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4 things to remember when things look bad for you as an entrepreneur

(EDITORIAL) We obsess about successful entrepreneurs but don’t always see the struggles it took to get to that point. If you’re struggling as an entrepreneur, let this editorial encourage you and give you an honest perspective.

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The American fairy tale of entrepreneurialism

We love a good success story just like the next guy. We love tales of triumph, of someone winning against all odds, and today, the American fairy tale of entrepreneurialism is one that has captured the minds of screenwriters, musicians, and Instagrammers alike. We worship the Zuckerbergs of the world who went from no one to bajillionaire in a short period of time as their lines of code changed how the entire world communicates.

But in that idol worship, we focus on that moment of success and don’t see the tales of failures hovering just below the surface. Every entrepreneur can tell you about the overwhelming nature of those struggles and failed moments, and they can all tell you about the crushing pressure that exists before the dawn of success.

So what should every hopeful, budding, or veteran entrepreneur keep in mind? We asked Victorio Pellicano, Founder and CEO of Verenia for his thoughts on the topic, on overcoming the difficulties of entrepreneurship. He earned his BS in Computer Science from the University of St. Francis, which he followed up with a law degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law. He worked as a software engineer and soon founded Verenia which is a popular CPQ company (“Configure, Price, Quote” is software that accurately prices goods as endless variables change constantly).

Although there were already huge CPQ companies in existence (Salesforce, SAP), Pellicano has been able make his company meaningfully competitive and skyrocket revenue, all without outside funding. Talk about a high pressure scenario.

Below are Pellicano’s words of guidance for entrepreneurs when things look bad:

Starting a business from the ground up is tough

A lot of things need to go right to be successful. Too bad human existence has a funny way of doing exactly the opposite of smooth. Things change, people get into fights, or maybe the overall vision of the business isn’t what it once was. When you’re in business for yourself, the term “bootstraps” can mean a lot of things.

It isn’t easy, but if you do find that mythical “magic quadrant,” the payoff is incredible. You’ve built something you believed in, and you put in the work to achieve awesomeness. There are few feelings as gratifying as being the boss and taking a long lunch whenever you damn well please.

But, it ain’t all roses. Stuff will suck a lot of times. It will be hard. That’s just inherent to the culture of being self-made. I mean hey, busting your ass, coming up from nothing is basically, like – 80% of rap music, right?

As new entrepreneurs set off into the business world, there are some things they should know, what to expect and what to do when things don’t go as planned.

Check out these four things to keep in mind when it feels like the sky is falling.

1. Build a support system stronger than the Great Wall

When in business, stuff goes sideways. Anyone who’s ever held a job knows stuff changes and can go bad quickly – that’s just inherent to the DNA of work. But, when you’re in charge, and it’s your business, you’ll be pulled in a lot of directions. Many times, those directions are uncomfortable whether it be about the staff, progress, earnings, whatever. Because of this, you gotta assemble the All-Star team behind you, the folks who’ll always keep your head in the game and won’t let you get too big for your britches.

As an entrepreneur, you’re inherently optimistic. You had the guts to go it alone and do your own thing. That optimism is what makes you, you. Because of this bold attitude of work-related sunshine, you’ll probably not likely pay attention to that bad stuff, until it’s like, crazy bad.

By keeping a group of advisors, friends, and family close who you can talk to, you’ll have voices who offer advice from a place that isn’t about anything but helping you succeed. Success is a long process, rarely do businesses go from red to black overnight. You need some reliable people to keep you sane when all is quiet.

2. Don’t lose sight

When you had the idea to start your business, it was about more than just making money. You had goals, you had a vision, and you wanted to make an impact on the world. After a while, those emotional price points evolve. When you suffer a setback, or something goes way better than planned, it’s important to stick to your guns.

Keep a list visible near your workspace. You got into this game because you wanted to do better for your family, or maybe your last boss was a jerk and this is your way of paying the universe back. Either way, a little motivation never hurt anyone. You wanted to be the boss of yourself, don’t lose sight of that through the rough patches.

Set small goals to nail, and then work your way toward the bigger rocks. Motivation is hard, just ask anyone who wants to hit the gym, but still has a gut. Business is no different. You need to focus on the stretch goals and fight your way through the murk of self-doubt.

3. Rome wasn’t built in a day

You know why this old cliche sticks around? Because it’s true. Nothing worth doing happens overnight. If being self-made was easy, everyone would be doing it, too. (Just ask Biggie Smalls.)

Read any bio of successful folks who built an empire, or just a solid place to grab a burger in the neighborhood – success took time. For many of these folks, that time was spent worried the dream would go under from lack of early adopters.

But they persisted. They invested their money back into the business, they promoted, they made smart choices instead of the easy ones. Building brand equity will take smart moves and a lot of patience. Can’t be selling that charbroiled cheeseburger when no one’s coming in the door, right?

