The Undaunted Entrepreneur

Have you ever felt like your back was against the wall? And I’m not talking about a looming deadline to renew a driver’s license. No, I’m referring to a true-life Indiana Jones sort of experience. You’ve stepped into a room and activated some sort of an ancient counterweight that causes the floor, ceiling, and walls to shift and begin to close in on you. There’s seemingly no way out and you can either await your doom or “MacGyver it” and improvise a solution. I apologize – sometimes my metaphors can really become convoluted. Indiana, meet MacGyver. Perhaps you’re running low on cash – in your business or personal life. Maybe your top three team members have just announced they are setting up shop across the street and will become your competitor. Or your top three customers have determined that they will be purchasing 75% to 90% less of your product.

Human nature might say that a panic attack is in order, followed by a bottle or two of something at least 100-proof. We’re at a loss in terms of how to react. Some might call this a state of shock. While all we may want to do is run and hide, that’s simply not an option. And we really aren’t receptive to the notion espoused by a parent (or a coach) at some point in the past – “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Instead, we look at the wall that seemingly has no way over, under or around, and completely shut down. Except there’s one thing . . . we cannot shut down. Period. Ultimately, we develop a special kind of spirit. I call it “undaunted spirit.” In our hearts we truly believe that nothing is insurmountable. This isn’t just a conscious state of mind – it’s a knowing at the very core of our being.

So exactly how do we achieve this undaunted spirit? We can’t just snap our fingers and manifest it. It requires daily preparation and practice every chance we get. Undaunted spirit isn’t something that flips on and off like a light switch. Once we have it, we always want to maintain it.

Step one is to make a game out of solving problems creatively. Entrepreneurs are often quick to solve a problem and move on without giving much thought to all the different solutions that might be available. We usually go for the most intuitive, expeditious and least costly. But doing this deprives us of the opportunity to look at a whole host of other ideas. The entire point in doing this is to help us realize that there are usually many different options from which we can choose. It may be obvious that if kids are tracking a path through our yard after school, we plant a couple of thorn bushes to dissuade this behavior. If we slow down and think about it, there may be other solutions that are equally workable or even better. Maybe we could have the lawn sprinkler system set to come on as school is dismissing. Using everyday issues like this to practice creatively identifying multiple solutions prepares us for the Tuesday when we learn that there’s not enough money to make payroll on Friday.

Step two is to do whatever it takes to stay positive every minute of every day. I’ve said it before – negative thoughts and negative energy never solved anything. Worse, they block the flow of positive energy that delivers creative solutions. Practicing maintaining a positive mindset in our everyday life prepares us for the day when the “you-know-what” hits the fan.

Step three is simple – stay calm. I remember years ago I was flying my airplane and practicing approaches in unstable weather. I was instrument rated and wanted to get some real-life experience in more difficult conditions. A storm was moving in, and I was near the airport when suddenly I was caught in a strong downdraft. I was going straight down, and I mean STRAIGHT DOWN. Charts and pencils were flying around the cabin – and just as quickly I was caught in an updraft and going straight up, and I mean STRAIGHT UP! I will confess that there was moment of “pucker factor,” but I had practiced staying calm and the practice took over. I knew I just had to fly the airplane and not worry about anything else, and by remaining calm I was able to make it through a scary situation unscathed.

Creatively identifying multiple options; fiercely maintaining a positive frame of mind and keeping calm helps us develop undaunted spirit. Then like a magician, we are able to pull the rabbit out of a hat whenever the need arises because we know that no challenge is insurmountable.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Entrepreneurial Small Stuff

We’ve always been told that there are no guarantees in life except death and taxes. I submit that there is one more guarantee that’s much more pleasant. We can be guaranteed that every day will be a good day . . . if we make it so. How? Read on.

Whether our day is good or bad depends upon our state of mind. By extension, we make the choice as to whether we will generally be happy in life. Being an entrepreneur is a tough gig. There are plenty of obstacles – way too many to list here. We can allow these obstacles to eventually overwhelm us, or we can look at them as opportunities for growth and success. But how do we get our mind right to look at our challenges this way? Here are some ideas that work for me in guaranteeing that every day is going to be a good day and that I’m able to be happy about my life overall.

