So you have made up your mind on becoming an entrepreneur - your going for it. You have your idea, your concept and you are ready to give it your all to try and make it work for you. I know this feeling and I know it well. For the purpose of the post, lets go back in time for a minute, and let me recap how I know this feeling, this anxiety, this fear… yes lets say it, its scary starting your own business. This is particularly scary if you have been in the traditional / conventional workplace, ie. an employee your whole life, and even more nerve racking if you have a family to support. I realize that start up dynamics, and the related pressures can be very different for everyone depending on your situation.
Starting a company, truly does just take going for it. My wife and I have both gone for it, we both have started our own businesses, and we have been running our own companies for MANY years. My wife is on her fifth business and about to embark on her biggest venture to date, and I myself am on my fourth business. I took the leap right out of the university. I said, “I am going for it,” and that I did, in a crazy industry with absolutely zero capital and very minimal experience.
I started a concert and event production company that I ran for 3 years, followed by a food vending business that toured concerts, festivals, and events of all sorts around the country, then moved into the technology arena with a small web development business, and finally, in 2001 I started Blue Sky Factory. Every venture I experienced prior to Blue Sky Factory taught me things that are invaluable to our success today.
So for me, entrepreneurship has truly always been my way of life. I honestly really don’t know anything else other than working for myself, except for the one year stint I took at a tech startup in the year 2000. That experience came and went, and it truly was an incredible learning opportunity, but after 12 months I went right back to entrepreneurship.
All that said, here are, in no particular order, a few things that I hope may help those of you who are considering or have decided to start your own venture. These are a few of my guiding principles of entrepreneurship:
- Don’t Let ANYONE Tell You That You CAN’T Do Something
Optimism runs through the blood of almost every entrepreneur I know. You must believe that if you can see it, you can do it. It’s that simple. With that, I highly recommend staying away from individuals or energy that take anything away from that knowledge and belief. You are capable of everything you need to do to be successful. Dream your dream, crystalize your vision, will it to happen, then make it happen. Always know it is up to you.
I remember vividly when my high school guidance counselor, Mr. Dick Largey, told me to my face in 10th grade that I should start planning for some kind of a vocational school, because I didn’t quite fit the mold of someone who would ever be able to make it through college, and that I should settle for some kind of trade training….
So I made sure I sent good ole Dick an invitation to my graduation commencement ceremony for my successful completion of a B.A in English Literature from UMBC. He didn’t show up.
Can you imagine what it would be like if you went through your life listening to what all of the Dick Largey’s of the world had to say to you….?
- Get Out and Sell Something
Two words, “Do it.” If you can’t do it then find someone who can. It is imperative to the success of your venture to understand your own strengths and weaknesses. If your not the front line person, the relationship developer, the product or service pitchman, then get one and get one fast. Remember the saying from Mark Cuban, “Sales solves everything.” It really does.
You need to be, or someone on your team needs to be continuously developing business. Building the pipeline and closing deals. Yes, ABC, Always Be Closing. Coffee, IS for closers The more people you have doing this the better, and yes its easier said then done. Once you have “cash flow” you can begin to build your business.
I remember when we started Blue Sky, we had what amounted to be just enough of an application to effectively deliver and track email campaigns, but it was nothing you wanted to show to ANYONE. That said, I went out and hustled until I finally got a couple of ad agencies to let us be there outsourced email vendor. From that initial momentum in sales we began to build the business.
- Hire Rock Stars Only: Others Need Not Apply
That is a true statement. Anything less and your business will suffer. When you build your business or start your business with a partner or a group of partners, choose rock star type individuals. You want to be sure to surround yourself with the best people. Smart, creative, self motivators, people that think and act like owners of a company, whether they are your partners or they work for you. Rock stars shine with a certain radiance.
I remember having some people on my team over the years that were levels below rock star status. This can happen for many reasons, and I have experienced a few first hand. In one case there was an employee who suffered from an overall lack of motivation or initiative to do real work. They came in with a good game, but when the rubber hit the road there was no gas in the car. When thats the case, especially in a small work environment, the situation will certainly come to a head.
In another case, I simply had the wrong person in the wrong job. Unfortunately, it was also a customer facing position. It did a considerable amount of damage with some of our clients over time. As the employee got more and more disgruntled, they refused to acknowledge their behavior, and the options I had made available to them for changing roles within the company. I take full responsibility for letting it go for as long as it did, but eventually I let them go.
These are distractions, and a waste of energy. Bring on the best folks you can. Hire rock stars only.
- Don’t Ever Give Up, Stay The Course
It has been said that entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. You must be a patient and resilient individual. No matter what kind of business you start, every venture will have its ebbs and flows. Be patient and stay the course, times can definitely get tough, especially if you are bootstrapping or working with limited capital. It can be particularly rough in the beginning for people when they are trying to establish themselves, locking in those first few customers, and getting money to hit the bank. Don’t be discouraged, if you are determined it will come.
For people who go out and raise VC money or take seed capital, the pressures can be different. Usually because the pressures are not only coming from yourself to make things work, but you also have your investors who are watching carefully and waiting for things to happen.
I remember the first year to 18 months of Blue Sky, we didn’t raise any money, so I was out hustling to get our name out there and looking for the first few brave souls who would give my little start up a chance. Sales were slow, and money was extremely tight. At one point my partner at the time, wanted to throw the in the towel and call it a day. We supported each other through those tough early times, got through it, and stayed the course. Don’t give up.
The above four guiding principles have helped me along the way in my entrepreneurial journey. I think about each of them often and they apply to business every single day. You must always believe in yourself and your vision, you must cultivate and attract a rock star quality team, you have to always be selling your product, service or brand, and you must never ever give up.
I hope these words have been helpful or insightful to some of you. Best of luck.