What I Wish I Knew About Business at 19...
Isn’t it funny sometimes, as time goes by, if you really are trying to tune into a specific channel you can often find it? This is a revised post of a previous entry I wrote years’ back entitled, “Common Sense is Hard”. It spurred conversations that have lead to me having the privilege to kick off my alma mater’s 2018 Speaker Series on February 13th at the beautiful Entrepreneurial Center of Davenport University. Those of you who knew me 4 years ago, know I’ve gone through some pretty awesome experiences and changes that have allowed me to gain a much broader perspective on the topics from my original post. I hope you’ve enjoyed the perspective I’ve gained and I hope it can help you avoid some of the costly mistakes I’ve had throughout my career.
Find out what you’re good at and do that often.
I feel like what I really mean by this is doing whatever you can to become more self-aware. What I didn’t say was study everything but perfect nothing and waste a bunch of time. That’s what I feel most individuals do when they start searching. Especially right after high school. The world becomes huge, especially to us in the Midwest. I will tell you the thing I most regret about the last 15 years is not really going through my journey earlier. I hinted at it as the entrepreneurial buds started to blossom but I didn’t really realize that I was meant for so much more until I was 28 and went on a 3 week study abroad trip in my graduate program. It was here that I realized I was created to fix problems, help people, and teach. Not spend my 9-5 climbing up the wrong mountain. Don’t waste that much time. Get after it early. Have life experiences that force you to figure out what you are made of and what you believe. You’ll never know your values unless you’re put in a position that allows the vary concept of them to be challenged.
In gong through this process, you’ll find out what you are good at. Once you do, double down faster than a hot black jack hand. Don’t spend one extra second trying to be something you’re not, do something you’re not good at, or live for someone who doesn’t have to look back at you in the mirror in the morning.
Learn to let your business make decisions.
We all want to be everything to everyone. I think today more than ever people, specifically entrepreneurs, are striving to prove their self worth and value. This can be good and it can be bad. Ultimately, businesses exist to make money. That is all. There will come a time when what is best for your business may not be best for people in your business or even for you. I’ve specifically advised people to take a course of action that was less beneficial financially to me, because it was best for their business or situation, or because it was best for our business.
A key example recently happened with Motown. The neighbor next to one of our historic projects in Detroit reached out and wanted to sell his property to us. He had attempted to purchase the property, rehab it, and eventually he ran out of funds. We operate on a win/win strategy or not at all. When he originally contacted us, he wanted 130k for the property. This was plenty over what we were willing to pay. Ultimately, we negotiated a much lower purchase price with very, VERY favorable financing terms for us. As we were working out the deal, he reached out and let us know he got an offer for 20k more than what we agreed to. The kicker, the offer was cash! Of course I couldn’t compete, but rather than investing my time trying to let him know my offer was better or attempt to enforce the verbal agreement we had come to, I enthusiastically advised him to take the offer and offered him my services personally if he needed any help with the paperwork or any other part of the deal.
Why? Because it’s worth more to do right by that guy and have him as a cheerleader for the Motown brand than it is to attempt to nickel and dime someone for the sake of a deal.
Business isn’t personal but we can make it very personal. The key to this concept is knowing when to make those decisions. Not every decision you make in this category will be warm and fuzzy like that example. Some, you’re going to have to be quite firm. This isn’t always fun but there comes a time when tough conversations will need to be had and tough decisions will need to be made with the best interest of the business in mind.
You will have problems your first few years…most likely, they will not be the one’s you expected to have.
Things rarely turn out perfectly. Business is surely no exception. A common misconception by young entrepreneurs is, “If only I were in charge! We wouldn’t have any of these problems.” Maybe you’re right. I doubt it, but maybe.
The problem we often have here as young entrepreneurs (by the way, the word “young” here has nothing to do with age), is that we lack perspective. We assume we know better because we want to change what is causing us pain. The reality is, business is not about us. It’s about our customer and the market. The thing about the market is that it doesn’t care at all what you think about it. It’s going to do its thing. Your job is to be in tune with it and be mobile enough to adapt when needed. One of my mentors Paul Esajian is quoted often as saying, “It doesn’t matter what the market is doing. It matters what you’re doing when the market’s doing what it’s doing.”
Read that again out loud…
You may be able to fix the problems you consciously set out to eliminate when you start your business. I promise though, from the bottom of my heart, you will have problems. Be prepared. Have people in your corner you can rely on. Run the situation by them and find a solution together. This brings me to my next point…
Your people make your organization. Choose wisely.
Your business may be you or it may be 500 people. This point holds true either way. I gave a talk, and think I even have a blog somewhere, about organizational values vs. the value of the organization. Both, I believe, are driven by the components of the organization. The people who organize or execute all drive these components. I don’t care how much you believe in what you want your company to be. If you don’t find people who share your vision, you will struggle. Maybe not visibly or financially so much, but it could mentally destroy you.
This last point is especially true if you have not gone through any journey of self-awareness. If you don’t know who you are, how do you know what kind of business you want to run? It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters how you do it. Simon Sinek wrote an amazing book entitled, “Start With Why” where a lot of this idea is explored.
My claim to fame has never been that I’m overly talented at anything. I never got the best grades, up until my graduate degree where I was pushed and actually chose to focus and I was never the best athlete on the field although I was talented. What I’ve always prided myself on though, is being able to find people who are much smarter and more talented than I to surround myself with.
Analyze Risk, Act Anyway.
There is no definition of the word entrepreneur without the word risk closely associated to it. What this doesn’t mean is to engage in risky behavior for risks sake. You may be willing to take risks but if you’re not in a situation to mitigate those risks through systems, mentors, and the appropriate advisors, you will hurt yourself.
That being said, you need to be comfortable with acting even if you don’t have all the information. You need to be willing to make that investment. You need to be willing to get out of your own way and let someone who’s been there guide you. Today’s entrepreneurial state is one of speed. If you can’t make a decision with the information you have, someone else will. In my world, the second best offer is the #1 loser. Just like Ricky Bobby said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
Build the right systems into your business that allow you the greatest opportunity to be first. Have the confidence to act in that situation.
There are probably thousands more thoughts one could add to this list. Things like living cheaply, learning from failure, failure is ok, and get proof of concept before you ask anyone for money. These are all great topics worthy of discussion. You’ll learn more than you ever thought possible starting and running a business. You’ll learn things you wish you knew years ago, and things you didn’t even know you needed to understand! The journey isn’t easy and it’s not for everyone. But if you are one of those crazy few who are willing to stick your ass out there and get it kicked around for a while, it will be worth it.