Smile before answering or making a phone call. Smiling helps to release neuropeptides that counteract stress. Also, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin all go to work when we smile. So, there is a positive physiological reaction to smiling that can’t be ignored. And no doubt the conversation will be more pleasant and may result in a positive outcome – all because of a smile.

You know all those e-mails we send every day? We probably send too many because it’s such an efficient way to communicate. Yet, I find life can be pretty dull if we just keep to ourselves. I like to convert some of my e-mail conversations into face-to-face meetings or phone calls. I also find it hard to build relationships exclusively via e-mail. Thus, I build stronger relationships with the personal touch, and it makes me feel good to have human interaction throughout the day.

Express gratitude every single day. We have so much for which to be thankful. My day is more fulfilling when I tell someone how much I appreciate them and what they are doing. Gratitude helps me to feel more optimistic and contributes to building stronger interpersonal relationships.

Become centered. Life moves at warp speed for most of us. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind and all-of-a-sudden things, can spin out of control. Spending a few moments from time-to-time with deep breathing and visualization exercises helps to ground me and restores my calm.

I was a Boy Scout and we committed to doing a good deed every day. I know it’s going to be a good day when I do something for someone else and am rewarded with their smile. This can be as little as holding the door for another person or helping someone put their bag in the overhead compartment on an airplane.

If exercise isn’t part of your daily routine, it’s certainly worthy of consideration. A good morning workout and long walk set a pattern for the day. I feel great after sweating and burning calories. I’m able to control my weight as well as ward off stress through physical activity.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. One of the healthiest things we can do – multiple times each day – is to laugh. And if we can laugh at ourselves, that’s even better. As with smiling, laughing offers innumerable health benefits and it’s usually the result of something funny. When we take ourselves too seriously, we may become self-conscious and begin to doubt ourselves.

Do at least one creative thing every day. But I’m not a creative person you say. That’s beside the point. We all can be creative at some level. Find something large or small where we can stretch our minds in a creative fashion. And guess what, you’ll find a nugget of good somewhere in the process.

Finally, be present. This can be very hard for us as entrepreneurs when we’re caught up in the fast-paced life we lead. It’s been my experience that I make fewer mistakes (that can erode the feelings of a good day) when I focus on the moment. Maybe that’s concentrating on a task at hand or something as simple as giving my full attention to someone with whom I’m meeting.

Yes, every day is guaranteed to be a good day if we take the necessary steps to make it happen. I can’t wait for my feet to hit the floor each morning because I’m stacking the deck in favor of this guarantee!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Portrait of a handsome young man in the city

The Competitive Entrepreneur

Evil, dirty, underhanded, devious, conniving, despicable, dishonest, cutthroat, backstabbing, snobbish, arrogant, lying and cheating. These are terms I have heard applied to competitors over the last 45 years. Without a doubt I have missed some. What emotions are evoked when you think about your competitors? Some entrepreneurs I know have pure hatred for the competition and others display a great deal of fear. Why do we associate such negativity to our competition?

The amateur psychologist in me believes it has something to do with our childhood (don’t all our issues?). On the playground we engaged in competitive duels involving kickball, dodge ball, four-square and other gladiator-like activities. Losers were vanquished with taunts and teasing. When we were older, competition for relationships with the opposite sex was intense. When a sought-after girl or boy chose someone else, we were crushed and dejected. Fast forward to today and it is no wonder that we often see our competition as the enemy.

But do we really benefit from viewing our competitors in this manner? Competition is actually a wonderful thing. Let’s look at several of the reasons why.

  • Competition stimulates creativity and innovation. Every day we know that our competitors are working overtime to develop new products or services. To keep from being left behind we do the same. New discoveries are made from this process that may generate greater profits and capture a larger market share.
  • Best practices emanate from a competitive environment. Let’s face it; we don’t have all the answers. So, observing how others do things and testing our approach accordingly can lead us to implement better systems and processes. Without competition what would be the incentive to improve?
  • An inefficient market is the byproduct of competition. Some competitors are stronger, and some are weaker. If every competitor is equally strong how would anyone win? The concept of winners and losers is critical to a healthy yet inefficient market.
  • Hand-in-hand with the inefficient market theory is the opportunity for differentiation. This is good for the consumer and it is outstanding for the entrepreneur. Why? Because we can create a level of variety that may appeal to more customers. It is not just about “better;” it’s also about “different.” If every boutique sold the same black dress, doesn’t it stand to reason that a boutique selling a purple skirt might win a few more customers than the black dress sellers?
  • Competition helps to broaden the talent pool. It provides career paths for the workforce into which we as entrepreneurs can tap. We can create cultures where people want to work, giving them the chance to grow and advance their careers. And in the process, we get to attract the best and the brightest.

