Serial Entrepreneurs to the Rescue

As the economy starts to come back to life, don’t be misled by statistics on small business failure.  Although the number of small businesses impacted by the current crises will be staggering, there is a slight-of-hand trick that may fool people when it comes to entrepreneurs’ contributions to rebuilding the economy.  Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you the serial entrepreneur!

Don’t Just Watch the Businesses: Watch the Entrepreneurs

A serial entrepreneur is someone who starts multiple businesses over their careers.  To understand the serial entrepreneur’s economic contribution we need to consider not each business started by them, but by their cumulative body of entrepreneurial work.

For example, over my lifetime, I have been a part of about a dozen and a half startups, including solo startups, partnerships, and family businesses.  Of all of the startups I have participated in over my career, only two are officially still operating: my consulting practice and our educational content family business, Entrepreneurial Mind LLC.  Were all the rest failures? Absolutely not!  We sold some the ventures, and others just ran their course.  Probably two or three of them could truly be called failures.  They all created jobs, built wealth, and contributed to economic growth.

To understand my long-term economic contribution as a serial entrepreneur, you have to look at all that I have done over the past four-plus decades.  You can’t just look at the outcome of one single deal, no matter what its outcome, good or bad.

A Current Tale

Two of my alums, Corey and George, are current examples of serial entrepreneurs at work amid the pandemic and accompanying economic collapse.

Corey’s current business lost most of its accounts during the first week of the economic shut down.

George had been doing gig work between startups. However, his employer furloughed George from his current gig.

Rather than define what they are experiencing as failure, they put their heads together and asked one simple question: What pain being created from the current crises could they provide a solution for?

Newly Created Pain

Organizers of most meetings, conferences, and other gatherings cancelled them due to the coronavirus.  Corey and George’s hypothesis is that as we come out of the current crises, there may be a more lasting impact on such events.  Sending people to meetings and conferences is expensive.  If companies find that there are viable virtual alternatives to physical travel, there may be some level of permanent shift away business travel for meetings and conferences.

Most of the current alternatives in the market that offer virtual meetings focus on educational content delivery and training. While this is an important part of going to conferences and meetings, most people say the biggest benefit they receive is from the informal interactions in the hallway or over drinks with other attendees at the end of the day.  Current offerings do not really offer this as a part of their virtual meeting platform.

Corey and George are feverishly working on solving this shortcoming.

Follow the Ball

Just as in the carnival “cups and ball trick,” we need to pay careful attention to see where the serial entrepreneur ends up next.

This is the essence of a serial entrepreneur.  To a serial entrepreneur, entrepreneurship is a process, not an event.  Even though the last business may no longer have enough demand to keep operating, the entrepreneur never stops.  For the serial entrepreneur, their career is a journey from opportunity to opportunity.

Three Steps to Survival

Image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay

Sadly, many small businesses will fail over the coming weeks.  To increase their company’s chance of survival, there are three critical steps that small business owners must take.

Continue to Slow Down the Outflow

The first step is to continue to find ways to slow down the outflow of cash.  You’ve probably made some initial cuts, but there is always more that can be trimmed.

Look carefully at all expenditures and cut any that do not directly impact your ability to generate revenues, and generate revenues now.  Most entrepreneurs think that many of their expenditures are an investment in their future growth.  We need to recalibrate our thinking. Growth is likely a long way off for most small businesses.

Most economic forecasts are seeing a very slow recovery when it does happen, and there is a lot of uncertainty about when that recovery may begin.  We may see a short-term bounce when things start to open up again, but it may only be temporary.  Be cautious about opening up your spending again!

The V-shaped bounce-back is most likely not going to happen.  Think of cash as a finite resource that needs to be preserved.  This is no time to be timid when it comes to cutting costs!

Anything for a Buck

The second step is to find ways to bring in short-term revenues.  Remember during start-up when you would do anything for a buck?  Get back to that mentality.  Don’t worry about strategy.  Don’t worry that you might send confusing messages to your customers.  They are likely in survival mode, too.  There will be time to get back to honing your strategy later.  Now it is all about cash!

What’s Next?

The third step, once your cash flow is stabilized, is to think about what will be next for your business. Be ready to accept a very different future for your business than you had in mind just a few short weeks ago.

Consumers and businesses will behave very differently over the coming months and even years. Don’t be in denial about what you are seeing.  Savings will become a national obsession in the coming years.  Anytime we have a severe economic shock, people come out of it with a much more conservative approach to managing their money.

The fear of coronavirus may ease once there is a treatment or vaccine, but our collective psyche is likely to be altered for many years.

