By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
That savvy, that symbiotic left- and right-brained relationship, has served him well. He's talked about in the same breath as the elite, lumped with the excessively moneyed. When the big names are mentioned, so too is Mark Cuban. He's grouped with Phil Knight and Bill Gates, Donald Newhouse and Rupert Murdoch, Paul Allen and Ted Turner. He's near the bottom of that list, topping out at $1.9 billion in total worth--enough money to finance a fleet of those private jets, or an endless lap dance--according to the latest Forbes 400 rankings, but at least he's on the list. He's nouveau riche: Two years ago, Forbes didn't have him listed at all. Probably didn't know who he was, and, if it did, probably didn't care. Broadcast.com changed all that.
It's not like he was lying in a grimy ditch somewhere, or pimped out on a corner with a piece of cardboard that read, "Will work with complicated computer applications for food." No, he could have led a very chic lifestyle if he so chose, living off the millions he'd amassed from the 1990 sale of his consulting firm, MicroSolutions. He retired soon after; spent his days, at the advanced age of 31, lounging on gritty Cali beaches and chasing beautiful, scantily clad women. Or maybe they chased him. Who can remember? Did some acting too. Oh, and traded stocks. Lived the good life.
"Back when we still partied, in the early '90s, when I first got The Bone and a bunch of us were still running around hitting the night scene," Balestri remembers, "he would buy shots for everyone at the bar. He'd just take it out of his own pocket. He was great to go out with."
He's toned it down considerably, he says. Spends most of his free time working out instead of raging--he's a fit 6-foot-2, 200 pounds--or maybe playing a little Wiffle ball in a cavernous room in his regal house. Every few weeks, though, the boys will "drag" him out to make sure he's not slipping into middle-aged monotony. Make sure he enjoys himself as he did back in the day, when he partied.
Back then, he got around because he had time. That was when Todd Wagner reappeared. They had gone to college together--Indiana University. Cuban was running a bar, even though no one was positive he was old enough for such a proprietorship. (Balestri says he's still not sure what his friend's age is, that Cubes was never forthright about it for some reason. Cuban is 42.) Wagner pitched the Broadcast idea. Cuban loved it. He and Wagner created the first online multimedia conduit to everything from sports broadcasts to breaking news. Within a few years, half a million people hit the site each day, looking to access worldwide transmissions of the more than 400 radio stations and 30 TV stations that Broadcast carried. In 1999, they sold their creation to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion.
Contrary to some reports, though, Broadcast wasn't an immediate success. Being innovative doesn't necessarily guarantee achievement. Initially, the fledgling company struggled, fought to jump from red to black.
"The thing that we knew--we knew how to make money," says Steve Leeke, a partner in 2M Companies, Inc., a group with its hands in everything from technology to real estate. Leeke was previously a vice president and director of business development with Motorola and served as its representative on the Broadcast.com board of directors. "We could raise money rapidly enough to break even and then get to profitability and an IPO. But that took time. This was not business as usual. Entrepreneurs in general are not--what's the right word?--they're not reasonable people, right? Reasonable people don't do these things, right? Everyone was all excited about selling to Yahoo!, but it took a lot of courage to get to that point. Mark demonstrated that he was willing to jump and jump hard. Meaning, not giving it too much thought. The saying is that 'days count.' Well, if you're smart enough to have a great idea, you're probably one of 10, seven of which aren't bold enough to do anything about it. It's who acts quickest among the other three that determines levels of success."
Eventually, Broadcast started rolling and went public in July of '98, making countless employees remarkably wealthy. Made Cuban a billionaire, but that didn't curb his ambition. He continued jetting around the country, pushing the company. Selling is what he did best. For all his technological comprehension, he remains a young Willy Loman with bigger muscles.
"Selling was never a problem with Broadcast," Balestri adds. "He took care of that right away. You really want to know what a good salesman he is? I'm an avid--I don't want to say sports-hater--but atheist. It was never my thing. But I have season tickets to the Mavericks. And I don't give them away. I go. But not because I know Mark, because he sold me on it."
After Yahoo! took over, Cuban searched for another challenge, another conquest to add to the do-it-yourself, rich-guy legacy he was fostering. Turned out his next venture, and perhaps his most difficult undertaking, was only a few miles from his Preston Hollow palace.