Neil A. Carousso is the producer of The 880 Weekly Rewind with Lynda Lopez, airing Friday nights at 7 PM on WCBS Newsradio 880. Each week Lynda talks with newsmakers for a deep dive into the top stories of the week and the impact it has on people.
Neil A. Carousso produces and co-hosts WCBS Newsradio 880’s Small Business Spotlight series with Joe Connolly. Click here to watch the weekly video segments featuring advice for business owners on survival, recovery and growth opportunities.

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  • Mr. Wonderful’s 3 Steps for Growing Your Business Again

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — “Shark Tank” investor Kevin O’Leary stressed business owners need to adapt to what he believes are permanent changes to consumer behavior as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    On the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast, presented by The First National Bank of Long Island, the self-made multi-millionaire entrepreneur made several recommendations of digital tools, sharing actionable advice for business recovery with host Joe Connolly. Mr. Wonderful also revealed what some of his companies have found success doing despite the economic turmoil.

    1. MAKE THE “GREAT DIGITAL PIVOT”

    O’Leary divulged that only 36 of the 56 companies he had been invested in across “almost every sector” nationwide are still in business a year into the pandemic.

    “They did the great digital pivot and that involves figuring out how to set up a platform – most of them use Shopify not Amazon, number one – to change their websites to be far more interesting and engaging,” he told Connolly.

    Shopify allows businesses to create their own e-commerce website using the platform whereas Amazon is the consumer-facing website for companies’ online marketplace.

    “They went to 4K photography, 1080p video, they told stories about their products, they had other customers talk about testimonials and how they were using them, so they really engaged people for the first time in ways they’ve never done before because they were forced to – everybody was working remotely,” O’Leary said.

    He also shared the trick to monetizing digital content on the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast. More on that later in Mr. Wonderful’s 3rd step to growing again.

    2. PUT YOUR CUSTOMER FIRST

    O’Leary said the best way to sell is to “promise customer support and deliver on it.”

    He told Connolly his frequent advice to young entrepreneurs is that the customer is always number one, and if you treat them like that, you can have a very profitable business.

    “The differentiating factor in selling is customer service,” O’Leary said, adding, “You can actually sell the same product for a higher price if you’re in the top quartile of customer service for it.”

    The software tycoon invoked Apple as a prime example.

    “When you buy a laptop from them, you’re paying 50 percent more than the exact same machine’s function on a Windows-based product or a brand you may not know, but because Apple makes you pay for customer support and you respect it and you want it, you pay a crazy amount more,” he said.

    3. REDUCE YOUR CUSTOMER ACQUISITION COSTS

    WCBS Business Producer Neil A. Carousso posed the number one question WCBS 880 listeners had for O’Leary, which was “How do you monetize digital content?”

    Mr. Wonderful responded the only metric for monetizing digital content is whether it can reduce customer acquisition costs for one’s product or service.

    “Basically, what you’re trying to do when you make new digital content is to tell a story about your product, show it in its best light, try and get testimonials from other users who are using it and why they use it, and try and acquire customers at the lowest cost you can,” the Shark explained.

    “Remember, long-term outcome is basically customer acquisition costs have to be less than lifetime value of the customer acquired. Otherwise, you go out of business,” O’Leary added.

    He produces a plethora of content for the companies he’s invested in and shows behind-the-scenes of commercial shoots, media appearances, and his daily life on his YouTube channel, which includes afternoon bike rides along Miami Beach, playing the guitar, cooking in his “Chef Wonderful” videos and enjoying O’Leary Fine Wines with his wife Linda.

    A bonus step for growing your business again, O’Leary acknowledges, is a healthy work-life balance.

    “I don’t work 9 to 5, obviously, and I try and find life balance in doing the things I love to do while I’m working,” said Mr. Wonderful. “I work seven days a week, but I don’t work every hour.”

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  • WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast: ‘Shark Tank’ Star Kevin O’Leary Boasts of ‘Digital 2.0 America’ in Growing Out of Pandemic

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Kevin O’Leary, the self-made entrepreneur turned TV “Shark,” brought his straight-shooting, no-frills flare to the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast with Joe Connolly, presented by The First National Bank of Long Island, in sharing how to grow one’s business again.

    O’Leary, who was nicknamed “Mr. Wonderful” by co-star Barbara Corcoran in season one of ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank,” praised business owners for their grit and resilience during the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic that has levied a burden on the economy over the past year and shut down major industries, namely restaurants and hospitality companies.