What we are going through is not just changing our economy, it is changing our culture and our society.  Be ready to think differently about your value proposition and be ready to act boldly!

Cash is King

The moral of the story is simple.  Cash is king!  In fact, cash is king, queen, emperor, and president for life!  This is not a new truism.  However, it is now the most important principle in business.

Virtuous Entrepreneurship

Image Source: Jeff Cornwall

Full disclosure: I am an Adam Smith nerd. The picture above was the result of a long search that Mrs. C. and I went on when we were in Edinburgh, Scotland a few years ago to find the grave site of the Father of Free Market Economics.

First we had to find the correct cemetery.  That part was not too hard, as it was well-marked and had a large memorial to Adam Smith at the entrance. But, then the search for his actual gravesite began. We searched through the various headstones, row after row after row after row. We knew it was in there, but could not find it.  Finally, when I was about ready to give up, Mrs. C. said, “Here it is!”  It was not the large, noble headstone I had imagined such an important icon would have.  Instead, it was a grave marker no larger than the sole of a shoe.

Anyway, to understand why I am so fascinated by Adam Smith, I need to explain the two faces of Adam Smith.

The Adam Smith We All Know: The Invisible Hand

The first, and most famous face of Adam Smith is that of the economist who first helped us understand the power of free markets in his book, The Wealth of NationsIn this work, Smith explains how the power of the “invisible hand” of the free market builds economies.

Smith explains that individuals within free markets act by following what he calls commercial virtues. The first of these virtues is self-interest. By pursuing self -interest, individual entrepreneurs unknowingly benefit both the economy and society. However, this only works if the entrepreneur acts with the commercial virtues of prudence, justice, industriousness, and frugality.

The Adam Smith Most Don’t Know: The Importance of Virtue

Adam Smith was not only an economist, however.  He was also a moral philosopher.  His book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, helps us understand the second face of Adam Smith. Smith recognized that the collective acts of self-interest by entrepreneurs in an economy must be moderated by nobler virtues, or the whole system will run amuck. Individuals must overcome the purely selfish impulses of the commercial realm, as there is more to life than economics.

The nobler virtues necessary for the free market to be sustainable, according to Smith, are benevolence, generosity, gratitude, compassion, kindness, pity, friendship, and love.  These are not virtues commonly associated with free market capitalism, and yet without them, the individual selfishness leads to the eventual downfall of both the economy and society.

Bringing The Two Faces of Smith to Life

So why bring up the two faces of Adam Smith while we are in the middle of a pandemic and economic crisis?

Because even in the face of closed businesses and an economic free fall, we can see Adam Smith’s virtuous capitalism at work. And through the acts of entrepreneurs who bring the two faces of Adam Smith to life, we see hope for the future.

Kindness and Compassion

C19 Liberator is a charitable organization set up this past month to harness existing 3D printers to meet the demand for protective face shields to protect those on the front line of fighting the coronavirus here in Tennessee.  One medical facility alone, needed 400 face shields, and needed them quickly.  C19 Liberator has found small businesses and individuals who own 3D printers. They asked them to step up and meet the challenge of using 3D printers to make hundreds of face shields. They are donating them for use by medical personnel and first responders.

Generosity and Pity

One of the types of businesses that has been deemed essential and is able to remain open is liquor stores.  One local liquor store, Cools Springs Wines & Spirits, has donated $25,000 to to Tennessee Action for Hospitality to help support other businesses that have been unable to operate during the current crises due to government mandates.

In an interview in Williamson Home Page, Cool Springs Wines & Spirits CEO Bret Moore says:

“We feel fortunate our store is open for business. In addition to taking extraordinary measures to create a safe environment for our employees and customers, we wanted to give back to those in our industry who are profoundly affected by this pandemic.”

Benevolence and Gratitude

Gravity Payments is a Seattle-based company that helps small businesses process payments. When the current pandemic and economic crisis hit, the impact on Gravity’s financial health was immediate. The company saw a 55 percent drop in revenues in one month.  To survive, it first appeared that CEO Dan Price would either have to layoff 20 percent of his workforce, or face certain failure.  Like many entrepreneurs, Price decided that neither option was viable and needed to find a creative “Plan C”. Price went to his employees and asked them to help him come up with a third alternative.

Each employee filled out a form that only the leadership team would see, in which they stated how much they could sacrifice in earnings to help avoid either a massive layoff or company failure.  The plan worked, and everyone has been able to keep their jobs.

