Advice to a 27-Year-Old Entrepreneur
We shared a table at the local coffee shop. THE local coffee shop. Where else would a budding and an experienced entrepreneur have chosen to meet?
After nearly two months of emailing and scheduling, we finally found a time that worked. A mutual contact suggested we get together and I appropriately followed up. In looking for investors, supporters, connections and ideas, I'll email anyone whom anyone I trust recommends.
As I read his bio online - the bio that detailed his success with several companies of varying sizes (one worth over $10 billion) - I started to wonder if I was underdressed. That's one of my great fears in life, by the way. Not that I look like crap, but that I'm not appropriately dressed for the occasion, as if I have some sort of history of wearing tuxedoes to pool parties or Speedos to funerals.
Eventually I walked down to the – sorry – THE local coffee shop in my jeans and red Lacoste collared shirt, and found myself appropriately clad for our meeting. He walked in wearing sandals, shorts and a nice Tommy Bahama shirt. After we each got our coffee and grabbed a seat, we took turns filling the other in on our current endeavors.
After the histories and visions or our companies had been shared, we each tossed out some immediate ideas for collaboration. I then forked over the business plan, since he was interested in our current financial situation and ability (and needs) to grow. He may or may not be the guy, but he may know people who could be the guy (or gal).
I shared with him a recent story related to our (lack of) success with funding. "That's crap," he said. "What they should have told you was 'We’re not interested.' They never tell you that. They tell you your financial projections aren't aggressive, the ability to scale isn't quite there, you haven't done enough competitive research, or that you need two more key team members. You don't need to go changing your plan just because one person or group gives you a laundry list of made-up excuses. Just tell them thanks and move on."
Since he seemed to be in the advice-giving mood, I asked him flat out, "What would you, a seasoned entrepreneur, tell me, a 27-year-old who’s new to this world?"
His litany was insightful and engaging. Here's a bit of what he said:
- Entrepreneurs create. I learned that as soon as I stopped being one and decided to take a CEO role at an established company. Sure, they hired me to shake things up and increase revenues, but ultimately I was hired to manage - and not to create. This was 15 years into my professional career, and even though it seemed like a logical step to take professionally, it took me out of the world of entrepreneurship and I missed it badly, simply because I wasn't creating.
- I look for opportunity. That's it. The industry doesn't matter to me. I've been in transportation, apparel, distribution, marketing and hospitality. If I see an opportunity, I'll jump at the chance. I'll learn what I need to in order to make it successful.
- I never stop thirsting for information. When I saw a profitable opportunity in logistics, I learned everything I could about that world. People said it was impossible – to be profitable with the approach I was taking. They just didn't know what I knew.
- The only other time I worked for someone else, I won an award for innovation. I was the most innovative guy in a company of 55,000. I quit six months later. Folks thought I would stay because of my accolades, but as innovative as I could be, I was still doing it for someone else. And that didn't make me happy.
- You can't do it just for the money. When I was young and just starting out, I remember when I was finally making $60,000 a year. I was floored and excited and thought I'd made it. I also remember the first year I made $100,000 and the year I filed a $130,000 tax return. I remember my first million. And my first million in debt. Numbers end up being just numbers. I pick a new course because I'm passionate about it and see something worth doing.
- When you're an entrepreneur, every sale is important. Never outsource your sales. Outsource IT or payroll or advertising.
- I'm successful because I hire well. I get the right people on board and let everyone do what they do best. That's it.
I never took a business class in college, but firmly believe my hour over coffee today was enough education to last for a while. At least until I get another morning with someone willing to share what they've learned.