    “The great thing about the American entrepreneur is they don’t let failure stop them,” he said. “The majority of them try again and learn from their mistakes.”

    O’Leary emphasized a changed economy, telling Connolly owners must pursue a digital “transformation” to survive the pandemic.

    “You’ve got to realize that you have to do a digital pivot,” he explained.

    Mr. Wonderful said only 36 of the 56 companies he had been invested in are still in business a year into the pandemic, noting many of his still-standing “Shark Tank’ companies shifted to using Shopify for their e-commerce platform and incorporated high-quality photography and video to connect and find new customers.

    “They really engaged people for the first time in ways they’ve never done before because they were forced to – everybody was working remotely,” said O’Leary.

    “Retail is really challenged because if you’re just (in a) 1,200 square-foot space in a mall and the traffic’s dropped 20 percent, I don’t think that’s going to work out for anybody because consumer preferences have dramatically changed in the last year towards online retail,” he noted.

    He suggested direct-to-consumer sales will help businesses to cut and manage costs, grow their gross margins, and build for the future.

    O’Leary does not anticipate remote work habits will be broken. He’s actually betting on it to stay by shrinking his real estate portfolio from 31 percent to 8 percent over the next three years while the market adjusts to the post-pandemic economy.

    “I haven’t had a cold or been sick since March 7th of last year and I’m starting to like it,” he said, adding, “I don’t think I’m getting in an elevator in New York going up to the 78th floor with 60 people ever again – not in December. I’m not going into a packed restaurant. That may just be me; I’m a germaphobe, but I’ve talked to lots of other people that have the same concerns.”

    Kathy Wylde, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for New York City, cited the “burnout” some employees feel by working from home where many feel they are always at work. She believes employers and employees want to return when it’s safe to do so. Mr. Wonderful disagrees with her assessment.

    Photo Credit: ABC.

    “They have no interest in coming back to headquarters – not now, not ever,” O’Leary said of his workers. “In fact, if you try and force them, they’re going to find a job somewhere else where they get that flexibility.”

    The O’Leary Financial Group founder told the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast that he hears most of his 10,000 employees enjoy working from home to take care of children and elderly parents while avoiding rough commutes in major metropolitan cities like New York.

    Employers in professional services find productivity is up and they have a widened talent pool across the country and world.

    The “Shark Tank” investor said he has made informed business decisions by listening to others he encounters while working remotely, himself, from his Miami Beach dream house where he joined Connolly virtually from his home studio.

    One example of this is when he struck up a conversation with the nurse who administered his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine recently. She explained that at 24 years old she was uncomfortable with the lack of data around the vaccine and fertility.

    “I had obviously heard of anti-vaxxers before, but I always thought they were the lunatic fringe – the 10 percent that thought the government was injecting them with a chip or something,” O’Leary said.

    “I’m under the impression now, or at least in terms of my investment philosophy, that we’re going to get to a place pretty soon in the next 6 weeks, maybe 8 weeks, where we will have vaccinated two-thirds of the country and we’re going to hit a brick wall. The other third isn’t going to take it,” he believes, thus he’s downsizing his physical footprint, beefing investment in the digital space, and encouraging restaurateurs to re-think their indoor and outdoor dining areas while improving their digital ordering systems for takeout and delivery.

    O’Leary sold his first business, renamed The Learning Company from SoftKey Software Products, to Mattel for $4.2 billion in 1999. Now, he owns O’Leary Financial Group, which is a conglomerate of brands that includes investment firm O’Leary Funds. He also serves as chairman of O’Shares ETFs. Kevin, a self-proclaimed wine connoisseur, owns O’Leary Fine Wines. Mr. Wonderful is also heavily invested in financial literacy firm Beanstox, Inc., which is geared towards young people in their 20s and 30s who are more interested in business and investing because of the pandemic.

    “Basically, we’ve made it so simple that you try and take 100 dollars a week and put it into the markets through indexing,” he told Connolly of Beanstox. “It’s a tool to help people solve a big problem in America: 100 million Americans do not have anything set aside for their retirement.”

    Mr. Wonderful knows how to have fun, too. He shows his lighter side to his 401,000 YouTube subscribers. His hobbies include biking, cooking and playing the guitar.

