Kevin Harrington has been a successful entrepreneur for over 40 years. He’s an original “Shark” on the Emmy-winning TV show, Shark Tank. He is also the Inventor of the Infomercial, As Seen On TV Pioneer, Co-Founder of the Electronic Retailers Association (ERA) and Co-Founding board member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO).
Kevin got his start as a young entrepreneur in the early 80s when he invested $25,000 and launched Quantum International. This turned into a $500 million/year business on the New York Stock Exchange and drove the stock price from $1 to $20 per share. After selling his interest in Quantum International, he formed a joint venture with the Home Shopping Network, called HSN Direct, which grew to hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. Entrepreneur Magazine has called him one of the top Entrepreneurs of our time.
Listen to this informative Publish Promote Profit episode with Kevin Harrington about writing the book that landed him on Shark Tank.
Here are some of the beneficial topics covered on this week’s show:
How creating books and podcasts makes businesspeople more visible.
Why it’s important for mentees to turn around and pay it forward.
How entrepreneurs must find a great mentor and be their best student.
Why entrepreneurs must become key people of influence.
Connect with Kevin:
Guest Contact Info:
Hello to you dear reader, Rob Kosberg here . I’m privileged to be interviewing a great man that probably needs no introduction, but I’m going to give him one anyway.
He’s a good friend of mine, Mr. Kevin Harrington. Kevin is the original shark from the hit TV show Shark Tank, inventor of the infomercial. And that is a really cool story. He’s the man behind billions of dollars in product sales, from well-known products like the George Foreman Grill, Tony Little Fitness, et cetera. He’s taken 20 companies to over a hundred million dollars in revenue, holy cow! Of course, he’s also a multiple bestselling author with a new book out that maybe we’ll get a chance to talk a little bit about. And he just happens to be one of the good guys in business. Kevin, honored to have you here, my friend.
Hey, That was a great introduction, Rob. I’d like to use you for all my introductions.
Absolutely. I am available.
Thank you, buddy. Good to be here.
Thanks. I mean, you really are one of the good guys. We’ve known each other for a few years now. Always enjoy talking to you, always enjoy spending time with you. You’re incredibly generous with your time. You’re generous with your knowledge. You love entrepreneurship. Maybe we could start with a little bit of the history of all this because it’s crazy.
I love it. I love the story behind it. So maybe give us a little backstory in how you became the Kevin Harrington of today.
Okay. Super! So I’m going to go all the way back to the beginning. I’m one of six kids, and my father was a bartender. And he said to me one day, “Hey, I’m not going to be a bartender all my life because I’ve saved up enough money to open up Harrington’s Irish Pub.” So at 11, I was working inside his first bar. And he ended up becoming a restaurateur. But he would teach me different things, not just, “Go wash the dishes, Kevin.” It was like, “Let me show you where the income flows are coming in, the food side and the liquor side and all the different workings of the business.” And finally, when I turned 15, he said, “Time for you to start your own business.” So I started a driveway sealing business in high school. And then when I got to college, of course, he was saying, “You’re the fourth child of our family, and I’m not paying for your college, so you need a business to pay for it.”
So here I was, 18 years old. I needed a full-time business. I had to pay for my education, school, books, apartment, insurances, car, and everything! And so I started a heating and air conditioning business. But very entrepreneurial. And here I am watching television, cable TV, and this new channel Discovery Channel, all of a sudden went dark. There were six hours of darkness. And I called the cable company, and I said, “I ordered cable to get television, not darkness. What’s the problem?”
He said, “Oh, Discovery is only an 18 hour a day channel. It’s brand new. They don’t have a budget for 24 hours a day.” So I said, “Well, what are you going to put in the other six hours?” They said, “We’re putting nothing in those six hours. We’re just going to put some bars up across the television.” So that’s when the light bulb went off. And I said, “I’m going to fill that time.” I was fortunate. I ran into a guy at the Philadelphia Home Show who’s cutting through a Coca-Cola can with a knife, the Ginsu.
And what a pitch. I cut a deal with him to put him on TV. And his was name was Arnold Morris.
We started in the kitchen categories and we were doing knives and then woks and then mixers and then juicers with Jack LaLanne. And then, of course, Arnold said, “Kevin, would you like to meet some of my friends?” And said, “What do you mean?”
He says, “Well, I’ve got a friend, Billy Mays, and he’s a pretty good pitchman.” So we started down the path with Billy Mays and John Parkin and Sandy Mason and Wally Nash, doing dozens and dozens and all of a sudden hundreds of infomercials filling the airway. But we also took them internationally, went to London, we went to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, San Paulo, Brazil, Tokyo.
