Final Thoughts

Schussler ends his book with a chapter on Philanthropy.  He quotes Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”  He closes this chapter with another quote that also strikes a chord with me.  “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us, what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

Right now at this point in my life, I find it so hard to give back where it’s due.  It’s sad, because I know that giving is what life is really all about, but when work absorbs the majority of your time, it makes it hard to follow through.  Where do we find the time to make a difference in other people’s lives while continuing to give a full effort towards our own success?

I’ve always told myself that my main goal in short term is to make a secure life for myself and my family, and in the long run I hope to be able to reach back and extend my efforts to those that are also in need.  I feel like it’s a tough road that all of us run into, we all struggle with it.  As entrepreneur, especially one that is driven for financial security, you sometimes have to ask yourself is this what life is all about. Making money, commanding respect, personal glory?  Even though I somewhat oppose this life choice, we live in a society that demands us to make money in order to live.  So where do we do we draw the line in satisfying personal interests and the value of other’s wellbeing above our own?

I think it’s a question that has no right or wrong answer, but I’d like hear what others have to say.  In the meantime, I’ll give where can, treat others with respect, and try to never make myself unavailable for someone that truly needs me.  It haunting to know that no matter what the rat race brings  us, its all gone in the end.  The legacy that we leave behind has more to do with the effect we had on others rather than ourselves.        

Blessings in Disguise

Sometimes failures can be a blessing in disguise, and be the road that leads to our greatest achievements.  Schussler takes a turn in his book, It’s a Jungle in There, and dedicates a chapter entirely to the humbling aspects of failure.  In chapter 18, Learn from Failure, Graduate to Success, he writes that despite his accomplishments, there were times that he did almost believe that his failures were an indication that he was venturing down the wrong road.  He writes ”The entrepreneur who lack the capacity to bounce back and move beyond his difficulties is doomed to never taste success.”  He goes on to say, “Failure should act as a stimulus, not a paralysis…you need to be humbled by your mistakes, not crippled by them.”

Two quotes that I enjoyed reading from this chapter were:

“The gem cannot be polished without friction; nor the man perfected without trials.”

-Chinese Proverb

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up everytime we fail.”

These thoughts are why I titled this post “Blessings in disguise.”  It seems like more often than not, our failures are one of the main ingredients in leading to our greatest accomplishments.  Who we are before failure can sometimes be an entirely different person than that of the man who is chiseled in the end from the hammer of adversity.  Failures build character, I strongly believe that.  I don’t think that you should seek to fail, but if it happens, you shouldn’t necessarily take it as a bad thing.  How can one be wise to the world of success if they have never made a mistake?

Any man that hasn’t struggled can’t truly appreciate what it means to reach success.  When you turn your head back on the road traveled, it feels good to know that you overcame the odds, and falter where you were told you would never succeed.  This is why I have so much respect for people that come into success over insurmountable odds.  They worked hard to get where they are, nothing was given to them.  It annoys me when people, especially in this day in age, have a false sense of respect for people that have inherited money or been born into beneficial situation.  I will by all means give respect where it is due, but you had to have earned it, and yet our society tends to act quite differently.  My intentions are to rant on this, but I firmly believe that life’s not about the prize, and more about the struggle getting there.  How can man know his worth if he is never tested?

I’m tired of the Kardashians and the Jersey Shore…Give me an Audie Murphy, a Sam Walton, an Abraham Lincoln…some people that are actually worthy of the news.  I had no intentions of this post going here, but if you feel me give me an AMEN! M’erica!

Persistence…yet again.

In my very first post I talked about the importance of persistence in business and in in life…well, I’ve got more to say now so I thought I would come back.  Steven Schussler opens up chapter 16 of his book, It’s a Jungle in There, with a funny little quote that really got my wheels turning.  The quote is, “A diamond is a lump of coal that stuck with it.” – Anonymous

I’ve liked a lot of the quotes that Schussler uses in this book, but this is definitely one of my favorites.  On the surface, it seems like a just a silly saying.  Literally, a diamond was at one point in time a lump of coal…and over thousands of years, this lump of coal turns into a beautiful diamond.  But not only is it literal, it’s also a metaphor for any feat that has to be overcome.  When were at the bottom, and the mountain seems insurmountable, we can at times feel like a “lump of coal”.  Good for nothing, worthless…no matter much effort we put into becoming a diamond, it just never seems to happen.  At times, we can become so discouraged that we may give up on our goals and dreams and settle for something less than we want or deserve.  Just because we don’t get our first, second, third, even hundredth time, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t  meant to happen or isn’t possible.  A good example of this is the author the 2009 bestseller, The Help, Kathryn Stockett.  It took her five years to complete the book, which was rejected by 60 literary agents as a piece of writing not worth publishing.  I can’t recall where I read the article, but Stockett was nearly at the end of her rope when The Help finally was published.  Deep down she knew she had something that was special.  Even though 60 literary agents rejected her, she still persisted in seeking that one person that would be willing to given her chance.  Most would have given up after 10th or 20th time, but she stuck with it…and look what happened.

