Top 10 List: Listening and Learning From (real) Entrepreneurs

Listening (and learning) from Real Entrepreneurs

Early in my career I enjoyed working directly with bottlers, dealers, jobbers, franchisees, distributors, re-sellers, and owner-operators.  At the time I thought they were all entrepreneurs; they certainly were small business owners, but for most – they had bought into a proven idea.

It’s a quite different perspective to hear directly from folks who took a blank piece of paper, imagined a business, and then moved it off the page into action while overcoming many unforeseen obstacles.

I had the pleasure last year to teach the Capstone Entrepreneurship course at University of Missouri (Kansas City) Bloch School of Management.

For each class I’ve hosted an entrepreneur guest speaker to share their insights. Concurrently the students themselves have been interviewing small business owners and startups outside of class.

What we’ve been hearing has been consistent, relevant and practical to the students working on their own business plans (their major semester project), but also as inspiration I wanted to share.

Here are some “universal truths” we hear repeated over and over…

  1. It’s 3X what you think: Once you have your business plan written, triple the time and budget you have allocated to spend.
  1. The answer is in the mirror: You have to really, thoroughly know yourself – strengths and weaknesses, motivations, purpose, needs and values.
  1. It always comes back to Why: Understand why you are getting into business for yourself. What’s your “reason for being” and why does that meet a consumer’s “reason for need.”
  1. Jim Collins was right: Getting the right people on your bus will help you succeed – the wrong folks will sink you. Take the time to be relentless about hiring the right people and surrounding yourself with talent that compliments you and overcomes your weaknesses (see #2).
  1. Do-overs are common: Don’t be afraid to start-over; the entrepreneurs we’ve interviewed consistently said they didn’t get it right the first time out and they re-started their business at least 3 times (many got sidetracked and went back to their original business vision – see #3).
  1. Re-assessment is common: Don’t be afraid to stop and re-assess when the path ahead isn’t clear.  Almost all have indicated their business model in reality wasn’t anything like their plan going in.
  1. Be an expert: Almost all were experts at what they were doing; they had done it in earlier careers and discovered a passion for building a business around their expertise.
  1. Commit to being “all-in”:  Focus is critical and those who hadn’t “left their old jobs behind” weren’t able to get their new companies off the ground.  Those who were “all in” found the fear of failure an incredible motivator.
  1. “I do” again: Make sure you spouse is committed.  The income swings are wide and unpredictable and both need to sign up for the financial pressure to come.
  1. Emotional stability.  The emotional highs are higher than you’d ever think and the lows are lower than you’d ever imagine. You need to have the emotional fortitude to navigate.

Real entrepreneurs continue to amaze, energize, and inspire me.

David Patrick
About the author: 

David Patrick is the Chief Strategy Officer at Two West, a marketing agency focused on the retail and communications arenas.  His career includes executive leadership roles with retail brands and agencies that include Leo Burnett and JWT.  David is a Faculty Mentor at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, and a Professor at the University of Missouri Bloch School of Management Executive Education.  Follow Mr. Patrick on LinkedIn.