The One World Theatre is not a typical South by Southwest venue. It sits high on a hill northwest of town, about nine miles from the convention center, with beautiful views and none of the overcrowded messiness of the show itself. On Saturday, Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank star Mark Cuban spoke to about 300 entrepreneurs here — members and guests of Entrepreneurs Organization's Austin branch. Tagging along were a few lucky members of the media — including me.
To join EO, your company must be raking in at least $1 million in revenue, so I suddenly found myself surrounded by well-dressed, well-connected go-getters in fancy shoes, mingling and networking while waiting to pick the brain of one of America's most charismatic billionaires. I rolled up in a hotel shuttle van, wearing dirty, fake-leather boots and a giant backpack of phone chargers and miscellaneous swag — the only person wearing a SXSW badge, my event nametag handwritten with Sharpie instead of laser-printed, my thrifted jacket soggy with the rain that had pelted downtown's festival grounds all morning.
Strangely, it wasn't raining on the hill.
The millionaires were definitely nice people, but a couple things made it weird from the get-go: The only other attendee who spoke to me during the cocktail hour was a fellow journalist wearing flowered Doc Martens (holla, Veronica!), and when I stepped up to the bar I was shocked to be charged $2 for a bottle of water. (Granted, you don't get rich by giving away water.) The sushi and dessert buffets were free, though. Go figure.
Once inside the theater (sorry, theatre), I pulled my laptop and camera out of my giant backpack to document the proceedings, and the friendly guy to my right quipped, "Are you working?!" When I confirmed that I was, he laughed, "I guess someone's got to! Better you than me!" Indeed. (I always assumed running a company was a lot of work, but he didn't seem stressed, God bless him.)
I did exhale a bit when Cuban sauntered on stage wearing a T-shirt and jeans, sank into a huge, bright red, unapologetically modern armchair, and immediately kicked off his sneakers. (Blindingly white socks with NBA logos, to answer the question I'm sure is on your mind.) I no longer felt grossly underdressed. Cuban's interviewer, EO Austin president Dustin Wells (and also the founder and CEO of Headspring), ditched his fancy leather loafers as well. Then all Wells had to do was wind Cuban up and watch him go.
Cuban's talk was hilarious, as he peppered his entrepreneurial advice with stories from his life, starting back when he was 12 and got his first job from his dad's poker buddy selling trash bags door-to-door for a $3 markup. He had the crowd rolling with his wisdom on how to spot a gold digger (she'll say she loves travel and charity work), and how he knew he needed HR people at one of his early companies (when a service woman "wanted to sleep with everybody in the service department in the same night — who the hell does that?").
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