As a child I dreamt of being a business owner. While the other kids in the neighborhood were talking about being pro athletes I always imaged myself starting a business. At the spry age of 10 I opened my first business in the early 90's in my parents basement in rural New York selling used skateboard parts. It was exciting! I had a business sign which proclaimed ‘Sk8 Parts’, a rack to display my shoddy products for sale and even a chair to sit on while waiting for the sales to come rolling in. After a summer being in business I had only made one sale a set of dirty and worn out skateboard wheels for a measly fifty cents to a kid down the street. That sale bought me a pink panther ice cream from the neighborhood ice man. While the business didn’t rocket me to instant success like I had envisioned I was hooked on the idea of being a business owner in the future so I could buy the whole ice cream factory, not just one pink panther.
As I got older I tried my hand at inventing all sorts of things, products that I thought would get me rich, if I could only figure out a way to sell a few million of them. First it was a gaming chair, then workout towels and even a handheld flashlight projector. My entrepreneurial dreams ended at the time with a website I tried to start in 2006 that would allow people to ask questions and get advice based off real life business situations they were dealing with. That was a $2k boondoggle which went nowhere.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that I would find my way, diving head first into entrepreneurship by starting Square-1 Engineering. Thankfully I had a lot of help from many close people around me (wife, parents, friends) who all were incredibly supportive. Four years into my current entrepreneurial journey I’ve learned and experienced firsthand many things which have helped me navigate my way to present day. Of all these experiences, learning lessons and awareness gained there are eight which have brought about the biggest positive impact in helping me weather the entrepreneur start up storm:
1.Get A Mentor
This is the single second best decision you’ll ever make in business. The first best decision is to become an entrepreneur. Mentors have experience which you can learn from helping you avoid mistakes along the way.
2.Support Gets You Over The Hump
Make sure those close to you understand your vision and support it. They don’t have to buy in 100% but if it’s you against the world there are going to be some very long nights in store. If you are married it’s vital your spouse understands the opportunity and supports it, even in the down times.
3.Some Things CAN Wait
Some people will tell you it’s important to write a business plan, vision, mission, blah blah blah, right away. Unless you’re in a situation where you need to ask for capital to start the business the best thing to do is put those things aside and focus all your efforts on how to make money. Ultimately being an entrepreneur means you’re selling something to someone so the more time you spend on how you’re going to get paid for the product or service you’re providing the better off you’ll be.
4.You Can’t Be Everything to Everyone
I failed miserably here. When I did start to get customers I tried to offer them everything under the sun in order to get their business. Some times it worked, often times it created a nightmare for me as now I had to deliver the goods. Never over promise, you’ll most likely end up under delivering. Find one or two areas you can become an expert in, one or two problems you can solve for your customers. Do that and only that before you start getting into other areas of opportunity.
5.Having a Plan-B is Dangerous
I’ve read countless articles about “the power of having a ‘plan-B’ ” or an alternative course of direction. I hate that advice. As an entrepreneur if you don’t believe in what you’re doing and have a plan-B set up in case you fail you’re almost destined to set yourself up for disappointment. I’m not saying it’s not important to plan ahead for bumps in the road but if you’re going to start a business that should be your one and only focus. Anything other than a mentality of success has no place for you. Visualize to materialize.
The first several months I attempted to handle all the accounting and finance portions of the business only to realize two things: 1 – I’m not good at it nor do I like it; 2 – I created more problems than I remedied. Best advice I got was to pay the money to get a reliable CPA that understood my business and could help scale it up by making good decisions. Best money I’ve ever spent was a CPA.
7.The Power Of Saying ‘No’
Crucial to your success as an entrepreneur is the ability to politely and professionally say ‘no’. Similar to ‘you can’t be everything to everyone’ saying ‘no’ is harder than it sounds. Naturally you want to say yes to everyone, making everyone around you happy, especially if it’s a customer. Unfortunately, when we do this we get pulled in a hundred directions which causes us to deviate from our destined course. If you are asked to do something and it doesn’t align with your top 2 or 3 priorities politely decline and thank the person for the opportunity to be considered, even if it is a customer.
