So You Want to Start a Business?

Aside from my stint in the military (6 years, 2 months and 15 days to be exact), I’ve had the good fortune of being involved with both early-stage companies (3) and starting one from scratch (5 so far).  For the most part, I was extremely fortunate to have good partners – only one failed due to poor planning and execution.  Every experience builds on itself and teaches you a lesson or two.  Failure taught me the biggest lessons in being an entrepreneur.  Below are my five rules to live by, developed as my must-haves through the years of school of hard knocks…

  1. Passion – let’s face it, everyone wants to be rich.  We don’t start companies to be poor.  But you have to have passion and vision for your products and services.  And it has to be beyond just making money.  PARR’s mission is simple – we provide world-class back office support to small and mid-sized companies so that owners can focus on what they do best, grow their business – and my partners and I are passionate about this.
  2. Trustworthy partner(s) – speaking of which, there’s only so much you can do as a sole proprietor.  Having that partner(s) whom you can trust is worth its weight in gold.  I ask myself three questions:  Do I like you?  Do I trust you?  Can you do your job?  If the answer is not yes to all three, the partnership is probably not going to work.
  3. Total commitment – no military training has ever prepared me for two things in life, marriage and becoming an entrepreneur.  If the Corps and the Army is hardest thing I’ve ever done physically, being an entrepreneur is the hardest thing I’ve ever done mentally.  Highs are so high; lows are so unbelievably low.  Without commitment, nothing else matters.
  4. Reserve capital – a good friend of mine (former founder of FreeMarkets and a lifelong entrepreneur) used to discuss run-way capital.  Don’t count on grants, line of credit or any other form of outside capital.  Unless you are bringing ready-made customers, you will need at least 12 months of run-way capital to make it.
  5. Focus on sales – nothing else matters…  One endeavor that failed, we had a decent idea, nice office space, business cards, desks, printers that can pump out pages of pristine documents, laminated business plan that we paid consultants to put together for soliciting outside capital (in violation of rule #3).  One problem – no prototype and no customers and in time, no money.  There were a few more hiccups, but that’s for another post.

Notice nothing technical such as business name, business plan, legal structure, zoning and licenses is listed above.  Not that they aren’t important, but I believe these tasks will get completed in due time once your business gets going.  Last but not least, go for it.  Once you have all your ducks in order, have faith and jump in head first.  No doubt you will be successful.

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About Richard Lee
Experienced finance and operations professional. Currently partner in five companies, adjunct professor of economics at Columbia College and executive contributor to a small business blog (www.SMBmatters.com); following corporate finance, M&A and management consulting tenures with Orbitz and Diamond Technology Partners; and six years of service with the United States Army.

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