4. Accept your plan isn’t perfect

Just because you dream it down to the final note on paper, that doesn’t mean it’s going to work out that way.

If you’re a business-type CEO, you’ve spent a lot of time planning, writing business plans and Go-To-Market plans – that’s business 101.

If you’re a technical CEO, you’ve spent a lot of time coding, researching, and watching trends.

Both CEOs have done the homework, they’ve planned, prepared, and are committed to taking on the world, helmet strapped on and mouth guard in place.

But then the world doesn’t give a shit. Doesn’t even kind of care. No leads come in, there is no money to spend to bring in new customers, and no foreseeable change.

All the planning in the world won’t prepare you for the harsh realities of the free market. As you roll out and talk to people about your business, invite criticism and learn from what other people tell you. It doesn’t mean you have to change course every time someone’s opinion is different than yours, but their thoughts and critiques could offer a nugget of truth you may have not considered.

Final word of encouragement

I’m from Chicago, and if there’s one thing we love more than The Blues Brothers, it’s His Airness, Michael Jordan. I rely on one of his quotes to get me through the bad times:

“I’ve missed 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

If that ain’t some #realtalk, I don’t know what is. See you out on the court, folks.

#realtalk

Kiri Isaac is the Web Producer and a Staff Writer at The American Genius and studied communications at Texas A&M. She is fluent in sarcasm and movie quotes and her love language is tacos.

Business Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs: You’re unemployable in your own company, must define your role

(ENTREPRENEURS) Once you’ve built a successful business, it’s time to reexamine your role and determine where you fit in best.

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In my experience, most entrepreneurs are “accidental entrepreneurs.” They happened to be good at something, or they had a unique one-time opportunity to provide a product or service to the market. Then years later, they wake up one day and realize that they’re running a big business.

As an entrepreneur, one of the unintended consequences of building a business is that you become essentially unemployable within your own organization. After living the life of freedom, flexibility and responsibility of being a business owner, it’s difficult to go back to a “nine-to-five” job. This is why many entrepreneurs don’t enjoy staying with their businesses after they’ve sold to other organizations. Within months, they are frustrated that they’re no longer in control and the new owners are (in their opinion) making poor choices.

I see many situations where entrepreneurs are bad employees in their own organization. In fact, they may be the worst team members in the organization by having inconsistent schedules or poor communication skills and/or by inserting themselves into areas that aren’t useful. They can also have too much freedom and flexibility. And while most entrepreneurs insist on clearly defined roles, expectations and goals for all of their employees, they don’t always take the time to define their own roles, expectations and goals.

So why do entrepreneurs become bad employees?

I believe that it’s because they don’t have someone holding them accountable. Think about it: Who do they report to? They’re the owners. Part of the definition of “owner” is being accountable for everything but not accountable to anyone. Having a board of directors, a peer group or a business coach can provide some accountability for them, but another solution is to clarify their roles in the company and then abide by those definitions.

If you find yourself “unemployable” in your business, it’s time to define your role. It starts with outlining your main focus. Do you concentrate more on day-to-day execution or strategic, long-term decisions? Do you consider yourself an owner-operator or an investor?

Most entrepreneurs start as an owner-operator and put in countless hours of sweat equity doing whatever needs to be done to build the business. But over time they reinvest earnings in the business and hire a management team so they can step back and take on a more strategic role. Sometimes it’s not clear when the entrepreneur makes that transition, which can lead to challenges for the entire team.

Focus: Strategic Overview

If your main role is in dealing with long-term, strategic decisions, then it’s important for you to communicate that to the team. Clearly delegate tactical roles and responsibilities to the leadership team.

I’ve seen many instances where owners do more harm than good by haphazardly injecting themselves into tactical decisions that should be handled by the leadership team. Instead of jumping in when they see something they disagree with, I encourage owners to actively “coach” their leadership team to be better leaders. The approach of micromanaging every decision of others will frustrate everyone and lead to an underperforming organization.

I have one client that decided his role was to build strategic relationships and work on a new service offering. He was confident that his leadership team could handle the day-to-day operations of the business. Over time he discovered that being in the office every day was actually a distraction for him and his team. So, he moved his office out of the building.

To maintain his ownership responsibilities to the company, he scheduled one afternoon a week to physically be in the office. Team members knew they could schedule time with him during that weekly window when he temporarily set up office space in a conference room. Not having a permanent office in the building also sent a message to the team that he was not responsible for day-to-day decisions. Sometimes not having an office in the building is better than the team seeing the owner’s office empty on a regular basis.

