With those two words, I was on my own… cold start at 30 years old.
What sounded like a good idea, a solid business plan, etc… all evaporated about 10 minutes after I walked out. My palms started to sweat. I had three small kids, no other source of income, and just like that, I walked away from a job that provided what was needed.
“Am I crazy?” I thought as I slowed down the car. Maybe I should go back. ”Just kidding… Can I have my job back?”
I pulled over, took a deep breath and said to myself, “If ever you are going to pursue your dreams, NOW IS IT. Don’t look in that rear view mirror. Just go! GO!” With that, I shifted into drive and off I went.
I had no customers, nothing 'pre-built' or 'pre-arranged', just a business plan and a burning passion to do something meaningful with my life.
I could go into the mechanics of the first business, and each venture that followed. I’ve had them all: successes, failures, even “what the hell was I thinking” failures. You could say that my back has an abundance of scars. It comes with the turf; however, what I’d like to share most with you is the essence of building a business, some reflection on lessons learned, and advice for anyone thinking about that jump.
I can only piece things together now, but looking back, it’s important to understand that everything in life, EVERYTHING, IS INTERCONNECTED. This is the first lesson, and also the last. When you’re in the fight, it becomes a bit like dominoes… each move creates a stream of activity, most unpredictable. Push one domino, but keep your eye on the 10 th. Lesson: your action on the first one has a broad impact on the rest.
Be thinking, “If I do THIS, what are the five things that will happen as a result?” It’s amazing how small actions can steamroll and create big momentum, sometimes where you don’t expect it. Be smart about it. Being an ass can whipsaw right back at you. We’ll capture this lesson as: HAVE A 360 VIEW . Everything is interconnected. Be aware of what’s confronting you at this moment, and concurrently look at the horizon and challenge whether what you are doing is helping you get to that end goal.
The second lesson is one that many have quoted in various forms in the past, but it boils down to: DON’T CONFUSE MOTION WITH PROGRESS. I can’t tell you how many wasted hours I’ve spent on non-sense, or thinking something was important, but it wasn’t. Separating the wheat from the chaff – quickly – is critical.
Remember this: we all have the exact number of minutes in a day. That kid in grade school right now that will someday be President of the United States… he or she has the same number of minutes to spend as you and I. Time is the great equalizer. The difference is how you use those minutes. It’s your inventory in life. Once a day, a week, a month, a year is gone, it’s gone. Over. Never to be recovered. Don’t waste your most valuable asset, your time, on bullshit… or people full of bullshit.
The third lesson may be the most important lesson I’ve learned. IT'S ALL ABOUT PEOPLE. You can’t make it by yourself. You need people to help you through the journey, but more importantly (and listen close) this needs to be your mindset: you need to help other people. The more good you do, even small acts, pays dividends in life.
I’ve never looked at an employee and thought, “I hired Joe to work for me.” Instead I think, “Joe is investing his career, and his family’s well-being in me.” I have a deeper responsibility here. If you embrace the broader goodness, the culture of your team, the levels of dedication and support just migrate you to a higher level. BUT, you need to believe this. No pretending, or you’re just full of it. It’s got to come from your heart. Be sincere.
Let’s stay on people for a few more moments… Not all are good. Some are just toxic. Whiners. The world hates them, etc. Get them out of your life. Period. Don’t be a crutch for someone that doesn’t accept responsibility for his or her own well-being. It can suck the life out of you, and that is just too damn hard to manage. You’ll have enough on your plate without time bandits sapping your energy.
Lesson four: ACCEPT THAT FAILURE IS OPPORTUNITY IN DISGUISE. You are going to screw up, or screw something up. When you do, OWN IT, understand what YOU did, or missed, and move on a better person. Even the best of us fail. Heck, Steve Jobs and Walt Disney were both fired.
Lesson five: Start out to win. We’ve always adopted a “murder board” process in any venture I’ve been behind or associated with. Here’s how it works, and we’ll use a proposal as an example... There is only one goal: WIN. No ego’s, no pride of authorship. Only thing that matters is making it the winning proposal. Everything about the proposal gets reviewed, evaluated, rewritten, for the greater good of winning.
Lesson six: Get it right, in spite of yourself. The mindset you establish in your business must be one of “getting it right”, and whatever it takes to “get it right” is how we live. That means that your people feel strong enough to challenge you. Never know, you could be wrong and someone just saved your bacon by telling you that you have it wrong. You want that, need it, and must nurture a culture to ensure you get it. Very last thing you want is a culture of people blowing smoke up your rear and around you. You need truth. Foster it.
We’ve reinforced in our Madda Fella culture to ” DO THE RIGHT THING, AND GOOD THINGS WILL HAPPEN.” If you operate and carry yourself on that basis, then your likelihood of success rises. Customers get great service, and you’ll develop a following.
I can’t say that starting a business is for everyone. It’s damn hard, consumes you, can cost relationships, and in many ways becomes a part of the fabric of who you are. However, if you are going to do it, have a damn good plan, decent capital, watch your cash flows, and remember these simple lessons…
If you’re thinking about making this leap on your own and want to talk it through, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This leap can be the most exhilarating and fulfilling experience of your life… just be prepared to work hard, and give it everything you’ve got.