When entrepreneurs present in front of business mogul Kevin O’Leary on ABC’s hit reality show “Shark Tank,” they likely get a taste of his honesty and directness, and his drive for great value. Those are some of the guiding principles for the O’Leary Financial Group, which includes one of his most popular ventures in O’Leary Fine Wines. Check out our conversation with O’Leary on what drives him to provide the best quality of wine, and what his name being on the bottle means for his consumers.

Jay: Many people know you as the person who listens to entrepreneurs who are looking to build their brand while at the same time you’re still building yours. What got you into the wine industry and what is special about O’Leary Fine Wines?

Kevin: I’ve been a wine investor for decades with currently five cellars around the world. It’s been an investment that I’ve been very successful at. It started around 10 years ago when I realized you couldn’t get a good wine at a low price. Now, 97 percent of wine purchased in the United States is for under $12 per bottle. That’s why on Shark Tank many know me as the wine guy because we have a lot of fun on the set talking about it. I take my wine very seriously and much pride in not just being a celebrity who slaps my name on a bottle and let someone else decide what’s in it. I’m very involved in the process by selecting, blending and pricing the wine. I’m even involved in designing the labels. That is why I tell people who are interested in O’Leary Fine Wines that I have your back. Anything you buy with my name on it is going to be excellent. Period.

Jay: As you said, you’re not going to slap your name on something because you’re a celebrity and hope it sells. No matter how famous or successful you are, you have to figure out what works and what doesn’t. How have you been able to stay true to that mindset?

Kevin: When it comes to O’Leary Fine Wines, I’ve gotten a large number of consumers who have certain expectations of my product. They trust what’s inside of each bottle of wine. And my success has continued even with the different variations. For example, when I released a moscato for the first time, I was able to sell each and every bottle. The reason it was successful was because people already love my zinfandel and chardonnay. Therefore, the trust they have in me is why they keep coming back for more with the new variations of my wine. In fact, about 30 percent of the people who try my wine for the first time buy it again. So I was able to build a following of people who expect me to go into the vineyard and provide the best quality of wine that there is to offer.

Jay: When people come on Shark Tank, they usually have an idea and some sense of direction while at the same time looking to you to guide them along. But who do you look to for advice when you build your business?

Kevin: It’s those great logistics through partnerships that allow for me to be able to deliver hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine at a time. It’s how O’Leary Fine Wines was created. One of the biggest partnerships we have is with QVC. When the laws allowed us to ship wine directly from California to over 40 states, the business changed forever. We were then able to go on QVC to promote our product to several millions of people per minute and immediately ship it to them.

Jay: Speaking of Shark Tank, you posted on social media that Season 9 is underway. Are there any changes for this year? Also, what have you learned for yourself from year to year with the show?

Kevin: I’ve learned the impact Shark Tank has had. It’s an incredible and unique platform that greatly benefits entrepreneurs. You can launch a whole business on the show by bringing in a product to present for millions of people to see at a time. No other place can entrepreneurs have such an instant communication with consumers. As a result, we have real companies who come on the show looking to make that connection with consumers and expand.

Jay: I’ve had the opportunity to speak to many different entrepreneurs on Shark Tank, and many have told me how nervous they were before they come through that door. Are you ever nervous before hearing them or are you well past that?

Kevin: We’ve been doing this long enough where I don’t see the cameras anymore. Some of the presentations are phenomenal and lead to success, and others crash and burn. But the beauty of it is you never know what’s going to happen since it’s unrehearsed. People come on for the first time and we all learn together. That’s what’s amazing about it.

Jay: You have always been great to talk to and a tremendous resource of information. I’ve spoken to many of your entrepreneurs and each have said on their own how much they’ve gained from having you on their team. Why are so many people on Shark Tank scared of you when you bring so much value and such a great person to talk to?

Kevin: I just tell the truth. But you can’t be scared of the truth and expect to make it in business. That’s the way I look at it. If you can’t get past me on TV, then wait till the real world gets a hold of you. And that’s what I think is most valuable with Shark Tank. It serves as a boot camp because it offers a test on what it takes to be successful. If they can’t handle me, then they probably won’t be successful.

Jay: If there was one person you could take to dinner and pick their brain for an hour, who would you love to speak to? What types of things would you ask them?

Kevin: I try to reach out to and meet people who are successful in other sectors of the economy. There’s something I can learn from each one of them. That’s also one of the benefits of Shark Tank. I come across entrepreneurs and people from different companies who I ask to spend time with so I could learn about their industry. That kind of networking and learning every day is what makes me a better investor. I’m constantly looking for opportunities to do that.

Jay: If you had an hour today and you could choose anyone in the world to talk to, who would you call right now?

Kevin: Bismark, although he’s no longer living. He was an interesting character, but a great businessman and a great politician. I would definitely call Bismark if I had that opportunity.

Kevin O’Leary’s success story starts where most entrepreneurs begin: with a big idea and zero cash. From his basement, he launched SoftKey Software Products. As sales took off, Kevin moved to headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts and went on an industry consolidating acquisition binge. As a self-proclaimed “Eco-preneur,” Kevin looks hardest for investments that make money – and are environmentally friendly. When he’s not squeezing the market from his office, he travels the world looking for new opportunities to deploy his capital. He is on the investment committee of Boston’s prestigious 200-year-old Hamilton Trust, and is the chairman of O’Leary Funds. He also serves on the executive board of The Richard Ivey School of Business. He recently launched O’Leary Financial Group, a group of brands and products that share Kevin O’Leary’s guiding principles for business, including honesty, directness, and, above all, great value. Kevin escapes on weekends with his family to his cottage that spreads over prime Canadian wilderness on the shore of an ancient glacial lake.

Originally published at thesbjournal.com


  • Jay Block

    CEO Small Business Journal

    At the Small Business Journal we're all about harnessing content and the power of an authentic story.