Why ‘Shark Tank’ Shark Robert Herjavec Says He Had ‘No Idea’ What He Was Doing

Shark Tank launched revolutionary products, but it’s the sharks themselves that have made the show what it is today. One of the founding sharks, Robert Herjavec, has the most interesting backstory. However, even he had moments he felt completely clueless.

Robert Herjavec was ‘a bit of a mess’ before he found success

Robert Herjavec
Robert Herjavec, CEO and Founder Herjavec Group and Leading Shark on ABC’s Shark Tank speaks at HARMAN Technology Forum | Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for HARMAN

It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when any of the sharks weren’t the big-wigs they are today. but it’s somehow reassuring to hear their stories of struggle and even uncertainty on their way to the top.

On a 2017 episode of Shark Tank, Herjavec spoke of his time before fame and success. He was 21-years-old at the time.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was a bit of a mess, partying, hanging out,” he said. “People would say, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ I’d go, ‘Ah, it doesn’t matter.'”

Herjavec took on odd jobs such as waiting tables and delivering newspapers with no deep thought as to what the rest of his life might look like. That all changed with one conversation with his father.

“My dad sits down with me, and he says ‘I went through hell so that you could have the opportunity I never had,'” he said on the show.

Speaking of his father’s immigration from Croatia (formerly Yugoslavia), Herjavec said his father’s anti-Communism became a problem. [His father] had over two dozen visits in jail.

Herjavec was 8 years old when his family fled from persecution. They arrived in Canada with one suitcase and just $20.

“My dad was a factory worker. When we came here, he worked in a factory and swept floors,” Herjavec said during another episode of Shark Tank. “People made fun of him, because he wasn’t American. They called him all kinds of names, and it hurt him deeply.”

Herjavec felt ashamed of their poverty, even as his father walked two miles each way to work every day.

“He was poor, he was rough around the edges and I just didn’t want to be like that,” Herjavec told Inc. “When I was growing up, I was really embarrassed of him.”

It took him a while to understand the sacrifices his father made to give Herjavec opportunities.

“I had this incredible sense of desperation that if I didn’t do something with my life, all the sacrifice wasn’t worth it.”

However, Herjavec’s dreams didn’t immediately come true. He admitted he was just as clueless as a lot of us.

Why Herjavec said he had ‘no idea’ what he was doing

Because his father sacrificed so much, Herjavec felt the pressure. He read their first lease for them (at age 10) and helped them secure a mortgage before he celebrated his 14th birthday.

He claimed the “chip on his shoulder” forced him to “mature really fast” and gave him “an insatiable desire for betterment.” But that doesn’t mean it came easy.

In an interview with Forbes, Herjavec detailed his first real job experience after graduating from the University of Toronto. He covered the XIV Winter Olympics in Sarajevo because the TV station needed a dual linguist who spoke Serbo-Croatian.

As the newest field producer, Herjavec didn’t feel so confident.

“I had no idea what I was doing, but I got the job done,” he said.

That job led the tech giant to believe he’d have a future in the film business. He went so far as to land the job of third assistant director for The Return of Billy Jack but by a twist of fate, he went down an entirely different path instead.

Here’s how Herjavec found success

Around the time of that directorial position, Herjavec’s friend spoke of a tech job he didn’t get. Herjavec took a leap of faith and interviewed. That job selling IBM products at Logiquest planted the seed for his love of technology and business.

Fast forward to his cybersecurity firm, Herjavec Group, and his venture capital investments that put him in the Shark Tank seat.

“People have said ‘How do you work so hard? You only sleep three hours a day!'” he said, alluding to his father’s legacy. “Anything I do in my lifetime will never be as hard as what that man went through.”

Seeing all that Herjavec has become is awe-inspiring. He struggled to find his place, just like the rest of us, and look where he is now.