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Barbara Corcoran Reveals Her Pick for Celebrity Guest on Shark Tank and What Deal She Regrets Letting Go


Shark Tank has welcomed guest sharks like Bethenny Frankel, Gwyneth Paltrow and Alex Rodriguez over the years, but Barbara Corcoran has an idea of someone she’d like to step into the tank, too: Whoopi Goldberg.

“I’ve been pushing for her,” Corcoran, 74, tells PEOPLE while promoting her partnership with Jefferson’s Bourbon and the Marian McLain Entrepreneurial Fund. “I said, ‘I’ll give her the money.’ My producer said, ‘No, you can’t lend money to a shark.’ I said, ‘But she’d be fabulous!'”

After 14 seasons on Shark Tank, Corcoran admits she regrets some deals she didn’t make.

“For example, Lori, with that stupid business with the sponge with the happy face,” says Corcoran, referring to Lori Greiner‘s Scrub Daddy deal from season 4. “When she bought that business, I really didn’t mind it. I didn’t get it.”

Tony Rivetti via Getty; Monica Schipper/Getty

“I went, ‘Who would want a smiley face in the kitchen in bright yellow?’ But then I went to my sister’s house a month later and she had those sponges all over the house, I hated Lori,” she jokingly adds.

The same thing happened with Greiner’s Readerest magnetic eyeglasses deal.

“My uncle must have been 90 at the time, maybe even older. He called me all excited — he never calls me — [saying] ‘I got the craziest thing on Shark Tank,'” Corcoran recalls. “And it was her stupid glasses. I again hated Lori.”

Sara De Boer/

When it comes to who she invests in, the real estate mogul says that it’s about the person rather than their business.

“Surprisingly, it’s not the idea,” she explains. “I’ve seen many entrepreneurs with genius ideas, but they don’t know how to get to second base. I’m really looking for someone who has people talent, knows how to hustle, has ambition. You’re going to have to have that ambition to get through the obstacles of building a business.”

But, Corcoran knows firsthand that not every business idea pans out.

“I had a flower business in college that went bankrupt, and I tried like crazy ’cause I love flowers,” the Dancing with the Stars alum says. “But now I know it’s my hobby, not my business. It takes in a way more bravery to admit failure.”

Jefferson’s founder Trey Zoeller can relate, telling PEOPLE how he needed to launch side gigs to keep his bourbon business alive. “We couldn’t give bourbon away in the beginning for the first 10 years,” he says. “I started up other businesses, but I always kept this going because I had passion. I think you learn more from your failures than your successes.”

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Though she’s successful nowadays, it wasn’t always an easy journey to the top for Corcoran. She credits her mom with motivating her as a child growing up with dyslexia.

“I couldn’t read or write until I was in seventh grade,” she shares. “My mother told me all the time, ‘You’re a genius. You have a wonderful imagination. Don’t worry about reading.’ Most people wouldn’t agree with that, but she didn’t have time. She had 10 kids.”

The businesswoman notes how “the scars of being a dumb kid” motivated her.

“It drove me so hard to prove I wasn’t stupid,” she explains. “To have a mother constantly telling you you’re a genius, and she looked at me in a way with her eyes that I believed her, she gave me the power to think I was.”

Today, Corcoran wants to be that cheerleader for startup founders, who she believes face a tougher market than they did five years ago. Hence why she wants to grant one lucky founder $20,000 through the Marian McLain Entrepreneurial Fund, named after Zoeller’s eighth-generation grandmother who got arrested for moonshining and bootlegging in 1799. The fund will also award five $1,000 grants.

“The largest challenge is always the startup cash,” Corcoran says. “We’re going to give people just to give a little kick in the butt and help them with their businesses that they’ve just started. It’s nice to have the money and get going.”

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