1. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
It’s important to surround yourself with good people. This is particularly important in the beginning, when a reliance on strong third-party providers is essential, before you have gotten large enough to be able to afford having all that talent in-house.
Second is diligence. You have to be willing to stick with things, even when times are hard. Your business won’t always go the way you expect or hope, so you need to have the courage and patience to stay the course.
Third, perhaps above all, know what your client needs. That means listening closely to what he/she says and doesn’t say, and also anticipating their needs.
I’d like to add two more that are important as well: Access to capital. Whether this means inheriting a windfall or making friends with the right money people, you don’t want to be caught short of funding at the wrong time. Finally, get metrics in as quickly as you possible can. You can’t make the right decisions about your business without solid data.
- How do you generate new ideas?
This ties in to the importance of surrounding yourself with good people and allowing them to challenge your thinking. I do all I can to encourage open dialogue with team members, both our staff and our providers. I try to get as much input as possible from people from different disciplines. That’s because you don’t know where your next good idea will come from. My clients generate as many new ideas for me as anyone else does.
Another idea generator is what my business partner and I call “Business tourism.” I spend a lot of time traveling and looking at different businesses and different models, and talking to their leadership. How do they run things? What’s working and not working? How are they solving problems? I then take that spirit and those ideas and further ask – how might this apply to my business? I find this helpful, even if the idea comes from a company that is not in our industry at all.
My last source of ideas and inspiration may sound simple, but it’s the Internet. I learn a lot by surfing, reading and investigating.
- Name one business failure and what have you learned from it?
We gave our first client, a Fortune 500 company, too much leeway and power to dictate terms. They got away with too much and it jeopardized our business, going so far as to put our legal status in jeopardy. We should have trusted our instincts from the start and not been so worried about keeping our first client, no matter the cost.
From this I learned to trust my instincts more, and also learned to address issues with clients early on as they arise, instead of letting things spiral out of control.
- What is your greatest business fear, and how do you manage it?
Like any business, we are greatly affected by laws passed and conditions imposed by governments. In addition, in our case much of our business is done in an emerging market, where laws are less transparent and continuously changing. These governments can make decisions from time to time that may not be based on forwarding commercial interests or economic growth.
Fundamentally we handle this by building the right relationships. We spend a lot of time working with local governments to help them understand what we do and how we help the community, how we create jobs.
On top of that, we do a lot of contingency planning. We hope for the best but plan for the worst and assist our clients in dealing with any changes that may come about. This entails ensuring we have sufficient financial resources on hand if necessary.
- How do you define success?
From a business perspective, three ways:
- The company is profitable
- Our clients renew contracts with us and expand their footprint
- Our key staff is fulfilled professionally
On a personal level, I want to be able to balance work and family, while also growing the business.
- What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
It hasn’t happened yet. And that’s a good thing to look forward to.
- What is one thing that no one knows about you?
Retirement is owning a minor league baseball team.
- Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Vice Media. Andy Capper followed his passion and made it into a viable business, despite long odds. Although I don’t always agree with his viewpoint, he provides a true public service that other media aren’t these days.
- What is your favorite EO memory?
Always the forum
10. In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.