For years we have enjoyed good relationships with our competitors. We view them with respect and in some cases, admiration. Other terms come to mind as well: friendship, collaboration, empathy, and gratitude. Collaboration you ask? Yes, we have often referred customers to our competitors when we could not meet their needs and they have done the same for us. In 2008 a Maine portable restroom business owned by Jeff Bellino burned to the ground. Who came to the rescue? Bellino’s competitors! They provided portable restrooms, toilet tissue and chemicals so that he could keep going while he rebuilt his operation. Competition is at its healthiest when competitors have each other’s backs in a time of need.

When we embrace the notion of strong and healthy competition, we enhance our chances for success. There is no doubt that competition makes us better entrepreneurs in every respect.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Adaptable Entrepreneur

Major league baseball pitchers throw some amazing pitches. Their repertoire includes the breaking ball, changeup, forkball, screwball, slider, curveball, knuckleball, four-seam fastball, split-finger fastball, cutter, sinker, two-seam fastball and probably some other customized versions of all the above. These pitches range in speed from 70+ to over 100 miles-per-hour. How a batter can even see a pitch that is screaming in at speeds above 90 and dancing all over the place is an incredible feat. And the fact that such pitches can be hit for home runs is even more stupefying. How do they do it?

Major league batters expect to adapt. They know that they are going to see a wide array of pitches that are surgically placed in different locations in the general area of home plate. Thus, every at-bat requires them to adapt to a host of variables. Top-flight big leaguers have an uncanny knack for successfully adapting their vision and their swing to hit the ball and get on base. They go to the plate knowing with absolute certainty that they must be able to adapt, or they will strike out, fly out or ground out.

As entrepreneurs we would be well-served to study successful major league baseball players and observe how they adapt. Sometimes they shorten their swing. At other times they become supremely patient. They may try and push the ball to the opposite field; they may bunt, and they might also time their swing in order to pull the ball. All of this happens within a split second.

We entrepreneurs often work hard to create elaborate strategies and back-fill with a host of tactics. We plan and we create extensive systems and processes. All are absolutely necessary to succeed. But sometimes we forget that we must expect to adapt. There is nothing negative about holding this expectation. The game plan provides a road map for us to follow, but it doesn’t account for every possible instance where we may need to be flexible.

With the disruption caused by COVID-19, our ability to adapt will be tested more than ever before. Businesses have been turned upside down along with the rest of our lives. Having a playbook is important but being able to turn on a dime and act entrepreneurially is critical to adapting to what may be the new normal. Over the years I’ve tried to muscle my way through a plan that I was convinced was the only way to go. Most of the time it led to failure or at least results that were less than stellar. I realize that I was being resistant to adaptation.

What I wish I had understood at the time is that the need to adapt can offer some incredible opportunities. And my resistance caused me to miss those opportunities. It’s easy to say, “OK, I have a plan and undoubtedly something will knock me off-course.” What goes unsaid is the thought that, “Then I’ll do whatever it takes to get back on-course.” But what if we had a mindset of expecting the need to adapt and actually turning it into a desire?” Think about all the wonderful inventions that have occurred in the past. If you’ve ever read the story of Steve Jobs, you’ll know that he was a master of adaptation. Through his flexible nature he embraced the chance to make changes to the iPhone and the result was, “WOW!” It’s well-documented that the initial vision for this technology would not have been nearly as phenomenally functional as what was eventually developed.

When we rejoice at the prospects of adapting our ideas, our creativity increases exponentially. Then we are positioned to achieve greatness in whatever we choose to do.