I like to live by a few mottos of my own.  You can do or be anything you want to be, the possibilities are endless, and one of my favorites, shoot for the stars, fall short and land on the moon.  Nothing bad comes out of wanting something and working hard for it.  Keep your eyes on the prize, and do everything you can to make it happen.  When you fall short, give it another go.

I have a quick story and I’ll end this post.  When in my senior year of college, I was set to graduate and go on to be a pilot for the Air Force.  I already had a slot, and all that hard work to get there had finally paid off.  During that year however, I sustained two severe injuries, which led to two surgeries and my inability to go directly to pilot training.  After I healed up and rehabilitated, I found out that I no longer had a slot secured, and would re-apply myself all over again.  This time, the pool was much bigger, and the application process even more competitive.  I now had a 5-10% chance of getting back in.  Even though I knew that my chances were slim I applied.  I did not get back in on my first try.  There was a long waiting period, I applied again, and once again did not get back in.  A month ago, and four years later, on my third try, I’m finally back in pilot training for the Air Force…actually here right now.  It feels great that all the hard work in between finally paid off.  Had I given up who knows what road I would have taken.  But I persisted, and I made it, and it feels great.  Even though I was discouraged, I proved to myself that anything is possible through hard work…and when the work pays off, it feels really good.

Schussler ends this Chapter of his book with another great quote.  “The highest apple on the tree always leaves the sweetest taste.”  How true it is…

Happily ever after?

Most business owners that are serious about making money put their nose to the ground and charge full steam ahead.  In the beginning of a business that was rushed to the market, there are spots in the business that need to be ironed out as a result of this rushed process.  If I was to open a bar, first things first, I need to get a building stood up or occupied, tables, chairs and decoration in place, hire employees to open the door on day 1, and of course…the beer and wine necessary to make the cash flow.  My goal to turn a profit quickly is a response in the necessity of paying off business loans, utilities, rent, other overhead etc.  What are some things that I may have rushed or overlooked in this process?  Probably the food menu, possibly the offering of nice restrooms, maybe not enough TVs, maybe a suitable sign, maybe no theme nights or other creative twists to keep the customers coming back…it could really be anything.

Even though day one I might have customers coming in the door, and the money is flowing in, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I have a solid business together that is going to outlast the competition, or have the ability to retain regular customers.  In Chapter 11 of his book, It’s a Jungle in There, Stevem Schussler talks about the necessity of making improvements to a product or service once the idea has been brought to the market.  He writes, “Rushing the creative process can lead to results that are viable but below the standard of excellence that could have been achieved had the entrepreneur taken the time to let her ideas fully ripen.”  Schussler does realize though that out of necessity, as I talked about earlier, the business may have to hit the market before things are perfect.

What this idea stresses however, is that once in the market, we have to continue to make changes to our business in order to realize the businesses full potential.  He goes on to write, “whether it involves making improvements before and/or after you market your product or service, you should never stop assessing, enhancing, or learning all you can about your creations.”

Great example of this is improvements in technology.  It seems like technology these days is constantly becoming obsolete once better/faster/smaller/more efficient products hit the market.  Take the Original Apple computer for instance.  What if they had tried to keep selling that product for more than a decade…would they have been successful?  Though the answer is obvious, this is how the improvement process works.  Businesses need to constantly be scanning the horizon in order to keep up with the competition, or else you may be in danger of becoming obsolete.

Even in the instances where the product itself never changes…WD-40, Coca-Cola, Double-Mint Gum…there is still a need to make improvements in terms of marketing, production, manpower, suppliers, distribution, etc. in order to maintain a profitable situation.

What are some other timeless products/services that have remained successful over the years?  Even though they offer the same benefit, what changes in these products have allowed them to keep up with the competition?                   

Enhancement Gaps

Schussler opens Chapter 9 in his book It’s a Jungle in There, with a great self-examination question: As you observe your world around you, do you make a consistent conscious effort to ask yourself, “Is there something here I could change (by providing a service or product) that would bring, me financial gain?”

