Getting Started Leads to Entrepreneurial Success
Getting Started Leads to Entrepreneurial Success
November 28, 2018
by Brandon Stoddard Instructor and Director of the Hall Global Entrepreneurship Center, WSU
Two of my roles as a Weber State University instructor of entrepreneurship for the Goddard School of Business & Economics are to help learners realize their potential and recognize that NOW is the best time to pursue their dreams and then offer the tools and resources to do so. Not after graduation. Not after starting a career. Not after achieving a certain level of success or income. There are very few valid excuses to put off starting that business now. Even if a person is short on resources or contacts, there are opportunities to make things happen now. How does one do that? I offer a few helpful tips below.
I keenly remember being a budding student-entrepreneur enthusiastically laboring on my own small venture late into the night following work, college classes and homework. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing or where I was going. I just knew what I wanted and took one step at a time hoping I would someday become self-employed. Some 10 years later, I am glad I started when I did. I learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way that I couldn’t have obtained in any other manner. It set me up for my future career and got me to where I wanted to go much sooner than had I waited for the “right moment.” I now work as a college instructor, an entrepreneurship consultant and a manager to several side businesses. I don’t think I’ve ever reached a point where everything felt right to start a business. There are always distractions and responsibilities vying for my time. I’m confident the same will hold true for you as well.
CHOCOLATES AND REAL ESTATE
Recently, Weber State welcomed Stephen Hatch, co-founder of Hatch Family Chocolates, to speak at a Young Subaru Lecture Series seminar. He recounted learning how to dip chocolates and make quality confections from his grandmother, who began her career as a chocolate dipper in 1917. Years later, Stephen and his wife opened their own chocolate store to serve patrons in Northern Utah and across the world. Despite their successes, including their own cable network reality television show on TLC, the road to financial freedom hasn’t been easy. As most entrepreneurs experience, our chocolatier friends struggled getting their business off the ground and headed in the right direction. At one point, they even faced bankruptcy, due to low cash flow after moving into a new store, before a family member saved them 12 hours before they had to declare. Today, they have created a unique experience that brings families together over delicious chocolates. Their situation wasn’t perfect for starting a business when they launched. They simply jumped into it and decided to make it work.
After watching and assisting hundreds upon hundreds of entrepreneurs take the plunge, I can confidently say the entrepreneurial journey is definitely worth it. My favorite quote on entrepreneurship from an unknown source states, “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” I’m convinced starting a business is one of the hardest things a person can do. But it can also be one of the most rewarding. To me, there isn’t a better definition of living the American Dream than starting a business, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. especially by working hard and becoming successful.”
A colleague and dear friend of mine at Weber State University, Brent Warnock, started a real estate software business when he was in his early 20s. He had a strong affinity to real estate and decided he was going to learn and work for the best real estate broker in Utah. He spent many hours researching who was selling the most homes and making the most money in the state. After locating his targeted employer, Brent made a phone call and asked for a job. A little perplexed, the gentleman on the other end of the line said he wasn’t hiring. My colleague explained he was interested in working for the best and would do it for free if that’s what it took. He was hired and offered pay as well if he could arrive at the office in 10 minutes. After quickly locating the address, he rushed out the door and made it just in time. In turn, he learned the business and why the owner was so successful. His entrepreneurial mindset helped him discover how he could automate his employer’s processes online. Brent correspondingly offered his boss a monthly subscription fee of $30 a month for his new service instead of employing him. His boss was upset to learn he was now a competitor to a much more efficient system based on his own processes. A week after going their separate ways, Brent’s former boss called and said he would subscribe to his service, becoming the first customer. Although still a lot of work, Brent’s business doubled sales every year for 20 years. He sold it and retired at the age of 38. He wrote a book on his experience and what he learned, called “Fill a Need: 13 Critical Tips for Success in Business and Life.”
