Entrepreneurial or Entrepreneur?

A card given to me by my parents after I closed on my business and displayed in my office

As a kid I never wanted to be on a work schedule and found that I could earn more money if I mowed lawns, painted houses or project work.  After failing second semester Calculus in Baylor’s Engineering School I changed my major to business and graduated from Baylor University with a double major in Entrepreneurial Management and Finance.  In my heart I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but had no idea at the time where to start.  I recognized I needed experience and got a job like most of my friends.  My job was in sales and I viewed it as a treasure hunt.  My boss, Robin Hood,(yes that is his real name) taught me the lesson “where there is chaos, there is opportunity” and I explored the globe creating opportunities for my company by bringing order to chaos through the dependable supply of quality products to others.  During my journey I came across many opportunities that were not a fit for my company and was tempted to step out on my own to capitalize on these opportunities.  However, I was married, had a mortgage, 3 children and bills to pay.  This is the scenario that plays out in so many talented people that have great potential and are suppressed by the fear of failure and the seduction of financial security.  It was not until I left my job to test a new career and found myself without a job a year later that I thought I had the courage to be an entrepreneur.  I spent 6 months looking for a manufacturing company to buy and after exploring several companies and failing to close on two offers, I settled for a job to turn around another company with an option to purchase the business.  I thought of myself as an entrepreneur.  I developed the vision, mission, core values and set off to re-build this 70 year old injection molding company.  After 10 years of building this company and my purchase option expired, my dream ended when I was notified that this now successful company would not be sold as agreed.

Becoming an Entrepreneur

The future scenario was unacceptable and I had to decide how I would provide for my family.  This was the end of the line and the door of ownership had closed for me.  I was able to find a company in the same town that was much smaller and much less mature in regard to systems, procedures and capabilities.  I did not want to start over, but had no choice.  The oldest of my 3 children was a senior in high school with plans to attend Auburn University.  My other two children were in private school and not far behind attending college.  This was not the time of life I would have planned to take every liquid asset that I had including my college savings, put them at risk to purchase a small business and sign a bank note with unlimited personal liability to pay back the debts.  This is when I realized I really had never been an entrepreneur.  I had been entrepreneurial, but until you put everything you own at risk including your kids college funds months before leaving for college and sign up for unlimited personal guarantees (or something like this) you have not taken the leap of a true entrepreneur.

Now I was on my own with an office manager, a small group of employees, an old building and a bunch of machines I did not personally know how to operate.  I had to make a payroll each week and monthly had to make a real estate, business bank loan and all the material and utility bills.  I recall receiving one of our first receivables from our largest customer at the time and calling them to thank them.  They had no idea how much that check meant to me.  Now as we approach our 5 year anniversary we have again put a vision, mission, core values in place, grown to nearly 100 teammates, replaced and added equipment that I still do not know how to personally operate, have solid systems and procedures, and have been able to put away some savings for a rainy day.  We are making plans to go “All In” again and put much of our savings into a new building and sign another round of unlimited personal guarantees.  I told my dad that I wanted to retire at 50.  He has kidded me that I am working more hours now than at any time in my career, but I remind him that I did retire.  I retired from working for someone else and thoroughly enjoy the risks and rewards that come from being an entrepreneur.  I enjoy my time while on vacation, but equally enjoy my time working with the next generation of young men and women to build a business and future for their families.  Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur.  For those that are I would offer a few lessons learned.

  1. Prepare for success.  Many say you should jump in and fail fast.  There is value in gaining experience and will significantly increase the odds of success.
  2. The time to make a friend is before you need them.  Invest in building relationships with others.  Suppliers, bankers, insurance agents, customers, and talented people.  When it is up to you to figure out every problem you will be glad to have a friend to call and friends help friends when they are in need.
  3. Don’t wait.  There is never a good time to “risk it all” and the longer you wait the harder it is to make the jump.
  4. We all bet our lives on something.  After leaping away from apparent security into a do-or-die, sink-or-swim scenario I have a much clearer picture of the ultimate decision we all make to determine our eternal destiny.  I accepted Jesus as my savior at a young age almost as an inherited faith from my parents.  As if you inherited a business, eventually you have to understand the business, take control, and be responsibility for it’s success or failure.  As I matured, I questioned my faith as a skeptic and worked through doubts and reasoned why I believed what I believe.  Life’s experience and my own reasoning have galvanized my faith as a Jesus follower and complete trust in Him for my redemption, salvation and truth to live my life.  As an entrepreneur takes that “leap of faith” and risks all your financial security, so must we all confront the question what happens when we die and take a leap of faith.  It may be a simple faith as a child or as a highly intellectual and reasoned faith of C.S. Lewis, eventually we all have to make a decision and go “All In” on what we believe.  There is no middle ground.  To put off or not make the leap is still a decision.  We are all going to die.  We all have to answer the question that Jesus asked his disciples.  Luke 9:20  And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” The apostle Peter goes on to answer that question for himself, but we all have to answer that question.  Consider what Jesus says John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.  For More
  5. Don’t worry about the things you can’t control.  There are many things to worry about as an entrepreneur.  Worry can absolutely “eat you alive” and steal your joy.  Philippians 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  There are many uncertainties and circumstance which we do not control as an entrepreneur.  Find your confidence, not in yourself, but in God and the fact that He is in control.  God will never leave you.  Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.  Even when things do not go your way you may experience peace.  John 16:33  These things I have spoken to you, so that you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.  No doubt our natural tendency is to retreat to worry in uncertainty so start each day with bringing your focus back to God and away from yourself.  Matthew 6:25  For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; for for your body, as to what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Verse 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Make a point every day to re-calibrate and seek Him first as our creator, provider, defender, and supplier of all we need.

I think true entrepreneurs are hard-wired and gifted by God to dream, plan, take action and successfully execute on the business vision that is in their heart.  I believe there is a graduated “entrepreneur scale” that we fall on that spans from entrepreneurial to entrepreneur, but a point along that scale that requires a leap.  A leap that requires faith and is when the entrepreneur is born.

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