 This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Unafraid Entrepreneur

I’ve heard it said that fear is a major motivation for entrepreneurs. This may be true but it’s not a healthy or effective motivator in my book. Think about what happens when we are afraid. Do we think with a high degree of clarity or are we focused on some form of self-preservation? Is our creativity in full bloom or do we just want to escape that which is making us fearful? Do we really want to be motivated by something so negative as is fear?

There’s no question that we entrepreneurs have moments when we are afraid. Perhaps we just learned that a major customer is going to stop giving us his business. What’s our immediate reaction? “Oh no! That customer represents 20% of our revenues and we’re going to have to lay people off!” We conjure up all sorts of horrible outcomes when we hear this news. And then it gets worse. Our negative thoughts multiply. “If that customer is unhappy enough to leave, I wonder how many other customers feel the same way. This could be a disaster! Our company could enter a death spiral and we’ll have to close the doors. What will I do next? Would someone even hire me after this debacle?”

It’s been my experience that rarely are things ever as bad as they might seem in the heat of the moment. What’s needed is an automatic diversion of some sort when thoughts of fear start to creep into our minds. And I have the perfect alternative for the ravages of dread and despair. Here’s the antidote . . . What could go right?

Here’s how it works. When something occurs that could have negative connotations – perhaps an event that stirs up severe anxiety – we stop and say, “what could go right?”  It’s like a train that is barreling down the tracks and it comes to a switch. If the switch is turned one way, the train goes to the left. If the switch is turned the other way, the train goes to the right. The mantra, “what could go right?” acts as that switch. If we go to the left, we are on the path to being afraid with a cascade of undesirable results. If we go to the right, we are on the path to calm and a highly desirable conclusion.

The notion of “what could go right?” is not just a blind state of Pollyanna. Instead, it’s a powerful frame of mind. In the example previously cited, let’s see how it might work. When the customer declares his intention to stop doing business with us, we immediately ask the question, “what could go right?” Rather than dwell on the loss of business, we drill down further and explore the cause for the customer’s departure. Let’s say that this individual was simply retiring and shutting down his operations – his decision had nothing to do with the product we’ve been providing. That doesn’t necessarily make the loss of revenues any easier, but at least we didn’t drive him away. We now have more capacity in our organization. In our newly found state of tranquility we remember hearing about a prospective customer that we have not pursued because we did not have the production capacity to meet her needs. But now . . . ! Without missing a beat, we set up a meeting with the prospective customer and guess what? She wants our product and her order will push our revenues beyond where they were with the departing customer.

Had we wallowed in fear, there is no way we would have looked for this new opportunity. We would have been “licking our wounds,” “regrouping,” and “hanging on for dear life.” Instead, we conquered fear before it ever took hold by asking ourselves the simple question, “What could go right?” We took the positive energy from that question and used it to kick our creativity into overdrive. And rather than seeing the situation as a problem to be solved, we viewed it as a steppingstone to even great good.

As entrepreneurs we’re in a much better position to enjoy positive outcomes when we look at everything with the question, “What could go right?”

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Opportunity-Seeking Entrepreneur

Knock-knock. Who’s there? Problem. Problem who? This childhood riddle is emblematic of a common perspective that many of our daily encounters present problems for us. But are they really problems? I’m sure that an argument can be made that anything a bit perplexing or where a less-than-favorable outcome is realized, could be considered a problem. But why do we choose to believe this so often? Some of us by nature are problem-solvers (I’ve been known to fall in this category) and so we may see situations as problems to be solved. But I submit that there is a different way to look at this.

For the last many years, I’ve become more and more inclined to be an “opportunity-seeker.” And what a difference it makes to see things as less problematic and more opportunistic. Obviously, this is a subtle shift in mindset – does it really matter what we call it? I believe that it does because of how we tend to react internally to problems versus opportunities. Some of our natural feelings when facing a problem may be dread, fear, surprise, fatigue, victimization, overload, resignation, procrastination and apathy. All of these feelings are cloaked in negativity. Of course, there are positive ways to view problems and many of us may do so; but I’ll bet that the natural tendency is to focus more on the negative perspective.

On the other hand, becoming an “opportunity-seeker” is a proactive and positive manner in which to move through challenging situations. Notice my language here. I didn’t talk about “facing” a problem. I didn’t talk about a “resolution.” Instead I used the words “move through challenging situations.” This sounds effortless but it’s not. However, the process of “moving through challenging situations” does not have to be filled with our own emotional downside drama. And there’s one component to be an “opportunity-seeker” that makes it all worthwhile in my view. We get to unleash our creativity.

