'Shark Tank' investor Barbara Corcoran explains how a childhood lesson changed her life


barbara corcoran

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Barbara Corcoran has used her love of publicity to build her brand.

To nine-year-old Barbara Corcoran, the neighbor's new cement retainer wall was glorious.


Her Edgewater, New Jersey, neighborhood was low on frills, so this wall was an eye-catching luxury. Recognizing it as a billboard, Corcoran went over with a stick she found on the street and wrote her name in neat block letters across the wet cement.

Her neighbor, of course, didn't need to do any detective work to figure out who ruined her property. Because Corcoran's mother couldn't afford to replace the wall, Corcoran said she was forced to spend the summer as the neighbor's "slave."

When Business Insider recently spoke to Corcoran at this year's Canon Expo New York, where she was promoting Canon's Maxify line of printers, she said this story holds much more significance to her than being just a funny childhood memory.

Corcoran, who grew up as one of 10 children, said it was the first time she realized that she wanted to be known by the public. Looking back, the cement defilement was too blatant and thus bad PR, but it triggered something within her.


Years later, she became known as the "Queen of New York Real Estate" as the founder of the Corcoran Group. She established a reputation for her firm in a highly competitive market by writing intensive collections of real estate statistics and analysis called The Corcoran Report. After publishing the first one in 1981, the reports became the go-to guides for brokers, buyers, and journalists in New York real estate, and with Corcoran's name in the title, they began to take notice of her and her company.

"Reporters depend on statistics for stories," she told Inc. earlier this year. "I figured if I could dole them out, I'd always get quoted."

She also developed a penchant for press stunts. She once staged a faux-exorcism of an apartment as well as a dog-training class for residents of one of the apartment buildings she had properties in, inviting reporters to both.

"And then it was me tying my tails onto anything in New York that was of notoriety," she said, framing this tactic as the professional version of scrawling her name across her neighbor's wall.

For example, when Hillary Clinton ran for the New York State Senate in 2000, Corcoran had her company write up a report on all of the Manhattan properties they recommended for Clinton, tailored to preferences regarding the best buildings to catch a helicopter on or that had prime spots for waving to fans.


"Ridiculous stuff," Corcoran said, laughing. "But I got publicity, publicity, publicity. And my big mouth got me the market."

Corcoran has been retired from the real estate business since selling her firm 13 years ago, and has been a full-time investor and media personality since joining the inaugural season of "Shark Tank" in 2009.

She said it doesn't benefit her business to promote herself in the same way it used to, and that's why she passes her marketing skills on to the entrepreneurs she works with. When they succeed, she succeeds.

Her version of the Corcoran Report today is the "Shark Tank" update, a segment in each episode where investors show off how successful one of their investments has become. While the producers decide which ones to film, it's up to the Sharks to pitch them on why their company would make a great segment for a particular episode. "I'm the queen of updates," Corcoran said. "I know how to pitch an update better than anybody!"

Talking about the updates again reminded Corcoran of writing her name across her neighbor's wall as a child. "I wanted to be known," she said. "I was so happy. A long, clean board!"