8.Breathe, It’ll Be Okay
Very few things in life actually have the ability to stop you from moving forward in your new business. When bumps in the road momentarily derail you (you will experience plenty of bumps along the way) take a deep breath and be thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow as a professional. Stephen Covey put it best when he gave us the 90/10 principle:
“10% of life is made up of what happens to you, 90% of life is decided by how you react.” – Stephen Covey
Your Boss VS a Star Wars JEDI
Could your boss stand up to a Jedi from the movie Star Wars? Before you go dismissing it as if there’s no way in hell your boss could go toe to toe with a Jedi, let’s take a moment to see how GREAT leaders stand up to the defenders of the galaxy and beyond.
As you may know by now, Star Wars is back! Han Solo, along with Chewy, R2D2, and a whole list of other great supporting characters, reunited for a movie that is sure to break all sorts of box office records, sending fans screaming for more. Growing up in a generation where Star Wars was basically the second coming, I found myself oddly intrigued with the concept of the Jedi and that little green guy named Yoda.
With the new movie coming out in December I’ve spent some time reading up on what it’s all about and in the process I’ve stumbled upon an interesting parallel between the Jedi and present day business leadership. (Good leadership, that is) Weird as that may seem, it’s striking the similarities when you put them side by side one another.
Before we get into those similarities, it would be good to provide a little overview of who the Jedi are in the event you’ve been living under a rock for the past 40 some odd years and aren’t familiar with them. The Jedi are the protectors of ‘good’ and vanquishers of ‘evil’ in the movie saga, Star Wars, which was originally released in 1977 by George Lucas. Jedi live their lives to serve others and have an insatiable drive and focus on honing their craft, which is the search for knowledge and the development of the use of the ‘Force’.
Now that we have a basic understanding of our Jedi compadres, let’s take a look at their characteristics:
serving others, patience, humility, discipline, honesty, loyalty, responsibility, teaching others, listening, observing, preparedness, positive mindset, defending others
Now, think about your boss. Hopefully doing that doesn’t make you spasm with angst. Go back through the list of Jedi characteristics and see how many of them your boss possesses. If you’re part of the growing number of Americans in the work force which have underperforming leaders you may find that your current boss would get their rear end handed to them in a battle royale against a Jedi. We’re at a (good) leadership deficit in the States, and the gap only seems to be widening. That said, you may need to compare the characteristics of the Jedi to the best leader you know; in doing so, things start to balance out. It won’t be perfect but what you’ll see is the similarities between being a great leader in business and being a Jedi in Star Wars are one in the same.
It all starts with mindset. To be a Jedi, you have to master your mindset first, then you can move onto the incredibly difficult, life consuming task of training. If you are a Jedi you know firsthand it is impossible to be perfect therefore rigorous training and continuous development are essential. Being a great leader is exactly the same. To be a great leader one must have a positive mindset which then becomes the foundation for who they are, WHY they do what they do and what they stand for. Only then can a leader in todays’ business world successfully start to lead others.
It doesn’t stop with our mindset, it also has to do with our outlook on people. Both Jedi and great leaders serve others, viewing leadership as a servant role rather than a perch which one can dictate from. When we focus on serving others we find that we are more patient, humble about who we are and what our part is in the grand scheme of things and ready to take blame while defending others when need be. Great leaders spread the wealth and give praise to those around them rather than taking the kudos themselves. Their team is first, as they are a servant and only as good as those who make up the team.
Good leadership, like being a Jedi, can only be accomplished when we are sound of mind. Our self-health is a prime indicator to our success rate in leadership. When leaders focus on having an open positive mindset, are continuously developing themselves and lead by example, they are building the cornerstone for a present day Jedi, one which others will follow willingly not because they are told too, but because they believe in them.
Like being a Jedi, being a leader is a commitment often times larger than life itself and to be great you must CHOOSE to do so. One cannot just say “I’m going to be a great leader”, it’s your actions, not just words that make the difference. Once you develop the correct mindset, you will find your inner Jedi emerges, helping you lead successfully while serving those who are the most important – your team.