    “I don’t work 9 to 5, obviously, and I try and find life balance in doing the things I love to do while I’m working,” O’Leary said in response to a question from WCBS Business Producer Neil A. Carousso, adding, “I work seven days a week, but I don’t work every hour.”

    You can see Kevin O’Leary’s routine, his business philosophy, and actionable advice for growing your business again despite the pandemic on the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast with Joe Connolly, presented by The First National Bank of Long Island. Watch the full program above.

    About Kevin O’Leary:

    Photo Credit: ABC

    Kevin O’Leary’s success story starts where most entrepreneurs begin: with a big idea and zero cash.

    Kevin O’Leary was born to a middle class family in 1954. The combination of Kevin’s mother’s family heritage as merchants and his father’s Irish charisma truly meant that O’Leary was born for business. Kevin learned most of his business intuition from his mother. She taught him key business and financial insights from an early age. These became Kevin’s core philosophies, and the pillars upon which he would one day build his empire.

    Kevin’s approach to business went through major changes as a teenager. During his second day on the job at a local ice cream shop, his boss came into the front of the store where Kevin was scooping ice cream. She looked at Kevin and asked him to scrape all the gum between the Mexican tiles on the floor. Kevin refused and he was fired. That was the moment he realized he never wanted to work for someone else again and charted his path into entrepreneurship as a high school student.

    As a university student, Kevin’s innate business sense led him along several different paths – including some very unusual, very entrepreneurial ways of making a profit.

    Not long after he finished his MBA, Kevin had a meeting that changed his life forever.
    He met a man who had a strange idea for a software product – an idea with huge, high-profit potential that Kevin immediately recognized.

    After years of ups, downs, sacrifices, challenges, and lessons learned — not to mention a critical phone call that nearly cost him everything — the opportunity that Kevin saw eventually turned into a computer software giant that was acquired for more than $4 billion dollars.

    After his extraordinary success at the software company, he founded – and a difficult period of obstacles and legal disputes – Kevin eventually found himself on television, quickly becoming a sought-after host and personality on a range of shows – including Discovery’s Project Earth, CBC’s Dragons’ Den, and ABC’s Shark Tank.

    Kevin has since launched O’Leary Funds, an investment fund company; O’Leary Fine Wines; and a best-selling book series on financial literacy.

    In 2014, Kevin founded O’Leary Financial Group – a group of brands and services that share Kevin’s guiding principles of honesty, directness, convenience, and above all, great value.

    His net worth is estimated at $400 million.

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  • ‘Doing Our Part:’ Inspiring Organizations With Inspiring Stories

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    Executive Produced and Edited by Neil A. Carousso

    Investors Bank is proud to present “Doing Our Part,” an important series of interviews created to spotlight New York and New Jersey organizations working for the well-being of the communities they serve.

    Whether providing food for those in need, helping struggling businesses or offering programs for local youth, these organizations play a critical role. The Investors Foundation recognizes their impact and supports them in their efforts. Watch and listen to the interviews below to learn how these inspiring organizations are doing their part.

    For the past 15 years, the Investors Foundation has helped support local civic-minded organizations and initiatives with contributions of more than $40 million. Learn about the Investors Foundation and its activities, including how it may be able to help your organization.

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  • Small Business Spotlight: Retired Giant Tiki Barber Extends His run with Key Business Pivots

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Retired running back Tiki Barker is elusive and quick on the gridiron and in the boardroom.

    Barber played ten seasons in the NFL with the New York Football Giants. Since retiring, he has followed his passion for business in which he earned his degree from the University of Virginia.

    “What I learned, obviously from my football career but also my early business career, is that relationships are invaluable,” he told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight.

    When the market crashed in 2008, the three-time Pro Bowler had to get out of an affordable housing partnership he entered with billionaire real estate developer Stephen Ross after he retired from the league in 2006. But, the relationship he formed and maintained with The Related Companies chairman and Miami Dolphins owner led to an opportunity years down the road when Ross invested in Thuzio – the events company Barber co-founded in 2012.

    “How you manage those relationships are of paramount importance for things down stream,” Barber explained.

    He finds it liberating to find new ways of doing business. That realization came when Thuzio was forced to make a halftime adjustment amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    It moved online and hosted private virtual business talks with celebrity speakers, including “Shark Tank” star and FUBU founder Daymond John, retired New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott and executive chef Josh Capon. Barber and his partners later changed the business model to make all virtual events free because their presenting sponsors were willing to pay a premium for more viewers.

