Tell me about your personal story and background as an entrepreneur.
Many people talk about whether you can be born entrepreneurial, or if you can learn to be an entrepreneur. I am a believer that there are many people who are born with drive and determination, and I also absolutely think that you can learn to become a better entrepreneur–as I think I have hopefully over the years. For me it was lemonade stands, mowing lawns at around 12 or 13 years old, just doing things on my own at a very young age, and quite honestly, making plenty of mistakes along the way and trying to live by the adage “Don’t make that same mistake twice”, and then you build from there. And once you start growing, hopefully you become a little bit smarter, more efficient and more effective with what you are doing. For me my path was more traditional–I got an Economics and English undergraduate degree, I got an MBA in finance, but along the way I always stayed a part of entrepreneurial ventures.
Entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, and what it entails.
For me, entrepreneurship was always something that I had to do, and it got to the point where it says “intrapreneur” on my resume. And some people try to point out that I’m spelling the word entrepreneur incorrectly, but that’s not true. Intrapreneurship is a thing, and it is being an entrepreneur in a larger organization. So even when I was a CMO of the largest division at CIT Group or running the market development organization of Post Foods, on a high level, I was still very entrepreneurial in my methodology, in my thinking, and in my mindset. And this is especially important right now, because when you see huge companies like Toys R’ Us, Sears, big brand names that are struggling, I truly believe that the number one driving factor is they never had enough of an entrepreneurial mindset and drive within every single person that works in that organization. And because of that, the Amazons of the world are eating their lunch.
When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re probably a part of a small organization, and it might even just be you. You need to look at yourself in the mirror and really depend upon yourself–at least in the beginning. Then if you’re going to get other people involved, you’re going to have to learn how to inspire, but there’s less bureaucracy and less things in the middle, so that you can get things done. You’re still dealing with other people, such as external partners, customers, and so on, but within a big company the challenge of being entrepreneurial is that you have to learn diplomacy. And whether you like politics or not, you better learn how to play them–to a point. I took a path of pure honesty, a high level of integrity, and sometimes I didn’t get further in a particular situation because I took that path. But I was playing the long game on a personal level, so I was fine with losing some of the battles to win the war. For me, being within a big company and practicing entrepreneurship, and being an intrapreneur, was challenging and frustrating at times. However, it was very rewarding because it made me that much of a better entrepreneur when I left the big company.
What’s the most important piece of advice that you can give to entrepreneurs out there?
I think there’s learning and then there’s doing. It depends on who you are and what your style is. The first thing you have to do is be very self-aware: what is your path, what do you want to do. Having said that, let’s say you really want to go into entrepreneurship. Be patient. Patience is so big, and I think that it is something that people don’t understand. Put together a plan of what you want to achieve, and if you run into resistance and hurdles, you just push through, and you keep pushing. But you have to know what you want to achieve for yourself. When I had some pretty cutting-edge ideas (such as eGolfScore), I’d say if you pitch to 10 people and you have a great idea and 9 of them love it, no offense, then you probably don’t have a great idea. If 9 people tell you you’re crazy, you actually may be on to something. And that may sound silly, but it’s not. It’s because when you’re doing something that’s just “me too” then forget it. But if it’s something that’s really different, really innovative, you have to be ready for an enormous amount of rejection and resistance, but you press through if you really believe in it and you think there is a path to success. That doesn’t mean that you blindly continue, don’t be defensive, but absorb it. Take in the resistance. There are people that are just trying to give you their feelings, their thoughts, and they’re just trying to help you, so don’t be defensive.
On top of that, one other thing I’ll say is that when I’d be with my three sons at the dinner table, I would always tell them three words: never give up. It didn’t matter if it was sports or academics, I would always tell them to never give up. Now, that’s a great overlaying statement that you’ll hear people say, but here’s the balancing act. It’s not that you give up, but you may not want to continue pursuing what you’re trying to if you do feel that it’s not working. You may need to pivot and modify your path slightly in order to save your venture.
Now, bringing all of this together, being an entrepreneur is not a onetime thing, it’s a journey. And you have to be very resilient. I would say try to build a core team of people who care about you, who will advise you, who will support you, and be there for you. It’s super important to have a solid support structure as an entrepreneur because you need to make sure that you’re using everybody as a sounding board and not being too single-minded about something when there is valuable feedback from others that you can leverage and use. And this skillset applies to any industry that you’re in, and anything that you want to accomplish.