Focus: Day-to-Day Execution

If you decide that your role is in the day-to-day execution of the business, then clearly define your role in the same way you would define any other team member role. Are you in charge of marketing? Sales? Finance? Operations? Technology? R&D? Or, some combination of multiple roles? Take the time to outline your responsibilities and communicate them to the team.

Just as you define your role, also define what you are NOT going to do and who is responsible for those areas. After all, sectioning off some tactical work does not abdicate you from long-term decision-making. You must set aside time to make the long-term, strategic decisions of the company.

Being an entrepreneur sounds glamorous to those that haven’t done it, but ultimately, the owner is accountable for everything that happens in their organization. It can be quite sobering. And while some entrepreneurs have a delusional belief that they can do everything in a company, it’s not a path to long-term success.

All entrepreneurs have to decide what their role should be in their organization – even if it means that they’re contributing to their “unemployable” status.

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Startups love pondering inclusion, yet half have no women in leadership

(STARTUPS) Tech startups are a huge part of discussing diversity and inclusion, but something as simple as hiring women in management somehow remains elusive.

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According to the Silicon Valley Bank’s annual report, over half of startups have no women on their leadership team. None.

As hard as this fact is to believe, it is also hardly breaking news. Organizations who have surveyed startups and technology companies for the past several years have seen that long-standing trends that disadvantage women and other genders in the tech space are still at play.

Like many other gendered debates about the treatment of women and other minority workers, this problem is seemingly a Catch 22 or a chicken and egg situation. Critics will continue to argue that the reason ladies aren’t in leadership roles is because they don’t have innate leadership qualities or that once their non-male employees have proven themselves, then they will start getting the resources and promotions that they say that they desire.

Like many other myths about women in the workforce, these beliefs only serve to reinforce the status quo by transferring the responsibility for these frustrating conditions onto the marginalized party.

These beliefs are busted not only because they’re tired gender clichés, but because we have hard data that proves the financial and cultural benefit in long-term effects of women leadership in tech.

However, for all the discussion of diversity initiatives, the likelihood of traditional funding going to women-led startups is still small.

For now, startups with women in leadership roles were more likely to get their funding from investing teams that were also led by females. Wouldn’t it be great if other investors began to not only understand that in 2019 it’s imperative that a company’s leadership reflect the diversity of the employees that comprise it? That workers will be more motivated, feel more understood, and have greater buy-in when they identify with their management?

Empowering women is how more get involved in tech. Diversity of leadership helps organizations thrive. And if something as simple as binary gender diversity is such a tremendous challenge, all other diversity issues are still (unfortunately) a large mountain to climb.

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Business Entrepreneur

C. J. Walker: America’s first self-made millionaire was a black orphan

(ENTREPRENEUR) When you think of our nation’s first self-made millionaire, C. J. Walker is probably not the picture that may come to mind, but this generous genius made it to the top, breaking every glass ceiling possible.

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These days, it seems like Oprah gets all the bragging rights. I don’t think it’s quite fair that some car-gifting mogul gets to bask in the glory of a path that was paved a century ago. **No offense, O Great Winfrey. You’re cool, too. Please don’t take my Altima back.**

It’s time to pay our respects to the first female self-made millionaire in America. My friends, I’d like to introduce you to your new idol, Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madam C. J. Walker.

This gal had just about every card in the deck working against her. Both of her parents and all of her siblings before her were born into slavery. Her mother died when she was five, and her father passed the following year. Orphaned, she lived with her older sister until she married at age 14.

As if that wasn’t enough, a mere two years after her first child was born, Sarah’s husband died. I mean, she just couldn’t catch a break. Unfortunate event after unfortunate event. She then moved to St. Louis to live with her brothers, working as a washer woman for a mere dollar a day. Classic rags-to-riches stuff.

Her brothers worked at a local barber shop, and she wound up learning a thing or two about hair care while sharing a home with them. This planted the seed that would lead to her working with Annie Turnbo Malone, selling African American hair care products. As she learned more about hair, she must have realized she had a knack for it, because she decided to roll up her sleeves and put some indie elbow grease in.

After moving to Denver to work on her own products, she married Charles Walker, who provided the advertising know-how that would help her venture succeed. She adopted the name C. J. Walker and began traveling and training women in the fields of beauty and sales.

Eleven years later, in 1917, she called her first convention of so-called “beauty culturists” in Philadelphia. Here, she rewarded her top agents as well as those who were the most philanthropic towards local charities.

What I love about C. J. is that as her business grew, so did her awareness of the social climate around her. She never forgot where she came from, never hesitated to give back, and never gave up. She lectured on topics such as women’s independence, helping educate other black women in the ways of business.

Upon her death, it was determined that she was the wealthiest African-American woman in the country. In true C. J. style, she left two-thirds of her future profits to charity.

If I ever get mega-famous, I’m doing it the C. J. Walker way: Keep a level head, educate and help others, and put your community first.

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