UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Kevin O’Leary shares tips for effective entrepreneurship

‘Shark Tank’ star says trustworthiness, maintaining one’s brand are essential for success

Kevin O’Leary and Amy Henley, dean of UND’s Nistler College of Business and Public Administration, share the stage at the college’s Barry Auditorium. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today

Speaking before a crowd of hundreds at UND’s Nistler College of Business and Public Administration on Friday, Canadian executive Kevin O’Leary gave business students advice on how to succeed as an entrepreneur – a path that paved the way to the “Shark Tank” star’s international stature.

As one of six venture capitalists or “sharks” on the TV show, O’Leary is known for his blunt assessments of business ventures proposed to him, a trait he says stems from childhood lessons about the importance of honesty. Besides, lies quickly tarnish reputations in the business community, he added.

“I was taught by my mother around the age of 16 that if you always tell the truth, you’ll never have to remember what you say,” O’Leary said. “If I’m going to get in trouble for the truth, that’s defensible. But if you’re lying, there is no defense, and that’s the end of your brand.”

O’Leary said the importance of being trustworthy in business is analogous to marriage.

“Many marriages do not falter because of infidelity, but the value of that relationship’s equity between each other has lost 50% of trust in perpetuity,” he said. “It’s the same in business. When you do business, and you use the tactic of being untrue and get caught – and you will – that is the end of your relationship.”

O’Leary told students that authenticity is key to building a brand and advised them to harness the power of social media to do so.

“The only way to be authentic is to just be yourself 24/7,” he said. “You have the mixed blessing of social media. It’s a great tool to build a business and personal brand, but it also has a cost. If you’re trying to sell something that you don’t really use, and you’re just doing it for the money, they’re going to call you out on it.”

Students at the Nistler College of Business and Public Administration listen to Kevin O’Leary’s advice on effective entrepreneurship. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today

Successfully building one’s brand, O’Leary said, opens countless doors for further partnerships and collaboration.

“The beautiful thing about building a brand and a reputation as someone who executes on things, is that everyone returns your call,” he said. “That’s the real advantage of the brand – the access. The ability to cut through months of wasted time.”

O’Leary concluded his visit to the college by offering future entrepreneurs three tips.

  • Respect the power of social media: According to O’Leary, it is a force with the potential to build one’s brand or “cancel you in nanosecond.”
  • Separate the signal from the noise: That is, focus on what is pertinent amid a sea of information, rather than getting bogged down in the minutiae.
  • Do not pursue entrepreneurship for reasons of greed: Becoming a successful entrepreneur entails persistence, hard work and more importantly, passion toward your business – money will follow organically.

North Dakota’s business-friendly regulations make it an attractive environment for entrepreneurship, encouraging soon to be graduates to consider making the state home, O’Leary added.

“My message to people graduating out of this place is, ‘You should start a business here – you don’t have to go anywhere,’” O’Leary said. “You can build a business here, and service global clientele in a favored location when it comes to policy, permitting and power.”

Following his visit to Nistler, O’Leary sat down with UND President Andy Armacost at the Memorial Union for a fireside chat and a Q&A with audience members.

Afterwards, O’Leary met with members of the local media as well as high schoolers from Northwood, N.D. As the press conference, he answered questions about workforce and North Dakota’s economic future.

O’Leary followed the press conference with a tour of The HIVE, downtown Grand Forks’ UAS tech accelerator. That evening, he dropped the ceremonial first puck before the Fighting Hawks took on the University of Denver Pioneers at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Kevin O'Leary Puck Drop
Flanked by UND President Andy Armacost (left) and Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski, Kevin O’Leary drops the puck before a matchup between the Fighting Hawks and University of Denver Pioneers on Friday, January 26, 2024. Russ Hons/North Dakota Athletics.