This question is basis for almost all inventions that come around, except for those that are discovered by mistake, which I will cover in just a bit.  The wheel, the automobile, planes, cellphones, and even forks and spoons…these were inventions that filled what Schussler calls, “enhancement gaps”.  He describes these enhancement gaps as the difference between what you are seeing and what you could create to make what you are seeing better by providing some product or service.  Basically, where you find inconvenience in your life is a great spot to find an invention.  For instance, let’s take the ATM machine.  Prior to this invention, banks relied on tellers to disperse cash to bank customers when they needed to make a withdrawal from their account.  This was a major service provided by the bank, to which several employees and man hours were dedicated to throughout the day.  Whether it was bank owners, or patrons, someone realized that this was a service that could possibly be automated by some sort of machine.  What the invention of this machine led to was fewer employees required by the bank, added convenience for the customer by not having to wait in lines that were common with all other bank services, and also allowing customers to make withdrawals from their bank, even when bank hours were closed.

What Schussler doesn’t touch on that I think is also a major filler of enhancement gaps, is those products or services that were discovered by mistake.  Corn Flakes, the microwave, silly putty, post-it notes, saccharin (artificial sweetener), the slinky, potato chips, fireworks, and play-doh are just a few inventions products that were discovered by mistake in an effort to create something else.  With that said, not only do you have to make an effort to look for these enhancement gaps, you have to look at your mistakes carefully too.  In your efforts to create that one thing that you have always dreamed of making, you might stumble upon something of equal or greater value that you might consider a failure.  So it’s important to not only learn from your mistakes, but see the possibilities that may result from where you fell short; the answer sometimes isn’t always the obvious one.

Can anyone else think of other great products or services that were created by mistake?  Also, what enhancement gaps in your life do you wish you could fill?

Attention to Detail

Schussler open’s Chapter 8 of his book, It’s a Jungle in There, with a quote that almost had me in pieces.  He points to the old saying, “the devil’s in the details”, referring as to where excellence resides.  As this idea has been beaten into my head for years, I couldn’t agree more…let me elaborate.

My senior year in high school I lived up to the epitome of what it means to have senioritis…an illness I conceived after having lived under my parents roof for far too long, and having heard the class bell chime one too many times.  Other than making the final grades count and planning my summer vacation, I was like a sail in the breeze.  I lived like a slob, ate like like a slob, dressed like a slob, and even meandered around like a slob…not care world.  I knew where I was going to college, and that’s all that mattered to me; my glass was full and I had officially checked out.  The details of my days were inconsequential all the way through the end of summer…it was bittersweet bliss.  This mundane attitude became a habit, one that had grown to become a part of my personality by the first day of college…unfortunately I was in for a big surprise.

I went to a military college for my undergrad.  I learned slowly and painfully that one of the core beliefs in the military is attention to detail.  A perfect uniform, a perfect room, a perfect shave…everything was accounted for from the time I woke until time I went to sleep.  I couldn’t believe that the dust on the wheel of my desk chair was an infraction to good order and discipline.  Due the nature I had grown accustomed to, I had a hard time adapting.  My first year was hell, driven by the “devil” if you will.  By the years end, I learned the importance of “detail”.  I learned that a screw missing from a plane has the ability to bring the whole aircraft down.  I learned that not loading a weapon properly creates the capability for it to blow up in your face.  I learned that a shoe not properly shined, a haircut a little too long, and a shirt without the proper ironing can cause death to millions…yes, that was the mentality.  By my first years end I was finally brainwashed into believing that death, or the devil, is in the details…and without the proper attention, bad things can happen.

Though it’s a funny story, that kind of discipline for me really paid off in the end.  Beyond college, I have carried this idea into my professional and personal life.  And it’s true; details set you apart from the competition.  For better or for worse, winning or failing, the smallest detail can be the seemingly insignificant piece of the puzzle that makes or breaks necks.  It can be a savior, or it can be the devil…

For discussion, what’s a significant experience in your life that was a failure or success by a matter of the details?     

The Road to Excellence

In my earlier blog post on Dreams, I touched on a quote that has resonated through my personal and professional life, “nothing worth having comes easy”.  In Chapter 7 of his book, Steven Schussler opens up with a quote that seems to parallel this idea, just put in different terms.  He writes “There are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going”.  Just as nothing worth having comes easy, nowhere worth going has a path that can be cut short.  If it’s worth having or worth going, the work to get there is usually measurable to the value of the prize.