TIPS FOR ENTREPRENEURIAL LAUNCHING SUCCESS
If one follows appropriate principles, the American Dream is there for the taking. So, what are some of the principles that lead to success? After spending countless hours on my own and advising other entrepreneurs, I offer my list of top tips for new venture success:
- Start with your passion. If you’re not passionate about your work, you won’t make much money because you’ll be miserable and won’t care. You’ll find excuses to do anything else. When you have other responsibilities like a full-time job, family, etc., you’ll be hard-pressed to make time or work late into the night to move things forward. Do what you love and nothing else matters. The money will follow.
- Look to your experience. While you can launch a business doing anything, you’ll probably reach your goals quicker if you have experience in what you decide to do. Otherwise, you’ll need to spend time learning a new trade and/or industry first. Nothing beats learning from experience. There are some things you can only learn by doing.
- Engage your customers from the start. Don’t wait to get customer feedback until after you get to market hoping customers will buy. Too many entrepreneurs are convinced they have the next big thing only to find no one wants it after the investment of time and money has already been made. Interview and communicate with your potential customers from day one to find out if there really is a problem to solve or an opportunity to realize and if your solution is what they want and will pay for. I suggest studying the Lean Business Model before launching your venture.
- Fill a need. I’m stealing from Brent on this one, but filling a need is truly necessary for the success of your venture. If you’re not filling some need in the marketplace, you won’t be making any sales, which means you don’t have a business. It doesn’t matter how amazing your idea is; if no one wants it, you won’t sell anything.
- Be adaptable. If you’re doing it right by working with your customers throughout the ideation, creation and delivery stages, you should be getting feedback on whether to keep going, make adjustments or go a different direction entirely. If you have a hard time adapting to change, entrepreneurship may not be for you. I tell my students that it’s never about YOU. It’s about the customer and what they want or need. If you can’t deliver that, they aren’t going to buy from you, which means you don’t have a business. The vast majority of entrepreneurs have to make many adjustments along the way.
- Grit is needed. If I had to choose one characteristic of successful entrepreneurs, it would be grit. Starting and running a business is not easy. It’s incredibly difficult. But, the rewards at the end make it more than worth it. While an important ingredient, having passion won’t make you successful. There are plenty of failed passionate entrepreneurs. Passion keeps you going. Grit carries you to success. It’s your perseverance to continue, despite the many obstacles, that ultimately leads to success.
- Relationships are business. Without strong relationships, you don’t have a business. Business IS relationships. You track how successful your relationships are by how much revenue you bring in. If you don’t work well with people, or they don’t work well with you, you won’t have a business. I recall an executive of a large healthcare system telling me, “It isn’t what you know; it isn’t who you know; it’s who knows you that matters.” Look at how you can serve those around you first. Don’t worry if they can do something for you now. The rest will fall into place when needed.
- You must become a salesperson. If you can’t sell, either learn how or find another career direction. The success of your new and growing venture is built upon sales. Without sales you don’t have a business. If you don’t like or can’t sell, you’re doomed. Anyone can learn. I recall sitting down with the chairman of the Radiology department where I had just started to work who explained he wanted me to cold-call physician’s offices in the community and convince them they needed to send their imaging work to us. I looked at him in disbelief as I wasn’t a salesperson…AT ALL. I don’t exaggerate, this was not my thing. This responsibly was never brought up in the interview process, so I was a little panicked. I questioned whether he really wanted me to cold-call physician offices, who arguably could be the most difficult customer to reach. It wasn’t easy, but I knew if I wanted to keep my job I had to learn how to sell in short order. It took great effort on my part to get out of my shell, but I learned how to sell and became successful in that role.
