I’ll come and just bring them to the house.’ Once you’re a seller and you know how to sell, there’s nothing you can’t do.”
This sales talent, along with a certain resilience, developed in his working-class Jewish home. “The first time I got into a fight, some boy came up to me and just hit me and started calling me a Kike. And of course I had to beat him up! But I go to my dad and I say, “What’s a kike?” Every generation has a reason to be afraid, but every generation has a reason to have hope.”
He brought these traits with him to Indiana University, along with a penchant for risk-taking and unconventional thinking. He bought a bar, Motley’s Pub, before he was old enough to drink. “It was the first time I had to try to organize things and actually run a real business. And I realized I wasn’t that good at it; there were a lot of mistakes I made.”
After graduating, he worked at a bank; that took 9 months. Cuban had too many other things to try like acting, roles in a bunch of B movies.
His first big bucks came at age 30, when he sold a software company called MicroSolutions, which he had built although he wasn’t ready to settle down just yet. “I made about $2 million net after taxes,” he said. “I bought a lifetime pass for American Airlines and I’m not going to work, I’m just going to party like a rock star in as many countries as possible.”
His ever-changing mind focused on and invested in the emerging technology and computing sectors. “My fortune just kept going bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam along with it. When I was 35 I was worth 15, 20 million dollars. Life was good.”
Millions became billions. When he and fellow Dallas college buddy Todd Wagner wanted to hear Indiana University basketball games on their old campus 900 miles away, they found a solution: AudioNet, which later became Broadcast.com.
Cuban said, “I bought a computer, upgraded my phone line, downloaded Netscape software for the server, and started looking at various alternatives to try to get audio and eventually video on the Internet. Nobody did that back then. We were the first.”
“I feel like I’m hearing the origin story of streaming,” Axelrod said.
“It is the origin story of streaming, for sure. There was no one there. No one. People thought I was an idiot!”
It wasn’t him. The company would be sold to Yahoo for $5.7 billion in stock. “That was the craziest thing ever. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could be worth a billion. I was ready to retire when I had $2 million, you know?”
Axelrod asked, “If you were worth a tenth of what you are worth, would you be just as happy?”
“A percent of what you’re worth?”
“Yes. If I had my same family and everything, sure.”
“And to people who say, ‘He says that easily’?”
“Yes of course. But if you talk to my friends from back then, who are still my friends, they’ll tell you I have stuff. But hopefully I haven’t changed that much.”
“Sunday Morning” took him up on his idea and spoke to some of Cuban’s oldest cronies over lunch in Pittsburgh. They all agreed, Cuban is still the same guy. One, Jerry Katz (nickname Big Man), added: “A little more full of it, but not that much more full of it! But still the same guy!”
What the world sees of Mark Cuban today was the first thing they saw back then. As Steve Rosen (aka Toe the Pro) recalled, “We started collecting stamps. I enjoy collecting stamps and Mark has shown an interest in stamps. We went to a stamp exhibition. We went in with $20 each would come out with stamps; Mark would come out with $100! It was amazing!”
“Inefficient markets, you’re looking for inefficient markets,” Cuban smiled.
“He bought them on the second floor and sold them on the first floor, right?” asked Katz.
That’s how he got started throwing hoops at a packed backyard seat at his $20+ million mansion, where he lives with his wife and three kids — a guy who’s been sucking them from the deep for decades.
Axelrod asked, “What did you know about running a professional sports team when you bought the Mavs?”
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
The Dallas Mavericks, for which he paid $285 million 23 years ago, are now valued at more than $3 billion. But remember, this is a guy looking for “hidden value.” “The connection to your customer is stronger than anywhere else,” he said. “You know, you don’t get requests from Make-a-Wish to sit down with a software programmer.”
A man who understands the role of luck in creating his vast fortune.
Axelrod asked, “Do you walk around every day thinking, ‘Man, did I get a good deal on the cards’?”
“Yeah. How the hell is that happening to me?” he answered.
“How do you explain it?”
“I can not. Life is semi random. About half you have some level of control, and the other half is what it is,” Cuban said. “If I had been born five years earlier, not in the early days of the internet, you might not know my name. And I will never take him for granted and enjoy every damn moment of it!”
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Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Publisher: Ed Givnish.