This same idea rings true when related to business and customer retention.  In your own business, when you make shortcuts to get to your end goal, more often than not you’ll find yourself with a major gap in your business model, something will likely have to be filled or met in the long run in order for the business to carry on.  Like an illness, you may be able to bury the symptoms of this shortcut in the near future, but eventually it will have to be dealt with, and later at a possibly greater cost.

What the author of this quote meant was that in order to obtain your goals, had work must be put in along the way.  But in business, this hard work can also come in the form of physical assets.  Let’s say a restaurant owner decides to open a restaurant, despite not having a dishwasher.  When the business first opens, not having the dishwasher is fine.  Customers come in at just the right pace to allow the owner to conduct sales but also have time to wash the dishes by hand.  As his business grows, and customers come in more frequently, he no longer has the time to wash dishes and make the maximum amount of sales that would be possible if he had purchased a dishwasher in the beginning.  Now in order for business to go on he must either serve customers food on dirty plates, or turn customers away in order for business to go on as usual.  In either case, the owner is not maximizing his potential due to a shortcut taken in the beginnings of his business.  Even though this is a simple and silly example, it certainly illustrates that in business even financial shortcuts can burden an owner at a later time.

Schussler goes on to say, “When you’re out of quality, you’re out of business.”

I slightly disagree with this notion, simply by the fact that many successful businesses operate on the premise that sales are all about quantity, not quality, and yet customers return time and time again.  Where I do agree is in idea Schussler is in the quality of operations in relation to the service industry.  In terms of service, retention is all about quality.  In order to create a loyal customer, they need to feel special in some way.  Without quality service, there is nothing that prevents the customer from going to the next best deal when it comes to serving their needs. (pg. 55, It’s a Jungle in There)

I’m going to wrap things up with an open ended question to provoke some conversation? Though this premise of shortcuts is more often than not a rule of thumb for business and life, how do you account for the outliers; the situations that defy hard work on the road to success?  Gambles that payoff, risks to fly over the hard road, and even things that were given to you such as inheritance or gifts?  Are these things not worth having?

Multitasking

“A person who learns to juggle six balls will be more skilled than the person who never tries to juggle more than three” – Marilyn Vos Savant

I enjoy how Steven Schussler opens up each chapter in his book with a quote that’s gets your wheels turning in the right direction.  His chapter “The Multitasker” stresses the importance of being able to multitask as an entrepreneur.  He says, “I firmly believe that one of the most important talents (or skills) an entrepreneur can have is the ability to multitask”.  He continues, “Thinking on multiple levels works for me because it stimulates my creative juices.” (pg 42, It’s a Jungle in There)

Well, for me multitasking doesn’t necessarily stimulate my creative juices, at least I don’t think it does, but I do notice that it’s an inherent/necessary trait that accompanies any job or occupation that requires you utilize brainpower throughout the workday.  In fact, I would venture to say that anyone that takes hold of the responsibility to establish and maintain their financial future must exercise this skill on a weekly basis.  Whether its checking your investments, paying your bills, taking care of the kids, and oh yea, that thing you go to everyday for about 8 hours…you have to pay attention to all these things in order for life to move forward and down the right path.

I would say that the multitasking actually came mostly as a shock to me during my freshman year of college.  High school wasn’t much of a challenge for me, and I found myself able to handle all the things I need to take care of with ease, including sports and relationships that I carried on outside of the classroom.  But when I got to college, things certainly changed.  I went to a military college on an athletic scholarship and really had no idea what was in store for me until day 1.  Not only did was I held to a high academic standard, I had to involve myself in sports for up to 5 hours a day, and also maintain all the responsibilities that come with being at a military institution, e.g. uniform, room, knowledge, military positions, mandatory formations, strict schedule…a gambit of tasks that I had not prepared myself for.

Having not faced a challenge like this until this point in time, my health, GPA, performance on the athletic field…everything suffered.  Everything was a high priority and I was unable to blow anything off.  I truly had to learn to “juggle” or multitask.  It took awhile, but I was able to create a formula for myself that I use until this day.  Weekly, sometimes daily, I make a list of written tasks, priority and secondary, that needs my attention before the week is over.  I go down the list each day, knocking out the things that I must take care of first, and the things I would like to take care when my priorities have all been sided second.  I know this same formula doesn’t work for everyone, but whoever you are, the key to success in multitasking is maintaining organization of your tasks and not becoming overwhelmed when the tasks seem to mount over the time that you actually have.

A couple questions to close out this blog.  What is your system that enables you to multitask? In what situations as an entrepreneur might you have to multitask?

