Linda McMahon, co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment and the leader of President Donald Trump's Small Business Administration, says going through bankruptcy early in her career was painful, but she learned a valuable lesson: Stay focused on what you know when starting a business.
McMahon is the former CEO of WWE, which she and her husband Vince McMahon grew from a 13-person regional business to a global public company with more than 800 employees, corporate offices around the world, and a market cap north of $3 billion.
"My experience as a CEO started with my experience of building a business, sharing a desk with my husband, and we grew it just from the ground up," McMahon, 69, tells CNBC Make It. The couple are worth nearly $2 billion, according to Forbes.
The journey from sharing a desk to making billions wasn't without hurdles.
"We had to file for bankruptcy," McMahon explains to CNBC Make It.
"The bankruptcy came as a result of our taking some few dollars that we had saved early on and investing in a couple of businesses that we didn't know anything about," she says, explaining that she and Vince dabbled in the construction business instead of "sticking to what we knew [and] growing that company."
"We didn't really know the safeguards to really look for. We were relying on someone else whose opinion we respected at the time for those kinds of investments, and they just didn't work," says McMahon. "We partnered with some folks who weren't quite the business partners we expected them to be."
At the time, McMahon says she was in her late 20s.
"Our home was auctioned off. My car was repossessed in the driveway. I was pregnant with our second child at that time," she remembers.
"It's not easy to keep your morale up. It's embarrassing to have your house auctioned off. All of those things are — they really, you know, give you good life experiences, but also smacks you in the face right from the business perspective," McMahon says.
Thanks to the experience, her advice to new entrepreneurs is to stay focused.
"Words to the wise," says McMahon. "We were very young and we learned our lessons early on. Watch out, stick to what you know, have that focus, have that business plan and go for it."
It can be tempting to spread yourself too thin, but don't.
"When you're really a young company and when you're really starting, you have to focus. It's 24 hours attention to what you're doing, and stick to your knitting. Do what you know," says McMahon.
And when things don't go smoothly, don't get discouraged, she says.
"I've always said it's really not how you fall, but it's how you get back up, and you just keep doing it."
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