We’re not all cut from the same cloth. Obviously, right? But it’s true. We all have those quirks, fears, and loves that make us who we are. I grew up around entrepreneurs, and my biggest quirk in my adult life was a feeling of inadequacy for not having started a successful business. It was a nagging feeling that made me never quite content at a day job, no matter how much I loved that job. But I did finally manage to build a business and take that giant leap into the entrepreneurial abyss. And that feeling of inadequacy is finally gone. If you have that same feeling, it’s likely you’ll never feel quite right until you quit your day job and take the reins of your own entrepreneurial future. Here’s some entrepreneurial wisdom that helped me to make that leap, and hopefully can help you out as well!
My earliest memories are watching my uncle and grandpa machining oilfield hardware on my grandpa’s massive 12” through-spindle lathes. My grandpa started that machine shop business in the 60s with nothing more than some machining knowledge and a bank loan. When I started kindergarten, my mom started a business with her new found freedom from raising kids, and over the next 15 years I had the pleasure of watching her build it into a truly remarkable one-woman business. Later, my sister exhibited the same entrepreneurial bug and started a business that also found wild success.
I had already started a few businesses, but none of them were successful enough to give me a real life-long craving for being my own boss. I was surrounded by entrepreneurs, and I thusly thought that starting my own business was easy. What was difficult and fascinating to me at the time was coursework, like fluid dynamics, linear algebra, machine design, etc. I was fulfilled by those challenges, and eventually graduated with a mechanical engineering degree. I got a great job, and proceeded down the life path of an engineer. It was fun work, but eventually the challenge and fun began to wither. My thoughts were never too far from the standard entrepreneurial mindset, always sizing up opportunities, looking for that next great idea.
I started a couple of businesses over the 13 years I spent at that engineering job. They found limited success, but really gave me the craving for the entrepreneurial life. My mother’s and sister’s businesses continued to grow, yet I was still an engineer. At some point, maybe 10 years into my engineering career, I concluded that come hell or high water, I was going to be a successful business owner. I was no longer treating entrepreneurship as a dream, but as a concrete goal. This change in mindset was probably the biggest factor in my eventual entrepreneurial success. The lynch pin that made it all possible.
The next three businesses I tried were quite a bit more risky, and I lost tens of thousands of dollars in their pursuits. But after each failure, I’d pick myself back up, and get motivated for the next great idea. Each time one of the ventures crashed and burned, I made sure to learn some lessons and move forward wiser. I was determined. I saved my money not for vacations, not for cars, but for the next business idea.
Of the lessons learned, the biggest three really stand out.
- No partnerships. If I was going to start a business, I needed to be 100% personally accountable for its success or failure.
- No loans. The business couldn’t be based on other people’s money. This limited my financial exposure, and made sure a failure didn’t cause bankruptcy or an extended period of austerity.
- Scalability. I need to be able to teach others how to do 100% of the business. If there are aspects of the business that I’m incapable of handing off to an employee, the business will forever be limited in size.
There are a few entrepreneurs out there who found quick success without a long string of failures, but they’re not common. Most successful entrepreneurs have a list of failed businesses, and a list of lessons learned from each one. If you can keep learning from mistakes and still maintaining the motivation to try the next idea, you will eventually find success.
If you ask any successful entrepreneur how many businesses they started before they finally found some real success, you’ll usually hear a number around six or seven. For me, Bullet Bouquets is business number 9. Maybe I’m a little slow, but I did manage to beat my head against the wall enough times that the wall finally gave way. It’s a business that allows me to support my family, and most importantly gives me that sense of accomplishment. I understand the path that my grandpa took sixty years ago, and that my mother took through my formative years. It’s that wild ride of being my own boss and chasing the dream.