Creativity is one of the most positive energies that we can experience. It’s much more expansive than just figuring out how to fix something. Metaphorically speaking, creativity enables us to make things bigger and better. I’m sure you’ve felt the frustration of trying to put together a puzzle where you simply can’t find the right piece. We just want to “fix” the situation by finding the missing piece and moving on – right? Contrast this with taking a pile of Lego® pieces and building an object right out of our minds-eye. That’s the difference between being a problem-solver and an opportunity seeker. Some situations will always require finding the right piece to the puzzle no matter how creative we want to be. But we can find a way to harness our creativity in every situation. In the literal case of the puzzle, perhaps we can become more imaginative in the way we sift through the pieces to find the right one. Or maybe we make a game out of it.

The office lease for our company’s space recently expired. Even though we’re a commercial real estate company we always leased space rather than owned it. In the past we were able to secure the leasing and management of an office building by offering to be a tenant and pay a market rent. After we sold the commercial side of our business to focus on apartments, we no longer needed to rent our corporate office space. We began the search for new office space nearly a year ahead of our lease expiration. Several buildings were possibilities and we got serious enough about one such building to make an offer to purchase it. In retrospect, it was a blessing that the seller was unwilling to come anywhere close to the price we wanted to pay, and the deal stalled. This building would have quickly been too small, and we would have been spread across three floors.

Then, I woke up in the middle of the night and the image of another building popped into my head. It wasn’t on the market and I had had a long relationship with the building owner. We reached out and lo and behold – the owner was willing to sell. We completed a private transaction several months thereafter and now occupy beautiful space in a much larger (and more attractive) building, with plenty of room to grow, and in a much better location. I am so glad that we didn’t try to “force” the opportunity we were seeking with the other building. The problem we faced on where to re-locate was solved with relative ease and grace.

When we choose to stop seeing challenging situations as problems, we cease limited ourselves to being only problem-solvers. Moving through challenging situations by looking for opportunities to be creative opens the way for feelings of joy, accomplishment, euphoria, happiness and satisfaction. Knock-knock. Who’s there? Opportunity!

An Entrepreneur’s SuperPower: Looking Past Negative Appearances

There is a trap that is well known to most human beings. This trap ensnares the young and the old; the rich and the poor; the healthy and the sick – it does not discriminate. The trap is that of seeing something negative and believing that it is so. You may think that this is black and white. Either something is negative or it’s not. Ah, but that’s the epitome of the trap. In fact, it’s not black or white.

For entrepreneurs this trap is especially dangerous. As we toil to grow our enterprise, we constantly encounter situations that could easily be perceived as negative. Let’s look at a hypothetical example. Eddie the Entrepreneur has watched his team work tirelessly to grow revenue. But the process has been slow, and Eddie is struggling to juggle his bills and keep vendors at bay. Scaling his company is happening but he’s quickly running out of cash. Eddie exhorts his team to pick up the pace and generate more revenue more quickly. Secretly, he thinks that his days are numbered and he’s going to have to face the inevitable and close the doors. Eddie sees what appears to be a negative situation and believes it. What do you suppose happens next? Yes, Eddie’s belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy and his company goes out of business.

Then there’s the story of Ingrid the Impresario. Her situation is similar to that of Eddie. Her company is making headway, but revenue isn’t keeping pace with expenses. She hates the calls she receives daily from bill collectors. But Ingrid is not going to be beaten. Rather than see a negative appearance and believe it, she is resolved to look beyond it. She realizes that she needs to take action immediately before it’s too late. Ingrid asks her vice-presidents of sales, operations and manufacturing to spend a day with her off-site. During that day, they identify a small pivot that will drastically cut costs, pump sales and give them a much longer runway to reach consistent profitability. Rather than continue to try and “muscle through” they deftly make this tweak and quickly see the results they were seeking.

The difference in these examples is profound. In Eddie’s case he saw his business failing and became resigned to that negative appearance – he believed it. Conversely, Ingrid realized that adjustments were needed in her business – and she believed it. What Ingrid saw was not what others might have seen – a negative situation. Instead, she saw an opportunity to make changes that put her company on the path to success and looked beyond the negative appearance.