Why Patience Pays Off, Literally
Patience is a skill I’ve struggled with my whole life. Many years ago my then boss brought to my attention that in order to get ahead in my career I would have to face my shortcomings with patience head on and make some significant changes to the way I went about things at work and at home. This is where I learned the valuable saying, ‘seek to understand before being understood’.
Improve my patience? This definitely wasn’t going to be easy.
The more time I spent building awareness around why I struggled with patience the more I began to realize that my issues with patience were rooted in a way of thinking which I had developed over a life time. My thought process was an unyielding focus on things always being perfect and when they were anything but perfect my issues with patience would soon coming roaring center stage.
Naturally, I applied this thought process to myself constantly along with the people I worked with and who worked for me. As in life, there are always moments of challenge, let down and dealing with the unknown so my thought process on a utopian way of life where nothing ever goes wrong, everything is perfect and everyone performs to expectation and beyond, was quite absurd. My lack of patience played a key role in this thought process because I wasn’t comfortable living in the ‘gray’ and dealing with ambiguity, my thought process was always black and white. When you lack the skill of patience you seek immediate resolve, regardless if that’s the right answer or not for the given moment. Many times it isn’t.
As time went on I came to realize that one of the
best ways to improve patience was to simply do nothing. When I would be faced with a challenge, a tough conversation, a moment of “what the hell were you thinking”, rather than act I would simply do nothing and observe. I credit this lesson to an incredibly powerful book on the subject of patience called 4 Seconds by Peter Bregman. As you may have guessed from the title of the book, four seconds is all it takes according to Bregman to quell the need for immediate responses while giving yourself a chance to breathe and think things through. Four seconds doesn’t seem like a lot of time but when you put it into practice it’s amazing how effective it can be. In fact, this book was so impactful I consider it one of my top 10 reads!
Recently I had a personal experience which served as a keen reminder on how patience is vital to a balanced lifestyle; in fact it can also lead to you making more money.
Our family made a decision to sell a car with the idea of getting a bigger one to accommodate the volume of stuff we tote around thanks to our little daughter. I’m continually amazed at how much crap one little kid can have, which is probably my fault, but that’s another article in itself.
So we’re upgrading vehicles for the sake of making our lives easier. I’ve sold many cars in the past so this certainly wasn’t my first rodeo however I would soon find out that the experience and results would be very new to me.
As my wife and I made the decision to sell our car the easy solution was to just go trade the car in at the dealership where we were going to buy the new car. As we were meeting with the dealership coming close to finalizing the deal all of a sudden I thought to myself, “wait, why sell the car now just because we can, we don’t need to sell it immediately and perhaps waiting (welcome to the stage our friend ‘patience’) will bring about a better option that pays us more of what the car is worth”. Well, let’s be honest here, my wife said that and I was sitting there saying, “why didn’t I think of that”.
Here’s how things went down…
Our car’s private party and Kelley Blue Book (KBB) value was about $24,500. While KBB is a useful tool it isn’t always accurate but does provide a good benchmark. As we spent more time searching our options here’s what we came across:
- Dealership Trade-In: $19,600 ($4,900 below value)
- CarMax: $21,000 ($3,500 below value)
- Beepi (online version of CarMax, just better): $23,500 ($1,000 below value)
After we carefully reviewed our options it was apparent that going with Beepi was the easy decision. We were impressed with their customer service, straightforward approach on how they value cars and business model, with the best part being they came to us. We never left our home and the car sold for a price that we were happy with.
We’re all confronted with opportunities to practice patience on a daily basis. From this experience I’ve learned that when I'm considering to make a decision which could be hasty or impatient I now think of this experience selling our car and think to myself how much money could I be leaving on the table by acting now?
Do you struggle with patience sometimes?
If so, test it out. Go through this week and take four seconds before you respond or make up your mind on something. What you may find out is that the four seconds you take to think something through could result in you making more money down the road, or just simply being happier with the outcome of whatever it is you’re faced with.
“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” ― Aristotle
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.