Holy Dreams Batman

“Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true” – Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens.

Steven Schussler opens Chapter 4 of his book It’s a Jungle in There with this powerful quote from a gentleman that I’ve never heard of.  Curious as I am, I decided to find out who this guy was or is.  The name tipped me off as his position as a clergyman, but I figured he was a man that must have lived long ago.  Turns out I was wrong, on the second part that is.  Catholic clergymen Leo Jozef Suenens, born 1904, died 1996, was the as Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel from 1961 to 1979, elevated to Cardinal in 1962. (http://www.nytimes.com/1996/05/07/world/leo-joseph-cardinal-suenens-a-vatican-ii-leader-dies-at-91.html)

Where does a clergymen stumble across such inspiration?…we’ll clearly.  But it made me realize that whether its religion, relationships, goals, or business, dreams are true down all of life’s avenues, and all dreams come at a price.  When you prepare yourself for this reality, you are ready to step forward and take on the responsibility of going after that dream.  It reminds me of another quote I’ve heard all my life, “nothing worth having comes easy”.

Schussler goes on to say that entrepreneurs are in many ways futurists.  “They love to live in the future, dream about the future, talk about the future – and they are always urging people around them to do the same.” (pg. 36)  Unless you keep these thoughts of dreams in the forefront of your everyday life, it’s easy to lose sight of what it is that you are working for, making it even easier to become discouraged when adversity strikes, and maybe even lose sight of the dream completely.  The people lose sight of their dreams bury them under the burdens of everyday life, and almost always regrettably dig them up later wishing that they had done something more.  Surrounding yourself in an environment that caters to your goals is a great strategy for maintaining a positive frame of mind.

The only fear you should have of your dreams is the fear of giving up on the race.  When the times are tough, its baby steps that get us through.  Don’t lose sight, and push forward.

I liked the message of this chapter, and I also enjoyed the poem that closes it by Langston Hughes:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

So go break a leg, not a wing.

The Serial Entrepreneur

In chapter 9 of Its A Jungle In There, Steven Schussler talks about “enhancement gaps”, or the difference between what you are seeing and what you could create to make what you are seeing better by providing some product or service.  Schussler continues on the importance of being consciously aware and constantly scanning for these gaps that may exist right in front of you.

I definitely agree with Schussler on this point.  To develop an eye that sees the imperfections in the world that need fixing, you have to train it.  You need to continuously monitor your environment for things that could use a small touch, even things that are in need of drastic change…do you ever feel that something is painfully/obviously wrong with a product or process, but for some reason a change has yet to take place?  But even among the changes that stick out like a sore thumb, most people tend not to act.  Not because they don’t suffer from the consequences of the broken process or product, but simply because it goes unnoticed.  The types of people that do take notice are those with a watchful eye, and a mind that constantly scans the environment for these “enhancement gaps”.  This personality type has been given the nickname serial entrepreneur.

Serial Entrepreneurs are just as they sound…chasing business after business, finding opportunity after opportunity.  I find it interesting that most of these people, although great at starting businesses, are not so inclined to carry them on.  Entrepreneur.com’s article Confessions of a Serial Entrepreneur, takes a deeper look at the personality types that manage to successfully push forward with the serial lifestyle.  Serial Entrepreneur Stuart Skorman, creator of Reel.com, when asked about his feelings towards giving up the businesses he starts, goes on to say “”I have mixed feelings about it…but I’m an inventor, and I’m only good at that part. I’m the creative guy you want to start with, but I’m not the management guy you want to run it.”

Judy Johnson, founder of Printpaks and several other startups, also shares a similar attitude towards the holding on for the long run.  When asked about the expansion of one of her previous companies, she replies “I know it has to be done, but somebody else needs to own the company when it happens…There’s only so far I can take it, because I’m not motivated by just making more money. I’m not qualified or interested in running a really big company.”

Dan Steppe, former serial entrepreneur and current director of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston’s business college, also finds more interest in the hands off approach for the long haul.  He says “It’s the big picture that interests me. I just liked ideas, so I hired the best people to do what I didn’t want to do.”

It seems that the true serial entrepreneur, more than anything, has the need to exercise creativity in the form of venture creation.  Past the point of entry, it’s only a matter of time before they lose interest in the chase and veer off in a new direction.

Are you in it for the long haul, or just the thrill new beginnings?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpts from Jennifer Wang’s article, Confessions of a Serial Entrepreneur, at Entrepreneur.com.

http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/199436