The ability to look beyond negative appearances is a superpower for entrepreneurs. Doing so takes discipline and a generally positive outlook on everything. I’ve often wondered why human nature seems to default to fear and negativity. I’ve concluded that while we  tend to be afraid of the unknown, it’s relatively easy to believe that we will fail. We hear the statistics about how many companies die an early death. We read story after story detailing the failure of retailers, restaurants, start-ups of all types . . . and the list goes on. It takes a supreme effort not to succumb to the constant drumbeat of negativity.

I learned long ago to ignore the admonitions and warnings of others who lacked a clear understanding of that with which I was involved. Instead, I choose to view every situation and circumstance as an opportunity to inject a healthy dose of creativity. Of course, I’m not naïve enough to ignore reality. But I look for ways to push the boundaries of reality to my advantage. We’ve abandoned business ideas (and businesses!) that did not work. But that was done in clinical fashion after first exploring all our options and determining that we could better spend our time and capital in a more productive and profitable manner. We weren’t resigned to the “inevitable” failure. Instead, we were coldly calculating in our assessments and made choices that were in our best interests. After more than 44 years in business, I’ve never yet seen the sky fall. We’ve had setbacks and hit speed bumps. But by steadfastly looking for opportunity in every situation, we always find a way.

Seeing beyond negative appearances is an entrepreneur’s superpower. Following this approach opens infinite possibilities to prosper and succeed in ways we may not even imagine.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur

As entrepreneurs exactly who are we? What makes us tick? Is there some sort of DNA gene that we can point to? I’ve thought a lot about some of the exceptional entrepreneurs I’ve known over the past four decades and have identified some of their traits and tendencies that stand out.

Let’s start with creativity and innovation. Entrepreneurs use their creative powers to innovate and find a better way to do something. Elon Musk has to be one of the most prolific entrepreneurs when it comes to innovation – Tesla Motors, SpaceX, Pay Pal and Solar City come to mind to name a few. Often, creative entrepreneurs are also visionaries. They have an uncanny ability to see into the future and understand what their customers will want and how their company needs to be designed to win. GoPro CEO Nick Woodman is one of the foremost visionaries in America today. Who could ever have imagined a series of high definition video cameras that are small, durable and light enough to capture our daily adventures – daring and mundane? And successful entrepreneurs understand risk. Rather than taking risk they are adept at managing it.

When they get knocked down, great entrepreneurs get back up – over and over and over. They are amazingly resilient and don’t see failure . . . only opportunity. Walt Disney was fired by his employer, the Kansas City Star, because he supposedly lacked creativity. That didn’t seem to impact his storied career. When things don’t work out as planned, they are flexible and know how to adapt and make the best of every situation. Top-flight entrepreneurs are persuasive and can convince others to say yes. They do so through the power of their passion. Does Steve Jobs come to mind? Look what he convinced us to buy! Along with their persuasive powers, successful entrepreneurs are strong communicators in both verbal and written formats.

Entrepreneurs are assertive – the great ones are less aggressive than assertive. They have a healthy degree of empathy and are sensitive to the feelings of others. Entrepreneurs at the top of their game have a certain amount of charisma. They can be sociable and gregarious – even if those aren’t their core tendencies. Without charisma an entrepreneur will find it tougher to raise money, develop important relationships and influence others. Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is one of the most charismatic leaders on the planet. And he has woven his charisma into a tapestry of empathy and caring about other people.

Culture King is another descriptor for the cream-of-the-crop entrepreneur. Ben Chestnut, founder and CEO of MailChimp fits into this category in the ways he has empowered the 500+ members of his team. Hand-in-hand with a strong culture is a smart entrepreneur’s ability to delegate. According to a 2013 Gallup survey of Inc. 500 CEOs, an average three-year growth rate of 1,751% was realized where the CEO had a high Delegator talent. Entrepreneurs typically have a high sense of urgency and tend to be very self-structured – there’s no way anyone is going to tell them what to do! Entrepreneurs simply don’t want to be a cog in someone else’s machine. Most entrepreneurs also have the ability to juggle many things at once and in fact need to feel the rush and excitement of pursuing multiple projects and initiatives simultaneously. Finally, ultra-successful entrepreneurs are generally positive and optimistic people. They don’t dwell on mistakes and never play the victim.

