An Entrepreneur Looks at Forty-Four
Or, less Rant than Roll these days….
Sung to the tune of Jimmy Buffett’s, “A Pirate Looks at Forty.”
Today’s my birthday. Go me! And similar to an adolescent favorite (Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV), I enjoy spending the day reflecting back and forth between lessons learned and goals yet reached.
But this year will be all about a lifetime of lessons learned as a wannabe entrepreneur.
It began early for me. Thankfully, I had patient parents and a willing sidekick in my brother. Here’s a quick list of our businesses:
- We launched a rock and gem business on the most abandoned road in Alabama, using the rocks we found on farms around the state. We thought we had a business because we tossed them in a rock tumbler until they were polished and smooth. Gross sales: $1.00 (it may have been a pity purchase)
- We did multiple variations of a lemonade stand. We approached neighbor and family yard sales and asked if we could set up shop at their venue to help, “attract more customers.” We got greedy and tried to add bags of freshly picked apples (and other produce) to our product lineup and eventually no one wanted us around because we sold more of our stuff than they sold of their own.
- We put together a combination lawn service and car wash. We showed up at your house, cut your grass and washed your car. This one lasted only through our first customer because the co-founder became upset when he learned he would be doing all the lawn service while older brother washed the cars and then sat and supervised. Any guesses on who the older brother is?
- Pretty products do NOT sell themselves
- Be the better partner when working with others
- Clear roles and responsibilities make any relationship better
On to those patient parents now that we’ve learned I used my brother in my ventures the way most dogs use their chew toys.
I entered a ‘marketing’ contest in the third grade and was given the local Humane Society as my client. My task was to create posters which advocated for the proper shelter and care of household pets. I then had to take the completed posters and find local businesses who would display them. I went to work and created my first poster complete with no images and so much text a team of monkeys locked in a room full of typewriters couldn’t replicate it.
Fortunately, mom stepped in and gave me some pointers –
- Use pictures
- Have one headline or main point that speaks to an individual’s emotions
- Have supporting bullet points with a clear call to action
Lest you think my father – a man of few, but pointed language - wasn’t involved too, his contribution once it was complete?
“Get rid of the damn cat picture.”
It’s a lesson I apply today by unfollowing any woman who posts pictures of her cats on social networks.
I won third place, which I was very disappointed with despite my parents point that the contest was for 5th graders. I drove past one of the gas stations which agreed to post a poster this past weekend. I stopped for gas even though I was sitting on over a half a tank and didn’t need to – my way of saying a long belated, “Thank you” to the kind old gentleman who long ago looked at my poster and said, “okay son.”
A few grades later my middle school embarked on one of the near once per month fund-raising initiatives: selling magazine subscriptions. I sure hope our teachers got some groovy snacks in their break-room as a result of their legally sanctioned skirting of child labor laws.
Wait, I said this was a post with less rants. Rolls 2, Rants 1….
I protested having to go door to door to sell magazine subscriptions because I didn’t think I would be successful. After all, I was still stinging from having D & J’s Rock and Gem hut being dissolved due to lack of sales.
Mom’s answer: she gave me a copy of Dale Carnegie’s, “How to win friends and influence people.” She coached me on the psychology of getting people to say, “Yes” before asking for the sale.
Dad’s answer: watch for the damn dogs so you don’t come home early with a bite.
I won the contest. It wasn’t even close really. Mom proudly passed along the feedback from our neighbors who called to proclaim they bought subscriptions to magazines they never knew existed and what a smart young man her son was.
What did I win? I pocketed two tickets to an upcoming Loverboy concert. I then traded the tickets in for a Sony wireless FM radio headset. I blame my hearing loss today on that beautiful piece of music playing machinery.
Crap, Rolls 3, Rants 2. This is getting close.
I could go on into the college years and beyond, but then I’d be strapped for Part II next year.
Here’s the single greatest take away from that early time of hustling, deal-making and startup creation: no entrepreneur ever does it well who is alone.
I’m not ashamed to say I had lots of help then and now. I think most entrepreneurs can point to a support network that exists beyond formal boards of directors or advisors.
I know I can.
Here’s a partial list of my long overdue and too infrequently uttered, “Thank yous”:
My wife: Katie
My kids: Trevor and Ellerie
VPM’ers: Meredith, Micah, Tricia, Reed, Josh, Gray and Caroline
Former VPM’ers: Amanda M, Rebecca, Elizabeth, Brittany and Amanda H
My family: Mom and Dad and my brother and sister….yes, I’m still watching for the damn dogs
And a special thank you to anyone who really could sing all this to the tune of, “A pirate looks at forty.”
Author: Don Crow is Founder & CEO at Verge Pipe Media. Verge Pipe Media
assists public institutions, enterprises and the non-profit sector with Imaginative
Inbound Marketing strategies + campaigns. We also have a development team
chock full of Marvelous Mobile Migrators, poised to help transition our clients into a
mobile + social world with custom software, iOS and Android mobile apps.