January 18, 2012

So You Say You Want to Be An Entrepreneur?

This past holiday season started the same with my usual visit home, swapping sweaters for t-shirts in the fashion of a bird flying south, literally. But this holiday season was going to be different. Way different. I was going to be working side-by-side for one of my favorite entrepreneur’s – my dad . . . in his machine shop.   

This machine shop, a large rectangular aluminum building, has stood catty corner from the house I grew up in for the past 27 years. The same sign at the edge of the highway still stands, and on the front desk is the same pencil holder covered in awkwardly drawn stick figures that I made at summer camp many, many years ago. Pieces of aluminum, drill bits, and tools are “organized” haphazardly throughout and various CNC machines now tower like giants within the walls that have been plastered with insulation from half the length of the wall up – a nod to the fact that my dad’s not going for the aesthetic but for operational cost savings.  
As a little girl I can remember my dad welding, flashes of light magically thrown at his face without harm. The mask that protected him now sits like a resting artifact.  The 6’ by 6’ office that I spent many days in after school has been torn down and replaced by a machine. The infamous line I heard growing up “Bran, turn off all the lights,” indicative of the volatile cash flows of a seasonal business, has followed me into adulthood. I understand it now.

You won’t find a dedicated website here. There isn't a mission or vision statement. (If I had to guess, my dad’s response to a mission statement would go something like this – “Mission?  Our mission is to continue to stay in business”). There’s no marketing plan and consequently, marketing materials, and the only social media plan is my dad’s insistent request to the chief financal officer (my mother) for an iPhone. Strategic planning is usually done over a bottle of chocolate milk and a bag of chips in the same brown leather chair. When I asked about an ordering inventory system, my dad chuckled, gave me the “dear daughter,” look and pointed to his head. “If you can get in there,” he said, “Good luck.” I’m certain there wasn’t and will never be a business plan.

What you will find, however, when you look beyond the traditional methods and models, is a business that has survived the many growth stages where others have failed, a business that has strategically adapted its model to focus on more profitable areas, a business that has turned itself into a fully functioning supplier to an operation more than three times its size. In short, an entrepreneur who has figured it out. All done without a business plan, a mission statement, or a board of directors. . . Sometimes a successful business is the stuff MBA books are made of.  Sometimes, it’s not.

Being an entrepreneur is the foundation of this country; the pinnacle of the American dream and the self-made man. Some say it’s in the blood. At a time in our economic history where it seems like everyone is following the advice, if you can’t find it, create it, the entrepreneurial spirit is picking up speed. 
Entrepreneurs will tell you that it is not an easy road.  That it’s a 24/7 job and that this year’s success can be next year’s failure. They will try to talk you off a ledge when you express interest in a self-employed lifestyle. In the same breath, they will say they could never imagine going back to the workforce.

My dad will say that there are two things to being successful: unwavering commitment and pure naivety. Or in his words, “Too damn stupid to know any better.”

For the past 3 years I’ve had my head buried in business plans, strategy models and PPT presentations.   The acronym ROI is branded on my tongue. I bleed strategy. In other words, I am way past the point of not knowing any better and I know at some point in my life, I will venture down the scary abyss of entrepreneur. According to the family last name, it’s inevitable.

At least I'll know the value of turning off all the lights.

Here's a quiz to see if you're one of the crazy:  Do You Have What it Takes to Be an Entrepreneur?

PS. Not to miss entertaining you with my machine shop experience, besides the moments of being showered by metal scrap and nearly getting my finger cut off by a sander (which I rocked by the way), I was reminded as I was casually instructed to pick up a 20 foot pipe of 1” steel by myself as if it were normal for girls to pick up heavy objects, how I had grown into the 5 foot spitfire/tomboy/ that I am.   Where my 15 year-old self would have whined, my 30-year old self smiled.

PPS. I’m glad to say that after 30 years I finally took part in the live case study right in front of me and that I got to work side-by-side with my dad. Something I'm sure I will treasure many years to come. Call it poetic but I have a feeling this has taught me much more than any MBA ever could. 
Thanks for reading!


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  1. This is a great post Brandy, thanks! I am actually starting a business myself, so it has been very useful, and so has the quizzes questions, LOL. I do get stressed easily and not sure I have enough funds for the startup but oh well. I am going to be like your dad. Our job is to stay in business...


  2. This post is a hit with my dad's family! We all enjoyed your insight, especially since we know you and your dad.

  3. Thanks Jeff. Glad you liked it. It was fun to write! How's your blog coming?


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