Remember the DNA thing I mentioned at the beginning of this blog? Well, there may be something to it. A February 17, 2016, research paper published in the Austin Journal of Molecular and Cellular Biology reported on the Dopamine Receptor D4 Gene and concluded that entrepreneurs have a higher tolerance for risk-taking in part, due to this gene      (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/294874673_Entrepreneurship_and_its_Genetic_Basis). Apparently genetics govern approximately 30% of what makes one an entrepreneur. But that leaves 70% to a wide range of personality traits and tendencies.

There are many such traits and tendencies that are identified with entrepreneurs. No one person possesses them all, but the more to which we lay claim the closer we come to attaining world class status.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Entrepreneurial Extinction

The other day it was raining. I usually walk outside – I’m a step-counting junkie – and treadmills don’t do much for me. So, I put on my walking shoes and went to a nearby mall to warm up my Fitbit. There was only one problem. The mall was closed. It was Sunday morning and apparently the mall doesn’t open until noon on Sunday. Needless to say, I was perplexed. During 2017 more than 5,000 stores closed across the nation and purportedly 5,000 more closed during 2018. I say purportedly because I haven’t seen any sort of “official” final tally for 2018. Some media sources report that more than 12,000 stores closed that year. Regardless, bricks and mortar retailers are fighting for their collective lives. They are up against the likes of Amazon and Walmart to name two of their biggest competitors. Amazon is open 24/7 and Walmart stores seem to be open most of the hours people are awake. And yet, the mall I mentioned doesn’t open until noon on Sunday and 10:00 AM on Monday through Saturday. Store (or mall) hours aren’t the only problem for bricks and mortar retail, but they certainly have to be on the list of troubles.

This experience got me to thinking about how some businesses simply fail to change with the times. This isn’t anything new. But by now one would think that the ability to adapt would be case study Numero Uno in the school of entrepreneurship. Let’s look at another example – this one is in the educational sector. For years, we’ve seen tuition spiking at public universities and colleges. According to the College Board, tuition has increased approximately 5% per annum over the past ten years. Meanwhile inflation has averaged 1.66% per year for the same timeframe. Why has this happened? Government-insured student loans have been a major contributor to the upward movement of tuition. Universities have known that they could just keep pushing tuition because students could borrow cheap money to finance the cost. There’s only one problem. The student loan bubble will burst someday, and maybe sooner rather than later. Public funding for higher education has been under pressure for years. Meanwhile, colleges and universities blithely continue to build new buildings and act like the good times will roll forever. There’s scant evidence that leadership is plotting how to adapt to what could become a very scary situation.

The landscape is littered with the carcasses of companies that failed to adapt. During 2018 we saw the death of Sears, Mattress Firm, Brookstone, David’s Bridal, Rockport, Nine West, Claire’s, Toys R Us, iHeartMedia, Gibson’s (the guitar maker) and Bon-Ton to name a few. Many of these companies had accumulated too much debt. Others grew too quickly and saturated the market with stores (Mattress Firm comes to mind). Others clearly kept plodding along with a business strategy that no longer worked.

The Netflix vs. Blockbuster Video story is common knowledge. Blockbuster never came to grips with the fact that streaming services was going to be king of the mountain, pushing the business of renting videocassettes into the abyss. Eastman Kodak failed to understand that digital photography was the future – not film and photographic paper. Yahoo blew it when Google was offering everything for free; yet Yahoo thought it could charge for e-mail and file sharing.

When we as entrepreneurs become comfortable and believe that we have the best idea, we’re probably headed for a fall. Because there’s absolutely no doubt that someone else is already working on the next best idea and may roll it out as early as tomorrow. Dr. Ichak Adizes, CEO of the Adizes Institute and one of the world’s leading management experts has developed a concept he calls the Corporate Lifecycle. He identifies a “Mature” organization as one that is about to experience “The Fall.” He goes on to say, “The leaders of The Fall companies are starting to feel content and somewhat complacent. This attitude has been developing for some time. The company is strong, but it is starting to lose flexibility. It is at the top of its lifecycle curve, but it has expended nearly all the “developmental momentum” it amassed during its growing stages. The rocket is slowing down and starting to change direction and head down the lifecycle curve. The organization suffers from an attitude that says, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ The company is losing the spirit of creativity, innovation, and the desire to change that brought it to Prime (the ultimate phase of the corporate lifecycle). It has sown the seeds of mediocrity.”

