June 13, 2014

What My Father Taught Me About Being an Entrepreneur

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Like father, like son.

For someone to say that to me, it would be the highest honor.

My dad is is a man of action, so naturally his lessons with me started at an early age. He is driven, detailed, disciplined, and demanding. You know, all the characteristics that make children cringe. But those are the characteristics that molded me into the motivated professional and successful entrepreneur I am today.

My dad taught me about sacrificing for your family.

It’s hard not to when you run your own business. He’d leave for work early and stay until seven or eight, long after other dads in the neighborhood had returned home. If he came home earlier, it was usually with a truck load of mulch or a gallon of paint for a home improvement project. He not only put in the hours necessary to take care of his business, but also the effort necessary to take care of our family.

My dad taught me to work hard for what I want.

If he wasn’t complaining about his long days, how could I? I saw the direct result of how his hard work building relationships and serving his clients made life better for our family. I was determined to do the same, so I started creating my own businesses in the neighborhood. I made arts and crafts and sold them door-to-door. I wasn’t old enough to ride a lawnmower, so I started a landscaping business called “Weed Pickers Plus.” If there was a fundraiser at school, I was pounding the pavement to canvas the neighborhood as soon as I got home. The “don’t talk to strangers” speech never worked on me. My neighbors were customers, and I had to work hard to earn and retain their business. They all knew my name and my face (to my parent’s dismay), and they knew that I’d be back again soon with something new.

My dad taught me how to run a business.

The summer of ‘95 was a tough one during my lemonade stand phase. Traffic was drying up and the old “wave at them as they drive by” tactic just wasn’t cutting it anymore. My dad noticed my struggles and said it was time to get more creative with our marketing. He suggested signs, colorful ones full of adjectives, placed at strategic locations. Let me tell you, the analytics on our “COLD LEMONADE AND FRESH COOKIES” poster campaign showed a massive spike of inbound traffic. But my lesson didn’t end there. Now that I had more customers, it was time to maximize my opportunities. He taught me to up-sell and anticipate needs to create the best customer experience possible. Start with a cookie, then offer a lemonade to wash it down. Need a napkin? Got it. More ice? Here ya go. Discount for a refill? Done. It was my first loyalty program. Have you heard about my other landscaping services that would allow you more time for lemonade and cookies? Here’s where  you can sign up. Synergy between businesses wins the day.

My dad taught me to negotiate.

When I was eight, all I wanted to do was ride the lawnmower. He would get home late and cut the grass until well after sunset, trying to keep his lines straight in the fading light. I decided to make my pitch. Other people paid to have their lawns cut, but I’d do it for free if he taught me how. He considered my proposal, but still thought it was too dangerous. I countered by pointing out the time and energy he could save and devote to other projects, plus the lines would be cleaner because I could do it before it got dark. He was intrigued, but said I was still too young. He knew I wanted this, he just wanted to see how far I would go to get it. Finally I offered to pay him $5 to mow our yard. Sold. He took my cash and watched as I drove the mower around in circles in the fading light, content that I stayed committed to the fight.

My dad taught me the importance of giving back.

Despite the responsibilities he had at work and at home, my dad was never too busy to get involved in community groups. He’s been involved with dozens of charitable organizations, volunteering for boards and committees on causes he cares about. He values the experiences and relationships he’s built, and always notes how much these things have given back to him in return. His example keeps me humble and hungry to invest in the lives and efforts of those around me.

My dad taught me about the world.

It may be a cynical view, but my dad tends to see the world as “guilty until proven innocent” instead of the other way around. He believes in due diligence and making people earn his trust. That’s why making him proud is still the greatest reward in my mind. When my dad respects you, trusts you, and is proud of you, you know it’s because you truly worked for it. I can’t tell you how many times this mindset has saved me in deals and relationships over the last 20 years.

Most importantly, my dad taught me how to be a dad.

I now have two young children of my own, and I want nothing more than to teach them the same lessons that he taught me. I will sacrifice. I will be driven, detailed, disciplined, and demanding. I will teach them about life, business, and the importance of giving back. I’ll be so proud when they work hard for what they want and achieve great success. I think he’ll be proud of all these things as well.

Like father, like son.