TAPPING INTO ENTREPRENEURIAL SKILLS AT ANY JOB
Now, I realize entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. That being said, many of the skills that make entrepreneurs successful can also be applied to most careers for greater job and organizational success. We call being entrepreneurial inside a company intrapreneurship. Can you innovate within your role working for someone else? Can you think creatively to solve problems in novel ways and increase opportunity? Can you look at a given situation with a new perspective for greater impact? In addition to the entrepreneurial traits laid out above, I list a few ways to improve your entrepreneurial thinking working for someone else:
- Think differently. Remember Apple’s slogan: Think Different. It’s easy to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. As Henry Ford is credited as saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” If you or your team is stuck on an issue, can you approach the problem in a different way? Who could you brainstorm with to get a different point of view and possibly discover a new solution or a better way of doing things? Change scenery; change up your routine; study a new topic; talk to new people. Get out of your old routines and think differently.
- Innovate. Look for new solutions that solve problems better and improve the way things are done. Don’t ever assume the best solution has already been discovered. There are infinite possibilities in our world. We can learn a lot from the erroneous notion former Digital Equipment Corporation founder, Ken Olsen, believed when he stated, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Ouch. I still remember a powerful line from a favorite childhood cartoon, “An American Tail,” “Never say never, whatever you do.”
- Don’t settle. Don’t ever rest on your laurels. How can you make things better? Pay attention to when things agitate you. How can you improve an agitation? Even when things are going well, how can you excel even further? All too often success leads to complacency. Complacency opens opportunities for your competitors to out-innovate you and steal your market share.
- Listen to your customers. What are your customers telling you? Really get to know them and their wants and needs. Don’t let success fool you. Just because customers like what you have now, doesn’t mean a substitute won’t enter the market and put you out of business —no matter how big you are. I recall hearing about a presentation given by the founder of a very successful company I did some work for. His company was beginning to lose market share to a competitor and fast. Despite the obvious warning signs, the founder spoke to his audience with his product in one hand and the competitor’s product in the other. He held up his product up and told those listening he “got it.” He held up his competitor’s product and said he didn’t understand it. Unfortunately, the market felt differently, and now his company is on life-support. Just 10 years ago his company was the market leader, and no one could touch them. Now, his competitor’s products own the market and it’s highly unlikely his company will catch up.
- Think about the future. One of my favorite books on strategic growth is “Alchemy of Growth.” The author simply and powerfully offers a model to help individuals and teams think about how to sustain an organization’s growth. He uses the example of three different horizons to help keep our sights pointed in the right direction. In Horizon I, we need to defend and extend our core business. The majority of our attention and investment should be directed toward our current line of business. At the same time, we shouldn’t lose sight of Horizon II, where our industry is headed in the near future. We should expend some resources toward what lies ahead and build our next line of business, which could be improvement on what we are already doing or introducing new products or services altogether. Further, we should also keep our eyes on Horizon III, where our business is headed in the long-term. While we shouldn’t be too concerned about this right now, we do need to think about it and how our decisions now may affect business in the long-run. The newspaper industry would have been well-served to consider new technologies that could have affected them long before, or at the very least when the internet was introduced to the public. I’m not sure to many newspapers have figured it out yet. I fear higher-education is on this same path.
Ultimately, you’ll never make it as an entrepreneur or innovator unless you get started. Launching a new venture or innovation is its own animal, and often you’ll learn the most and how to do it right by getting started and doing. As stated earlier, Weber State’s entrepreneurship program can offer tools and resources to help increase success, but ultimately it’s up to you to get going. If you do, excitement, success and early retirement could be knocking on your door in the not so distant future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Brandon Stoddard joined the Weber State University faculty in March 2017 and currently serves as the director of the Hall Global Entrepreneurship Center in the Goddard School of Business & Economics. He also maintains a seat on the Board of Trustees for the UtahCDC and is a partner in multiple new ventures.
Prior to joining the Goddard School, Stoddard was employed with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Weber State University. He has held various roles in both the private and public sectors assisting entrepreneurs and helping organizations grow including VentureCapital.org (formerly Wayne Brown Institute), Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR), Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and Department of Radiology at University of Utah Healthcare.
Stoddard holds an MS in Positive Organizational Development and Change from Case Western Reserve University and a BS in Mass Communications and Business from the University of Utah. He is happily married with a very energetic son.