This past week I attended the Annual Entrepreneur Magazine conference in Dallas, TX. The keynote speaker was Barbara Corcoran, well known as the female shark from the show “Shark Tank” on ABC. The remainder of the conference was break-out sessions and award presentations. My main objective in attending the conference was to see if it would be a venue for Credo to potentially attend, sponsor, have a booth, do some marketing, branding, etc. Overall, the conference was excellent. I highly recommend it.
Well, as usual, our business plans often don’t always work out the way we wanted. The conference doesn’t really have the opportunity for a business to promote itself, unless you have deep pockets or unless you’re accepting some sort of an award. So, I had to bury this objective rather quickly and look for other ways to make my day worthwhile.
The break-out sessions were fantastic. The conference certainly spurs on a lot of ideas. And, the best part of it was the price! It was free. Well, someone had to pay for it all. The UPS Store sponsored the event….
I also decided to concentrate on observing the entrepreneurial market. That is, what is the general makeup of entrepreneurs, or, at the very least, young people that just enjoy business and talking about business.
As you may have guessed, the crowd was pretty young. I would guess the median age to be around 27 or 28. Maybe even younger. Lots of starving entrepreneurs with a lot of energy. The energy in these rooms was thick. Even the air seemed thicker, somehow. And, there was a fair amount of B.S. flying all over the place. I had to duck a few times to avoid getting hit. What did you expect with a room full of capital-starved entrepreneurs!
I spent as much time as I could meeting as many people as possible. And, I sat and talked with them and tried to get as much information as I could. What was so interesting was the similarities in a lot of these people’s psyche. Yes, they have a drive and desire to do great things…that’s why they are at this conference. So, you’re not going to get a truly representative sample of entrepreneurs. You probably won’t see the arrogant ones (who are often times the most successful), since they already know it all and don’t need to attend a conference. And, you probably won’t get the shy, more laid back ones (who can be just as successful).
But, that fact aside, after speaking to a number of them, listening to the break-out session speakers, and taking copious notes from Barbara Corcoran’s speech, here are the strongest impressions I walked away with:
1. A lot of “entrepreneurs” lack initiative. Now, this may surprise you to hear me say that. I think entrepreneurs are generally seen as go-getters…ones that pave the way for the rest of us. To a certain extent, I think that is true. However, I was surprised at the lack of initiative I saw. I heard a lot of ideas, heard a lot of dreams, and heard a lot of sales and marketing pitches. But, when I questioned them about their plan and what actions or steps they intend on taking, I got a lot of blank stares. Most of them didn’t know the difference between an Angel Investor, a Venture Capital Firm, or a Private Equity Firm. They hadn’t thought through how to finance their operations nor had they researched it. They had not sought counsel on how to set up their business or how to start tracking their expenses. They had no idea how to get a patent on their product(s). They had no plan of when to start, where to start, or whom to start with. The list goes on and on. I was literally shocked at how much they desired to make their dreams happen, but had taken little to no initiative in getting a plan of action together to make it happen. You may say, “most people don’t know that stuff, and most entrepreneurs don’t need to know that much about it.” And, maybe that would be true 20 or even 10 years ago. An entrepreneur could go out and get some sales and it would go from there.
But, in today’s age, you can spend 3-4 hours on Google and learn basic things about some of the examples I listed above. What if these entrepreneurs met a venture capitalist that loved their idea? That venture capitalist would likely lose interest when learning about their lack of business knowledge and/or ability to think and plan. That’s a clear lack of initiative. I have a good understanding now why investors look for this character trait and probe into the entrepreneurs daily or life habits to learn more about their propensity for taking initiative.
2. Most entrepreneurs hang on to people too long. Have you heard the old adage “the people that got you there are not necessarily the people that are going to keep you there (or take you to the next level)?” Well, there’s a lot of truth to that, in my opinion. One of the common topics or conversations was about the entrepreneurs’ partners in a business. It was usually high school or college friends, family members, etc. And there was a lot of complaining about these people. They are hurting my business, it’s complicated, I’m loyal to them, etc.
Actually, it’s not complicated. If someone is not moving your business forward and filling a clearly defined role, then you need to cut them. Elsewise your business will never succeed. This is a big hang up for a lot of entrepreneurs. Shoot the dogs early. Don’t hesitate.
3. Most successful entrepreneurs fail (and may fail a lot). First, most true entrepreneurs start their first business or first few businesses young, and when they haven’t learned enough yet. They take risk. They push things forward without totally thinking through the down side of things. Therefore, they fail, by nature. Until they actually learn enough from their failures that their creative thinking, drive, leadership, and risk tolerance pays off. And, it seems, it is very rare that an entrepreneur succeeds without tasting defeat in the past. Second, why do they succeed? It’s because they have thick skin. They have the ability to take hits. They get knocked down, get right back up, and keep charging through. Perseverance is a very powerful ally of an entrepreneur. So, they fail because they are born entrepreneurs. And, that failure leads to sort of a natural selection process whereby only the entrepreneurs that persevere through those failures and learn from them ever become successful. Bottom line, if you have a hard time handling failure or have a hard time recovering from the bottom, then you’re probably better off doing something else. No offense.
4. Sales drive a company forward. Period. If you can’t sell or have a partner that can, abort mission.
5. You have to do something you love and have fun doing it. This is not a big secret…and I always really knew it was true (and do did you, probably). How many people actually live by this? If they’re really honest about it. Or, do they have personal financial obligations or overbearing spouses or other people in their life that don’t allow them to do this? Well, it happens a lot. The entrepreneur cannot be blinded by money or personal financial desires. The business and the business’ health must come first. You cannot make decisions for the business based on your own personal financial needs or desires.
6. Successful entrepreneurs don’t try to please everyone. They pick a target market and then please those people really, really well. Remember when Chick fil-A made the “biggest PR blunder in the history of business” by taking a stance on gay marriage? Well, sales went up and have stayed up. Chick fil-A apparently understands this concept. Most of us have a propensity to try and please everyone or make our product or service fit as many people as possible. You have to have a discipline and create a culture of discipline not to get sucked into this.
7. Most entrepreneurs are plagued by fear and are not willing to get out of their comfort zone. If you are afraid of not having money to pay your personal expenses, you have to get over it. If you are shy, you have to become extroverted. If you hate numbers, you need to study accounting books. Most entrepreneurs seem to want to ignore these items or delegate them away to someone else. The most successful entrepreneurs embrace their fears, understand them, and face them. They understand their limitations and muster up the courage to learn enough about them to understand how to properly delegate the work to a qualified individual. They know enough to keep that person on their toes (not to be confused with micromanaging, which is not good). How many people can do this? Not many, in my opinion. I think this type of person is also called a “leader”.
These are merely my observations from this very good 1-day conference. I had some surprises and was able to talk to people and get some facts and impressions right from the source. I hope that sharing these thoughts may give you some insight into your own business or career. Thanks for reading.
Dan Lucas, CPA/ABV
Managing Partner, Credo Financial Services, LLC