Entrepreneurs

What self-made millionaire Bethenny Frankel learned about hustle growing up at the racetrack

Reality TV star and entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel is a hustler in the best way.

The star pivoted her success on Bravo's "Real Housewives of New York City" into an empire: In 2011 she sold the brand she founded, Skinnygirl Cocktails, for a reported $100 million; she was a guest investor on season 9 of ABC'S "Shark Tank;" and now she's flipping multimillion-dollar homes on her new Bravo show, "Bethenny & Fredrick," with "Million Dollar Listing New York's" Fredrik Eklund.

When it comes to getting business done, Frankel does not fool around.

So where did fast-talking Frankel get her determined spirit? It's the way she grew up, she says.

"I mean, I grew up at the racetrack, which is hustlers and gamblers and the betting windows and odds," Frankel tells CNBC Make It.

"I would have to say that the racetrack has definitely played a part in who I am as a business person."

Bethenny Frankel and a friend at the track
Courtesy of Bethenny Frankel
Bethenny Frankel and a friend at the track

Frankel was raised around horse racetracks in upstate New York, Long Island and Queens, according to The New Yorker. Her late, estranged father Bobby Frankel was "one of the most successful America thoroughbred trainers of the last 40 years," according to the New York Times, and her mother re-married another horse trainer when Frankel was young.

"It's a straight hustle all the time, every day," Frankel says of the track. "You're listening to jockey agents and horse trainers and grooms taking care of horses talk about the odds and competitive spirit....

"Life is a horse race, so I grew up at the races."

A young Bethenny Frankel at the racetrack
Photo courtesy of Bethenny Frankel
A young Bethenny Frankel at the racetrack

It may not have been an easy or typical childhood — Frankel says her background was also "fight or flight survival and abusive." But the experiences gave her grit, which came in handy early on. In her 20s she tried acting, but that didn't pan out. She started several businesses — including a healthy cookie company — but they went belly-up.

"I took a bartending class. I worked as a hostess. I worked in event production. I was importing pashminas," Frankel says. "I was just hustling, I needed to make money."

But life around the racetrack also taught her about success.

"The only thing that matters is winning in horse racing," she tells CNBC Make It. "Coming in second, nobody cares about. Nobody remembers who came in second in the Kentucky Derby. Ever."

Indeed, Frankel likes to finish first. In 2016, Forbes named her one of the highest paid reality TV stars in the U.S., she's written several best-selling books and she is the only star on Bravo's "Real Housewives of New York City" to land her own spin-offs.

And Frankel says comfort with a high-stakes environment was especially important when it came to breaking into the booze industry with Skinnygirl, which she called the "most competitive business ever," adding that it's "run by men."

That's not to say Frankel thinks she's had a rougher go of it because she's a woman.

"I do not think the female entrepreneurs have a harder time being taken seriously. I really don't. I have never felt that way," Frankel says.

"I have never thought of myself as a woman versus a man in business. So I have been all about 'MeToo' for decades now," Frankel says, referring to the solidarity movement and social media hashtag that many are using to share stories of sexism, harassment and worse.

"I'm a businessperson," Frankel tells CNBC Make It. "I'm a strong businessperson."

Don't miss:

Bethenny Frankel reveals how much money she made her first season of 'Housewives'

Bethenny Frankel: How to make home decor look expensive—on a budget

Like this story? Like us on Facebook

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns Bravo, and CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank."