This chapter is a free excerpt from Confessions from an Entrepreneur (Volume 1).
If I had to break my advice down to just one thing it would be read everything that Tom Peters wrote and practice what he preaches, particularly his books The Project 50 and The Circle of Innovation. What does Tom Peters preach this is so important?
- Innovation comes from trying a lot of stuff and keeping what works.
- Rapid prototyping is a must. Create, try, test with customers or potential customers, fail, adjust, try again in rapid loops over and over again. Lots of trial balloons sent out to get feedback.
- All businesses must be customer-centric.
- Improve your company, product, and service a little bit everyday. Driven primarily by customer input.
- Start selling and marketing from day one. Sell your idea to everyone all the time.
- It is all about building a bandwagon of supporters, often one by one. Your network of supporters IS your company. Howard Leonhardt: Serial Entrepreneur & Inventor
- Marketing is everything.
- Preach to the choir!
- Reward excellent failures and punish mediocre successes. Nothing will drag a company down deeper than a culture of rewarding mediocre successes. Innovation that drives breakout companies does not come from the safe path.
- Make a list of things to get done and get them done.
- Keep things simple.
- The strategic plan should be DOING things day one to serve customers or future customers not talking about it or planning for it.
- Get operational quickly. Get a simplified version of your product or service to market quickly. Follow the latest with the advanced version that takes more money and time to get to market. You will often find the market prefers the more simplified version anyhow.
Here a some of my tips for bootstrapping entrepreneurship when you are starting a business with a low level of funds.
- Look for quick break even—cash generating projects to start.
- Find a customer quickly should be the first thing on your mind.
- If your super product is not ready to sell your future customer something that you can provide now and they can buy now.
- Provide over-the-top incredible service to your first customers.
- Engage everyone in the company in a “we” are serving the customer mentality. The only “boss” we are all serving is the customers. Without customers we have no business.
- Work from home to start. Your customers don’t care if you have a fancy office.
- Spend as much of your day out with customers as possible Get away from your computer and out into your customers place of business.
- Your job is to solve your customers’ problems. You are far more likely to identify solutions to their problems if you are with them at their place of business. You are far more likely to develop a meaningful relationship that leads to business when you are meeting them in person than by email.
- Getting orders means survival. Everyone must be focused on getting purchase orders in the early days of a company. Medtronic made money fixing broken equipment at hospitals while they waited for their pacemaker to finish development. Do whatever it takes to engage your customers and sell them something.
- People buy with emotion and justify with fact!
- Focus your pitch on what the customer will receive in value.
- Tell a compelling story. In many ways your product, your service, your company is nothing but a compelling story to your customer or not.
Half the battle of succeeding in business is remaining a resonant positive leader and sales person with confidence and charm in the midst of chaos and crisis. Both internal team members and customers want to do business with a calm, happy, joyful person that is sending out positive vibrations. An over stressed anxious non-joyful leader loses employees and customers quickly.
- Live a balanced life to set an example for your team members. Share the joy in your personal life and celebrate the joys in their lives. Be authentic.
- Learn to take criticism (I am still working on this one).
- Develop a thick skin. Critical attacks come with the territory of leadership and initiative.
- Do not take things too personal.
- Develop a sense of humor. Smile and laugh even in the midst of trouble.
- Follow the Principles of the Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.
- Seek the best in people and situations and you will find it.
- People react better to you when you assume trust and support up front rather than assuming the potential of dis-trust and operate from a position of fear.
- Be an optimist!
- Never ever, ever give up.
- Enjoy what you are doing. Whistle while you work. Bring joy into the workplace.
I had a chance to meet two of my greatest heroes in the past few years. Richard Branson the serial entrepreneur and the 14th Dalai Lama.
From Richard Branson I learned:
- Always be jotting down notes and listen, really listen, to people
- Treat the receptionist and the janitor with the same dignity that you give to the Queen of England.
- Manage and motivate by example—be highly energetic.
- Hire based on enthusiasm and energy not experience.
- Work from a simple daily to do list.
From the 14th Dalai Lama I learned:
- Train your mind to avoid unnecessary suffering. Often times someone’s reaction, or should we say overreaction, to a problem is far more stressful than the actual problem itself.
- Every person seeks affection and recognition. Slow down and give recognition to your fellow team members and to your customers. Let them know you appreciate them often.
The financial rewards of business are a by-product of doing something good for customers. Providing them excellent value. Focus on delighting customers and the financial side of the business will find a way to work itself out.
Andy Rasdal the CEO of Arterial Vascular Engineering (a short time after our company World Medical merged with them) gave me a piece of advice I will never forget. He said “It takes just as much time, energy, and expense to address properly a small market as it does a large market, so you might as well choose large markets.”
Every great company starts with a near irrational dream. I was a tech school graduate from Anoka Technical College with a diploma in International Trade and dreamed of becoming an inventor of advanced products for treating heart disease. Against great odds I turned this improbable dream into a reality.
Walt Disney went to New York from Burbank, California to tell his distributor that he and his team needed more money for drawing the Waldo the Rabbit cartoons. The distributor said, No, look at your contract. We own the rights to Waldo. We will get someone else to draw the cartoons. Walt went over to JP Morgan Bank in New York and applied for a loan the next day.
He got on the train back to Burbank right after the meeting. When he stopped in St. Louis he called back to his brother Roy at Disney’s headquarters, and Roy shared the bad news. JP Morgan turned down their request for a loan since they had lost the Waldo business. Walt had no money to make payroll that Friday. He had no customers. He had a habit to doodle on a notepad with a pencil when he was nervous. He also had a second habit to think of a solution to his problem before he would go to sleep. In that low moment he drew for the first time a little funny looking mouse. He named it Mortimer. His wife later changed the name to Mickey. Before he went to sleep he dreamed up the idea that this mouse he just drew for the first time would save his company. He envisioned what would become the Steamboat Willy short cartoon and believed that he could sell that direct to movie theater operators without a distributor to be played before full length movies began. He then went to sleep.
When he woke up the train had arrived back in Burbank. He immediately made his way over to the Disney small studio. The employees expected him to arrive defeated and broken. They all knew by now that they had lost the Waldo account and had been turned down for a loan and that the company had no cash. Walt Disney entered the offices with energy, confidence, and exuberance. He asked the team to circle around him and he laid out his vision for what became Mickey Mouse. He asked the team to work with no pay until they sold the cartoon. The team rallied behind his vision, and the rest is history. THIS is what it is to be an entrepreneur.
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Howard Leonhardt is an inventor and serial entrepreneur. He has 21 patents for products for treating cardiovascular and heart disease. Leonhardt has founded 21 companies to date, most of them majority-funded by his venture firm Leonhardt Ventures and their affiliated angel investor network. He has lectured on entrepreneurship at Princeton University, UCLA, the University of Minnesota, and at numerous other campuses.