“Tact,” said the former British prime minister, Winston Churchill, “is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”
In which case Mark Cuban is something of a smiling assassin on TV’s Shark Tank - striking equal measures of both terror and adulation in entrepreneurs seeking his investment on the show (relegating Kevin O’Leary incidentally to undertaker.)
To attempt to categorize Cuban would be an exercise in futility. One – because he’s one of a kind: multifaceted, unconventional and quite possibly one of the most accessible and relatable billionaires in the world.
Two – because he is Mark Cuban. The owner of the Dallas Mavericks who, by all accounts doesn’t march to any beat, apart from his own.
It comes then as no surprise that Cuban’s latest start-up, the messaging app Cyber Dust, is designed to give him (and all its users) complete control over one major chunk of daily communication: texting.
“I don’t want one of my texts taking on a life of its own and I find myself in a lawsuit because someone forwards or posts one of my texts,” he explains.
Described as “WhatsApp meets Snapchat,” texts sent via Cyber Dust automatically disappear 24 seconds after being read. Importantly, these messages cannot be traced and are not stored anywhere – not even on Cyber Dust’s servers – assuring all users a high level of privacy and security.
In fact, it was Cuban’s own legal woes that motivated him to create the app.
“For me, it was watching the SEC taking every digital message I gave them and apply whatever context it wanted to apply. No matter what the truth was. Then I saw the success of Snapchat and realized that I wasn’t the only one who had a need to reduce my digital footprint. Cyber Dust isn’t designed to fight off the NSA or some nefarious intruder. Cyber Dust is designed to replace texting for anyone who realizes that you lose control of every text you send. [It’s also realizing] That the phone companies and your text recipients own your texts and even the most innocent text can take on a whole new context. I wanted to have a means of communication that is analogous to face to face – where you can speak openly and honestly. That is why we created Cyber Dust.”
Disappearing text apps, however, are not new to the app world, but Cuban plans to take Cyber Dust to the next level by introducing further functionalities that would enable users to erase their entire digital footprint over time.
“I’ve realized how much people fear that their digital footprint is creating a digital profile of all us. Your Facebook page. Your tweets. Your Pinterest, Tumbler, Instagram pages. Your Spotify and Pandora playlists… All of these are being aggregated and evaluated to tell marketers what you like, don’t like, buy, won’t buy, your political affiliations. Five plus years of all this data tells the world who you are – whether you wanted to or not.”
In a world in which reputations are increasingly built and brought down on the web, the potential for Cyber Dust to help protect anyone with an online presence is, therefore, limitless.
On a base level, as a parent, the issue of privacy is one that hits close to home for Cuban.
“This is applicable to my kids. I don’t want an innocent text my daughter sends to a boy taking on a life of its own and living on forever online because some kid decides to add a story and posts her text.”
Cuban himself was just a kid when he started his first company at age 12 – buying and selling stamps to pay for college, followed by a series of entrepreneurial ventures that included opening a bar on campus (Indiana University) before he was 21. It was eventually his start-up Broadcast.com that catapulted him into the major leagues when it was acquired by Yahoo for $5.9 billion in 1999.
But, his journey to success was not without challenges – he recalls tough times when he could only afford to live on ketchup sandwiches. “And,” he shares with me, “I also ate a lot of ‘happy hour’ food. Who ever had free ‘happy hour’ munchies or better, where I could buy one drink and get dinner for free, I was there – with my friends. I ate a lot of fried mushrooms and worse and gained 25 pounds. That was the worst part of it.”
While the lean times taught Cuban how to stretch a dollar, it offered a far more valuable lesson to the man who would one day be counted as amongst the wealthiest in America. “I used to come home to lights being turned off. I had to stand in line at the utility company and figure out how I was going to get enough money to cover the check I was about to write to get the lights back on. I wouldn’t answer my phone because of bill collectors. I learned that money reduces or takes away that stress but that money didn’t drive my happiness: I was still having fun and enjoying life.”
Indeed, while he did realize fairly early on that money didn’t drive his happiness, I had to ask him what it felt like the moment he realized he was a billionaire.
“It was amazing. After the big smile and a big yell, I got motivated to make sure I could stay there. Too many people back then smelled that level but couldn’t keep it. I was determined to stay there.”
These days Cuban still keeps himself motivated by reading business books. “I get goose bumps and they always get me so fired up I have to be careful not to read too many.”
And the best advice he’s ever received? “It was from my dad. That today is the youngest you ever will be. Live like it.”
With Cuban’s Cyber Dust, I guess you can. With some tact, of course.
Share your thoughts on the future of texting. Hit us up on Twitter @maseenaziegler and @mcuban #cyberdust
Takeaway: Want to read some of the books that inspired Mark Cuban the most? Here’s the full list.
This article first appeared in Forbes magazine: Mark Cuban Wants To Take Over Texting