Soon, we were in a hundred countries. We had a public company on the New York Stock Exchange doing 500 million a year in sales. And it was just a really powerful entrepreneurial experience for me, such that I ended up getting this phone call from Mark Burnett eventually. But there’s a little story about why that call came in, and I can tell you about that. But I wanted to finish sort of my history, though. So that’s how I came to be. Today, I still do some of the same things, but a little less product-oriented and a little more on the mentoring, consulting, sitting on boards side of the business now.
Well, I definitely want to talk about that, but let’s fill in the gap. Because you were the man.
I mean, anybody my age knows all of these things. We know the Ginsu knife, we know Tony Little Fitness. We know the George Foreman Grill. We know the hundreds of millions, billions of dollars in sales, but not a lot of people knew Kevin Harrington, right?
You were the man behind the scenes. So talk about how all of that. What happened and transpired that led to Shark Tank and then the current project – your book?
Yeah. So it was crazy. You mentioned Tony Little. We’d go to the fitness show.
I had put tens of millions of dollars invested of my money into Tony Little to build his brand, to create the Ab Isolator, the Target Training, the Gazelle. We’re doing huge business. We both walk into the show. Who does everybody go to? Tony Little. They didn’t know who I was. We’re walking down the aisle, and Tony was embarrassed. He said, “Kevin, I’m sorry.” And he would bring people over and say, “But this is the guy that actually did this for me.” Because people were all over Tony. And so I’m saying to myself, hey, look, I’m making money. I’m okay with this. But at the end of the day, Tony was getting all the new deals.
So I had a chance to go visit Richard Branson down on Necker Island, hanging out with Richard. I said, “Richard, I’m here to get some great advice.” Yeah, we’ll have some fun and it’s going to be Necker Island. We’re going to do some cool stuff.” But Richie said, “Kevin,” he says, “I’ve been studying what you’re doing. I’ve been watching those infomercials. You’ve got the Tony Little guy. You built his brand. Billy Mays, you built his brand. But nobody knows who you are.” And that’s when I hit him square in the face. I said, “You are right.”
He said, “Think about me, the entrepreneur, Richard Branson.” He’s all over the press and out flying in hot air balloons and stuff. And he’s like, “You have to get out, Kevin. You have got to create content. You should be writing books, podcasts, doing things like we’re doing right now, collaborating.”
So anyway, to make a long story short, these are the unbelievable things that came out of that meeting. I came out of that show. I went right back home, and I started putting content out. And the first thing I did, I wrote the book Act Now!: How I Turn Ideas into Million-Dollar Products.
To promote the book, I was doing all kinds of radio talk shows. I started on 5, and then I was on 25. And I’d give away a free chapter, built digital funnels, and creating a big database. I was on 125 radio talk shows, some of the biggest and best in the country. Little did I know, as I’m creating all this content for the book and for my business and the radio led to articles and newspapers and magazines, and I got on some TV shows. And there I am on the Donny Deutsch and The View and the this and the that.
Well, who’s watching? Mark Burnett. And that’s when the call came in.
Mark said, “Kevin, I’m doing this new show called Shark Tank. I don’t know if you’re going to be right for it, but I have to meet you because I see you everywhere on the internet.” And so flew to LA, shook hands, did a little video with him. And boom, they called me back and said, “You’re going to be an original shark.” So it’s a great story. But if I had not written the book, I can sit here and tell you, Rob, you and I wouldn’t be on this call right now, and I wouldn’t have ever been on Shark Tank.
So it’s a pretty cool story.
Amazing. Just amazing. There’s a couple of things in that story that I love. One is, here you are. You’re behind billions of dollars in sales, and you’re very wealthy. You live this amazing life, and you’re getting advice and mentorship from somebody. Talk about that for just a minute. Obviously, Richard Branson’s a billionaire and very well known. But now you’re in the mentoring space yourself and mentoring entrepreneurs and helping them grow their business. Talk a few moments about your own mentorship journey, both on the receiving and the giving end. Why is that important to you?
I was on the receiving end for many years, my father, and when I was raising capital, I found an ex-bank president that came in and showed me how to go get a line of credit at the bank. And without it, we wouldn’t have grown the business. So I’ve had amazing mentors. When you are a mentee, it’s important for you to turn around and pay it forward. You should be a mentor for others also. And of course, as my business has succeeded, and I had a lot of fun building businesses, a lot of people would come to me asking for advice. And of course, being a shark on Shark Tank, people are going to come to you.
