“Mark!” I shouted, “I need my lucky pen back!” Mark Cuban had just autographed my business card, to which I had attached my lucky pen, thinking: Well, he’s more likely to look my way and sign my business card if he has a writing utensil at hand. While my scheme worked, Cuban held on to my lucky pen and used it to sign autographs, leaving me with nothing but regular pens in my backpack.
It All Started with the Line
This happened on Day 3 of the 2017 SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, TX. I had just attended a session titled “Is Government Disrupting Innovation?” featuring Cuban as a keynote speaker. Before the talk, I had arrived 30 minutes before doors opened, thinking I was an early bird. However, the line that stretched from the fourth floor to the first proved me wrong.
Would I even get in? Is this worth waiting for? Thankfully, my optimistic gut convinced me to wait it out. Patience is a virtue, I reminded myself. After all, this is Mark Cuban we’re talking about—billionaire businessman whose experience and expertise runs the gamut, from entrepreneurship and tech innovation to sports and U.S. politics. Surely, I can learn something useful from this man.
After an hour in line, I entered the nearly-packed auditorium. Despite being one of the last entrants, I ventured with crossed fingers into the front rows. Lo and behold, I found an open seat no more than 30 feet away from the stage. I sat down hurriedly and breathed a sigh of relief, silently taking pride in my last minute hustle.
Experts in the Spotlight
In addition to Cuban, the panel featured Michele Skelding from the University of Texas at Austin Innovation Center and Adam Lyons, Forbes 30 under 30 winner and founder of The Zebra, the most visited car insurance marketplace website in the United States. After the usual introductory remarks, the panelists shared their high-level thoughts on innovation and entrepreneurship. Cuban’s included several anecdotes, from his early life as a budding entrepreneur to his most recent interactions with Pres. Donald Trump.
In one story, he revealed that he had passed on Uber when it was an early-stage startup. Describing the move as his biggest regret as an investor, Mr. Cuban noted that, at the time, he didn’t see the value in battling with the heavily regulated taxi industry. “You are going to have to fight all the taxi associations in each city and every state,” Mr. Cuban recalled telling Uber founder Travis Kalanick. In that moment, Cuban’s doubts, pessimism, and refusal to see the bigger picture got the best of him. Sharing this with the SXSW audience, he cautioned, “Sometimes you have got to be ready, fire, aim, and just bust through doors and figure you will deal with the issues later.” Uber is now, of course, valued at $66 billion.
Entrepreneurship in HFA
In retrospect, Cuban’s words have never rung truer. Thriving entrepreneurs are often assertive, willing to take risks, and bold enough to step out of their comfort zone—and we can learn a great deal from them as HFA fellows. I attest to this personally and can attribute my progress as an HFA fellow thus far to my optimism, conviction, and ability to appreciate ideas and actions wherein others may not see value right away. During our exploration phase, for example, when we shadowed patients, physicians, and therapists for 3 months, I wasn’t afraid to think creatively in terms of how to approach people. I considered every second of our shadowing time as valuable and refused to waste it by sitting idly, waiting for someone to approach us instead of the other way around.
Similarly, during the ideation phase, I channeled optimism and open-mindedness alongside my colleagues when we brainstormed solutions. Whenever an idea seemed silly or outright outrageous, I challenged myself to identify elements worth noting. Lastly, as we are preparing for the implementation phase, we are called upon yet again to have a strong sense of conviction and unwavering optimism, not just toward the prospect of succeeding in our journey but also toward the possibility of learning from our failures.
After Mark Cuban held on to my lucky pen, he continued to sign autographs with it for about 15 minutes. Eventually, I managed to capture his attention. “Hey Mark!” I tried successfully as he looked my way. “Because you’ve been using my lucky pen, you have to take a selfie with me and grab one of my business cards,” I demanded of the self-made billionaire. Cuban responded with a chuckle and a smile. In the end, I managed to give him my HFA business card and to snag a selfie with the Shark Tank celebrity himself.