I love business the way some people love football. It’s a passion for me: most kids at 18 years old are just entering college, but I was busy starting my first real company. At the time, I just couldn’t imagine taking two more years of required courses before digging into what I really loved, so I skipped college and sought out mentors to show me the way instead.
Here are three of the best pieces of advice I got along the way to help ensure I’d be a successful entrepreneur:
- Put a dollar figure on your time — and any task you can outsource for less, do it. When I first started out, I was doing everything in my company, including shipping, data entry, you name it. One of my first mentors said, “I promise that you can pack boxes better than anyone else at your company, but is that what you want to be doing all day?” I decided my time was worth $20/hour (a whopping figure at the time) — which meant no more shipping boxes for me! Instead, all of that time saved went into things that were going to make money for my companies (like sales calls, marketing, etc.). That decision changed my life, and within one year of implementing that advice, I went from $150,000 in sales to over $1M.
- Once you know how to run a business, you can run any business. I’ve started 14 companies since I was 18 years old, and I currently own seven. My first company was a juggling toy company, Rhythm Styx. Honestly, I didn’t even really think of myself as a “business owner” until I was two years into it. But after figuring out the basics — how to find suppliers, manage accounts, attract retail clients, present at trade shows and so on — it occurred to me that I could apply what I had learned to any venture. So I took all that knowledge and started my first clothing company (today, I own several of those) as well as a company that sells information, a product incubator and a sticker company. Taking on trusted partners who can guide the direction and help handle the load is a must for me these days, but the basic principles of running the different companies remain the same. I am all for diversification.
- If you’re having fun, you’re winning. A few years ago I started a company because it made sense. It was in a fast-growing emerging market, we were featured on “Oprah,” and it had all of the key components you would want in a company — except one: it wasn’t fun. At all. I poured a lot of time and energy into that company and disliked almost every minute of it. Still, I kept at it because of the “worth” of the idea — but the market tides shifted and the payday never came. I eventually shut it down. In the process, I came to the realization that I got into business because it’s fun, period, and there is no tradeoff for that feeling. Don’t sell your life away today for some exit down the line that may or may not ever come. A happy life is just a series of happy moments strung together, so make sure you’re having fun now. All of the super-successful entrepreneurs I know have one thing in common: They LOVE getting out of bed in the morning and working on their companies. One of my friends says, “If you’re not having fun, it doesn’t count,” and I live my life by that motto.