I look at my life in three sections. The first 30 years of my life I spent trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And it was towards the end of my 20s that I discovered this infomercial world. And then I spent the next 30 years building these businesses, building 20 companies, go over a hundred million billions of dollars in sales, and making it happen. And now I’m in the last 30 years. Hey, I may live past 90. My father was 93. So I say the next 30-plus years, I’ll say, of my life, I want to spend helping entrepreneurs and mentoring folks that need help. Because I’ve been gifted and had an amazing life and had some great successes. Hey, I’ve had quite a few failures also. We can talk about that someday too. But the bottom line is, is that I enjoy meeting people because when I see something, I’m running through the airport, and someone says, “Hey, Kevin, I saw you on Shark Tank. Give me one tip before you jump on that plane.” I love to do that. In fact, I’ll grab a phone number and say, “Hey, here’s one tip, and I’ll give you a couple more on the phone next week.” So I just love mentoring, helping, coaching, being part of the future of some of the ventures that folks are starting. I believe as an entrepreneur who’s been mentored, it’s my duty to be a mentor also. And I think this applies to everybody.
Yeah. I love that. Maybe that’s a good segue into your newest book, because it is about coaching, mentoring. Talk to me about your book, what you hope to see happen with it, what you’re growing with that book, that sort of thing.
Yeah. It’s called Mentor to Millions, and Mark Timm and I are co-authors. Mark is a great man. He and I were both mentored by Zig Ziglar. And that’s another mentor that I had in my own mindset shift and sales training. Zig wrote the book Secrets of Closing the Sale. So Mark and I got together, and this is a journey we shared. I mentored Mark through the journey of Mentor to Millions, and there’s a magical transformation. And the book is about mentoring. It’s about finding a great mentor and how to be the mentor’s best student. Because just finding a mentor, that’s step one. If you’re not a good student, that mentor may not want to be your mentor anymore. Like Zig Ziglar, here’s a guy. When he was alive was one of the busiest guys in the world. I think he was on the road 300 days a year! It’s not easy getting great mentors, so you need to be a good student in the process.
I think that the timing of Mentor to Millions was pretty good because coming off of COVID, here we’ve had this terrible thing that’s changed the world forever. And now that we now have a year under our belt, it looks like things are loosening up. I just got my first vaccine shot the other day. So I think we’re going to be in for some better times, but certainly, the last year has been very challenging, and this was a time that people needed to reach out to their mentors. They needed to collaborate with people. They needed help. And so the last year has been very powerful for myself and Mark Timm, helping folks as they’ve been reaching out to us because of our book, Mentor to Millions.
What are your coaching programs all about? What are the programs that you offer to entrepreneurs? What does that look like in general? Is that with you and Mark? Do you have your own things as well that you’re doing?
Yes. So we actually have various programs that we work with entrepreneurs on. One of the courses that we have, it’s called How to Become a Key Person of Influence. And when you become a key person of influence, this is kind of what happened to me when I met Richard Branson. I was an infomercial guy, but I wasn’t a key person of influence. What I had to do was the steps that were necessary to raise my profile, become branded in a way, productize myself by coming out with coaching programs, and so this becoming a key person of influence is a seven-step process. And writing books and raising your profile is one of those steps, and it’s a powerful step, and it’s the step that changed my life. But there are also other steps.
So How to Become a Key Person of Influence is one of our programs. We also have a program on raising capital. Because I mentioned one of my mentors back in the late ’80s, and I’m going back, what, 30-plus years ago, he came in. And I had been turned down by five banks. And he said, “I’m going to show you how to get $3 million from one of the banks that turned you down.” And I said, “That would blow me away!” And he did it in 90 days. And then I brought him on. He said, “That’s not going to cost you a dime. I’m going to mentor you, and I’m going to teach you, and you’re going to have that gift for the rest of your life. Because once you learn how to raise capital, you’re going to raise it forever.”
I’ve raised over $500 million in capital now for my own ventures and other ventures. And it all started back in the late ’80s when I had a mentor that taught me how to do it. So we have courses on raising capital, becoming a key person of influence. We also have a digital marketing course, building funnels and things like that. So it’s all really very powerful entrepreneurial startup stuff, as well as scaling and rolling out things.
Love it. Kevin, that’s probably a good segue. Where’s the best place for people to get more information about these various programs, more information about you, and maybe how to connect with you? I know you speak all over the world, although obviously, COVID has put a bit of a wrinkle in that, but I know you do a lot of your stuff online. So best place for people to find info about you?
I have a great website, kevinharrington.tv, and we’ve got all kinds of great little downloads for free and things like that there. Yeah, and we can actually give you some great advice. There’s a link you can click to get an appointment with one of our people and things like that. So yeah, kevinharrington.tv. And Rob, look forward to seeing you soon. I know we’ve been talking about a little golf there. I may need some mentoring now, okay?
Well, I can’t wait to do that. I know we’re not exactly neighbors, but we’re at least in the same state now.
We’ll be out shortly. Good talking with you today. Thanks, buddy.
Thank you, Kevin.