There are many lessons to be learned here. As our organizations continue to grow and become rocket ships, it’s critical that we maintain our spirit of creativity, innovation and the desire to change. Always. Every day. Forever.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Podcast 133 – Five Reasons Exponential Growth Can Be Elusive.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Mickey Mouse’s Father – An Amazing Entrepreneur

I recently re-read a terrific biography by Bob Thomas called Walt Disney: An American Original. Thomas was a reporter and biographer who authored multiple biographies focusing on Hollywood celebrities. The Disney story is fascinating and is packed with incredible entrepreneurial anecdotes. As a kid in the 1950s and 1960s, I watched Walt Disney Presents and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color on ABC and NBC. I remember attending the Disney movie Babes in Toyland in early 1962 at the local theater. And then of course there was Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in 1964. The pièce de résistance was a visit to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, with my family. Of course as a boy I had no idea what entrepreneurship was all about.

Roll the tape forward several decades and I find myself in awe of this amazing man. He epitomizes so many positive traits of a successful entrepreneur. For starters, he was one of the most optimistic individuals I’ve ever studied. Walt Disney was born in 1901 and began his career at age 18, and in the 1920s moved to California and launched Disney Studios with his older brother, Roy. The early days were lean – sometimes very lean. There were many weeks when the Disneys were scrounging for enough money to make the payroll. Roy took this very seriously and fretted considerably over their plight. But Walt was the eternal optimist. He would smile and say he never worried about money. He believed they would always figure out a way to survive. And he was right! Somehow the studio inevitably pulled a rabbit out of a hat and came up with the cash. Without Walt’s optimism and positive mindset, there would be no Disney legend that we know today.

Walt understood grit and perseverance better than anyone else. The Disney organization was just starting to come into its own when the Great Depression came crashing down upon the country. And yet Walt continued fine tuning his craft and creating cartoons that were well received by theater audiences everywhere. His optimism fueled this perseverance and every time he was knocked down, he was able to pick himself up, dust himself off and go back at it. This resilience combined with perseverance and a positive attitude was the key to surviving the dark days of the 1930s.

Creativity was another Disney hallmark. Walt got the idea to create a feature-length animated movie and introduced the world to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. No one in the film industry had every produced a feature-length animated movie and everyone doubted that such a production could succeed. Walt Disney proved the skeptics wrong and followed with additional masterpieces such as Pinnochio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942). When World War II took away many of his talented animators, he made movies under a contract with the federal government. While not nearly as profitable, the Disney organization was able to endure the war and remain in business. Walt’s creativity and ability to adapt to his circumstances were more entrepreneurial characteristics that led to his success.

He was a true visionary in every sense of the word. After succeeding with motion pictures, Walt foresaw the opportunity to create an amusement park that embodied the magic he had been delivering through his animated films. I can still remember that trip to Disneyland when I was five or six years old. I was overwhelmed by such an amazing experience. After Disneyland came his ideas for Disney World and Epcot in central Florida. Unfortunately, Walt Disney died from lung cancer in 1966 at the age of 65. The tragedy of this was the fact that he never witnessed the finished product of the Florida projects.

Walt was obsessed with detail and would often snoop after hours and look at the animator boards to see what his team was producing. Often the animators would arrive the next morning to find notes from Walt suggesting changes that would improve their work – and he was usually right about what he wanted. He demanded the highest level of quality for everything that bore the Disney brand. This was one of the major differentiators that enabled the Disney organization to consistently outpace the competition.

We entrepreneurs would be well-served to use Walt Disney as a role model. Wrapped into a single human being are the entrepreneurial traits of optimism and positivity; grit, perseverance and resilience; adaptability; creativity; vision; attention to detail and demand for quality. The impact he has had on our culture is indelible. The impact he has had in blazing a trail for entrepreneurs is profound.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 114 – Exactly What is Accountability?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.