During times that aren’t as good, what motivates you to keep going, or to change direction and begin again
The way I see it, “they” can’t eat you. Unlike a zebra in the wild, who is consumed by a predator on his worst day, we have the luxury of trying again! It’s true—I seem to be at my best when challenges arise. One of the main ingredients of being a successful entrepreneur is tenacity. You must be able to zig when everyone else zags. When things are getting rough (and they will), you really have to put everything in perspective: you’re still alive, and you have your health, faith, family, and talent. No one can take that from you. I never quit either. I refer to the water balloon theory often: when you squeeze a water balloon on one end, the water simply goes to the other. In other words, where there’s an action, there’s always a reaction—and reactions usually give you relief to resolve every challenge.
What keeps you up at night?
Not much, but I find that when I wake up at odd times, I immediately go into microwave prayers. Microwave prayers are peaceful moments when I thank God for all the blessings he has bestowed upon me. I try not to worry, but when my mind starts to wander, I change the channel into microwave prayers.
As an entrepreneur, when you’re in one venture, when do you allow yourself to think about the next big idea?
Opportunity is always knocking. As hard as it is for me, I prefer to stay focused on the current project. If I’ve done my homework, I find there are so many opportunities on that project that there’s really very little time for me to look at other projects. Thus, I’m satisfied, and I keep focused. My biggest challenge is to know when to let someone else have the reins so an opportunity can grow past my ability. I really do fall in love with the businesses I build and the staff I assemble; however, with maturity, I am getting much better at letting them go . . . as companies often thrive exponentially, and I get a kick out of seeing my babies achieve their maximum potential.
How soon do you act on an idea, and how do you keep your ideas from overwhelming you?
I’ve never been overwhelmed by the complexity of an idea. In one business (software), I had committed to it before realizing one weekend that I didn’t know how to turn a computer on. To this day, all I can do is email; forget cutting and pasting. I analyze an idea very quickly and act on it even more quickly. Likewise, I’ve never worried about the capital to run or start a business, as it always seems to be available (never from traditional banks, either). I remember one time when I had no idea how I was going to meet a thirty-five person payroll on Friday, and so I decided to sell my way out of the capital jam, meaning that I would sell merchandise so I could meet the need. Mission accomplished! I also found that honesty with your staff helps eliminate the weight of the world on your shoulders. I like to share bad news first and good news second. People always rally to the cause . . . it makes us stronger.
When you review a business plan or an idea submitted from a young want-to-be entrepreneur, what is it that catches your eye or makes you open yourself to the potential of developing?
It’s not always about money; however, at the end of the day, it IS all about monetizing the idea. Monetization means thinking about how long it will take to break even and to create positive cash flow. What’s the cash burn rate per month, and what is the size of the buying universe? For example, if you were selling nuclear power plants, your buying universe is pretty darn small; however, if you’re selling razor blades, your buying universe is enormous. Basically, you have to quickly identify the risk/reward ratio and then factor in the effort to get it to market. It’s amazing how fast this can be done in one’s head. I’ve done it during a sentence from the would-be entrepreneur on many occasions. Also, one should realize that it usually takes twice as long to get to market and twice the capital you think it will take . . . a lesson I have learned many times.
Are there any businesses that you haven’t yet built, but are on your radar? What’s your dream project?
Yes, but you’ll have to wait and see!
As an entrepreneur, why do people want to work for you?
It’s really very simple. First, I’m the first one to take out the garbage, which means I will not ask someone to do something I wouldn’t do. I rarely ask; I simply do it myself. After a while, everyone knows the boss isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Second, I try to treat people better than I treat myself. People are complex creatures, and we all need appreciation. Third, I praise in public and reprimand in private. I never raise my voice or embarrass anyone. Fourth, work hard and have fun—another great stress reliever.
What do you do to start your day? How do you get in gear for all you have to do?
I’m an extremely self-motivated person to start with; the third day of a three-day weekend drives me crazy because it’s often too much time away. I start my day each morning reading about fifteen minutes’ worth of my favorite, faith-filled scriptures. I also end my day by doing the same before I go to bed. I find a great deal of peace in my faith in God. In the mornings, sometimes I’ll do what I call a wake-up workout: twenty minutes on the treadmill reading the newspaper (I like USA TODAY) and watching the news, and then I hit the showers. That’s not my daily workout, it’s just my wake-up routine. I find that people count on the entrepreneur to be an aggressive leader, and if I’m half asleep when I get to the office, I’m no good to anyone.
What do you use to keep yourself organized and on target?
One thing I do that most people don’t do is make a weekly plan every Sunday for the next week. In fact, I’ve done this since 1977. I’ve tried every single organizational system there is and found my system to be the best for me. I simply write Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday on a legal pad, separating each day by about four inches. Then I fill in a to-do list for each day. I never save the lists; I’ve found no need to keep them. I just clean the slate and do it again and again. I also add goals that I want to accomplish for that week (not the year, only the week) and then, each morning, I make up a new (focused) one. One of my favorite sayings is, “A goal without a deadline is only a dream.” Also, first thing, before I open my emails, I make a list of to-dos. It gets me focused. The last week of each year, I make a goals list for the next year. I draw a line down the center; one side is for my personal goals, and the other is for my business goals. I find that if I write it down, I get it done, without fail.
What characteristics do you feel are most harmful—either to himself or herself or to the project—for an entrepreneur to have?
If an entrepreneur is abusing any kind of substance or his staff, he or she can just forget it. There’s no time or place for abusing alcohol, drugs, or people. It’s impossible to stay focused, and you’ll burn out in a matter of a few months. The other main harmful attribute is an unusually large ego. We all have an ego; however, I’ve found that large egos don’t listen. Without listening, how can you learn what your customers want? And without discipline, you’re toast. I remember when I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, but I would get up each morning, put on a tie, and go to my office in my apartment. Many days, I wouldn’t see a soul, but I had total discipline, which spilled over into everything I’ve done and continue to do.
Have you worked on something that never got off the ground?
Not personally. If I’m in, I’m all in. I believe that focus is the key. You can get derailed every day just by life, let alone by too many business ventures or directions. Staying focused has worked for me. When I’m all in, everything else is just a distraction.
What kind of businesses do you most like to invest in?
That’s easy: I love the B to C model, which means Business to Consumer. My theory is that I’d rather fish in a big pond than in a little pond. In other words, there are a lot more people out there (bigger pond to fish in) to whom I’d rather sell instead of a few stodgy old business customers. I would much rather sell my products to the masses. If you haven’t noticed, Warren Buffett also has this B to C model preference (Berkshire Hathaway, Coca-Cola, Gillette, Nebraska Furniture Mart, See’s Candies, GEICO Auto Insurance, and others). I’d much rather have to sell millions of one-dollar items than a single million-dollar item. When times are tough, everyone still consumes sodas, razor blades, furniture, candy, and auto insurance.