You wouldn't know it from glancing at his bank account, but Mark Cuban used to be poor. This isn't exactly news. Cuban embodies the modern version of the peculiarly American up-by-the-bootstraps fairy tale, in which a hard-luck young person, through hard work and business savvy, transforms himself from struggling peon to billionaire tech entrepreneur. He even wrote a book about it.
It's a good story, though, satisfying both in its adherence to the familiar rags-to-riches archetype and because it provides hope to other would-be entrepreneurs that they, too, will strike it rich. Cuban recounts a portion of the tale for Forbes this month, the second Dallas billionaire in recent months to recount his hardscrabble beginnings for the magazine, though T. Boone Pickens' beginnings were decidedly harder scrabble.
He came to Dallas at age 24 at the behest of college roommates driving a 1977 Fiat X19 with a hole in the floorboard that constantly hemorrhaged oil.
In Dallas, I moved into a tiny apartment with five buddies at a place called The Village. At the time it was the largest apartment complex in the country. The place was filled with twentysomethings. I was the last one to move in. We had only three bedrooms and three beds. I slept on the floor. I had no closet and no dresser. I just stacked my clothes in a corner. The place was a dump, and we just destroyed it even more.
None of us had any money, but we had some wild times. We threw parties at our place to save money. When we went out, we had a rule that no one could spend more than $20. We'd go to a place called Fast and Cool, and we'd all buy bottles of $12 Champagne. We walked around like we were moguls. We didn't know the difference between good and bad Champagne.
Our rent was $750 split six ways. In order to get some extra time to pay our rent, the guys would write checks to one guy who would collect them all and make a deposit and he would then pay the bills. It would give us three or four days of float. One time our roommate Dobie collected all the checks and skipped town. That was the last we ever saw of him.
The Forbes story is really about the what-not-to-do lessons he learned from a string of terrible bosses. Back in his hometown of Pittsburgh, he writes that he was fired from his first job out of college, at Mellon Bank, after doing things like sending money-saving suggestions to the CEO and launching an internal newsletter, which his boss took as efforts to go behind his back. He had a similar experience at a computer sales job in Dallas, when he picked up a $15,000 check from a customer over the CEO's objections.
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That experience prompted Cuban, age 25, to start his own company, Micro-Solutions, and to permanently swear off the title of CEO. The rest, as they say, is history.