    “More importantly, you want qualified eyes,” he said, adding, “You want to know who your audience is.”

    The “Tiki & Tierney” co-host told WCBS 880 they create events for their sponsors to target specific business executives and groups who are likely potential clients. For example, sports betting operator DraftKings sponsored a Thuzio virtual talk with Barber and retired New York Mets captain David Wright.

    “We have this aggregation of business executives who you specifically want to talk to and we’re bringing them together over a shared passion for sports or food or wine or business information,” Barber said of Thuzio’s appeal to sponsors.

    The company hosts about 35 virtual events a month, which he said would be near impossible for them to pull off in-person. Thuzio grew from eight employees to 15 in the pandemic amid rising demand for content.

    Barber’s business mindset has been shaped by his mentors and experiences in the NFL. The Giants great told Connolly and Carousso he was inspired by Jon Gruden’s motivational tactics. Gruden was the head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where his twin brother Ronde Barber played cornerback and won a Super Bowl in 2002.

    “We all have things that disrupt our lives,” Tiki said, noting the hardships suffered in the pandemic. “Sometimes, you have to get up and fight for yourself and fight forward for your country and as an individual. And, that’s essentially what (Gruden) was saying.”

    Barber tries to portray positivity and enthusiasm among his employees, because, as Barber recalled Gruden’s message, “It’s not just for you, it’s for people who are around you.”

    Football is a team sport and the ex-Giant used it as an analogy in business throughout the Small Business Spotlight conversation. Giving the play-by-play of his Giants team record 95-yard touchdown run against the Oakland Raiders on December 31, 2005, he emphasized the blocking by his teammates that catapulted him into the end zone that Saturday night.

    “Understanding that it takes everyone even those who don’t show up on the big screen in order to be successful” is the mantra that guides Barber’s post-football career.

    Watch Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso’s conversation with Tiki Barber on the Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • ‘I’m a little bit biased:’ Tiki Barber playing favorites for Super Bowl LV

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    By Neil A. Carousso and Joe Connolly

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Tiki Barber, who played ten seasons for the New York Football Giants, is playing favorites ahead of the big game.

    The three-time Pro Bowl running back opened up to WCBS 880’s Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso after recording a Small Business Spotlight interview about his events company Thuzio, which is set to publish on Wednesday.

    “I’m a little bit biased,” Barber admitted, revealing, “Bruce Arians, who is the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was roommates with my father at Virginia Tech and so I’ve known him since I was born, basically.”

    The “Tiki and Tierney” co-host on CBS Sports Radio and CBS Sports Network said he grew up with Arians who started as a quarterback for the Hokies and won two Super Bowls as the wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005 and 2008.

    “The thing that I look for, that I’m looking for, is how these two teams are coached and how are they prepared to take on these extraordinarily amazing challenges in competition.”

    Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid coached against Barber’s Giants as the long-time leader of their NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles. Reid won his first Super Bowl as a head coach last year when the Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20.

    “We have two amazing stories at the head coaching position whether it’s Bruce’s long journey or Andy Reid who is now in the top four, five of all time because of how successful he’s been,” Barber said. “I think that story besides all the great ones with the players that’s the one that I look to and it gives me the most interest mainly because I have a personal connection.”

    Barber has another connection to this year’s Super Bowl: His twin brother, Ronde, was the star cornerback for the 2002 Bucs championship team. That was Tampa Bay’s only Super Bowl appearance until this season.

    “That was the last time they won a playoff game was back in 2002 as crazy as that sounds,” said Barber.

    While the 2002 Buccaneers were known for their impermeable defense, the 2020 Bucs are riding on their high-flying offense orchestrated by their 43 year old quarterback, Tom Brady, who has won six Super Bowl titles in his nine appearances in the big game as a member of the New England Patriots.

    Brady’s first of three Super Bowl losses came at the hands of Eli Manning and the Giants – one-year after Barber retired, which he humorously brought up with Connolly and Carousso.

    “Tom Brady’s two years younger than me. I’m retired for 14 years; he’s still playing,” Barber said, laughing. “It’s unreal how successful he’s been.”

    In fact, this week, when Brady was asked if he’d be up for playing past age 45 he said, “I would definitely consider that.”

    Tiki told WCBS 880 he never thought any team was just “one player away,” noting the team sport. “That’s never true until this year.”

    Watch Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso’s conversation with Tiki Barber about Super Bowl LV above.

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