An Army of Virtuous Entrepreneurs

We are facing more than just the survival of individual businesses. Many experts are suggesting our economic system is in jeopardy.  Let’s all remember the lessons of Adam Smith and create an army of entrepreneurs who not only can revitalize our economy, but ensure the preservation of free markets through benevolence, generosity, gratitude, compassion, kindness, pity, friendship, and love.

eLearning Opportunities

We are excited to announce that our digital educational content company, Entrepreneurial Mind LLC, is partnering with the eLearning platform, Eloquens. Through this new partnership, we can some of our courses directly to individuals wishing to sharpen their entrepreneurial skills.  Our content is usually only available as part of broader certification or other structured programs offered by our partner organizations around the globe.  Through Eloquens, we will be able to offer some of our Entrepreneurship content as stand alone courses.

We have three courses currently available.  We feature them in the righthand column of this site.  You can click on each to learn more about the content offered through each course.

Enjoy!

Five Steps to Secure Social Capital During a Pandemic

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

A myth about entrepreneurs is that we are just a bunch of “lone rangers.” (The Lone Ranger was a fictional former Texas Ranger who went off on his own to fight bad guys). According to the lone ranger myth, the reason we start our own businesses is that we can’t get along with others.  We can’t function in an organizational structure. So we ride off into the wilderness by ourselves to chase down our next deal.

Every myth is based on a bit of truth. Entrepreneurs do tend to have a higher need for independence. There are decades of studies of entrepreneurs that suggest we have a stronger urge to be independent than the average person.  In simple terms, psychologists define the personality trait of independence as preferring to act on one’s own thoughts rather than follow others.

Just because we have the urge to follow our own ideas does not mean we have poor social skills. To the contrary, independent thinking is recognized as an important part of healthy social skills by most psychologists.

In fact, there is a growing body of research suggesting that what is called social capital,  having a strong network of people with knowledge, experience, and wisdom to draw from, is an important determinant of entrepreneurial success.  It can be even more important for many entrepreneurs as the financial capital they need to succeed in business.

Important Sources of Social Capital

What are the sources of social capital for entrepreneurs?

It starts with their family and friends. At first glance it might seem that the social isolation we are all practicing should facilitate a stronger flow of social capital to entrepreneurs.  After all, we are quarantined 24/7 with our family. However, being forced into togetherness is challenging us to find new ways to interact as a family.  Those who have retired often talk about the initial challenges of finding a new rhythm for family life once the retiree is so much more time at home. During our adjustment to everyone being at home, it can become difficult if not impossible for family members to provide the social capital the entrepreneur needs from them.

Another critical source of social capital for entrepreneurs are their mentors, coaches, and advisors. These are the people who help keep entrepreneurs moving ahead and staying “between the rails.”  At this point in my career, one of my greatest joys is serving as a mentor for countless student and alumni entrepreneurs.  I know how important my mentors and advisors were for me when I was a full-time entrepreneur, and hope that I can pay it forward to today’s young entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs also receive vital social capital from their peers, that is, from other entrepreneurs.  This includes industry peers, which is why we are drawn to meet-up groups, trade shows, and industry associations.  These peers help us with the content of our businesses.  It also includes entrepreneurs outside of their industry.  The social capital we get from these entrepreneurs is more about the journey of entrepreneurship and about the challenges of being an entrepreneur, rather than the more technical aspects of building the business.

Staying Connected with Social Capital

Just as raising financial capital for a business takes time and effort, so too does securing the social capital we need.  Here are five steps to ensure that entrepreneurs get the social capital they need to keep their businesses moving ahead during these challenging times:

  1. Intentionality in working from home.  There is an old adage in family business: keep family time for family, and work time for work.  As we adjust to a work-from-home economy, we need to take this advice to heart.  There are many great articles available on how to effectively work from home.  I posted one at this site.
  2. Family support needs structure. It is imperative to create a structure that ensures you can tap into the family support you need for your business. I find that our daily neighborhood walks is when I get the advice and support from Mrs. C. that I so desperately need for my work as a professor and as an entrepreneur.
  3. Mentors reach out regularly. Those of us who have the privilege of being mentors to entrepreneurs need to be intentional about reaching out regularly to touch bases.  Even a quick text or email can go a long way to ensure the entrepreneurs we work with have a life line to us when they need it.  Many of the entrepreneurs I talk with express feeling alone in their struggle to keep their businesses alive.  Remind them that they are not alone.
  4. Set up weekly/monthly Zoom coffee or beers. I have various people who I meet with regularly over a cup of coffee or a beer.  Some are my mentors, some are peers, and others are those who I mentor.  Don’t let these important meetings stop because of the coronavirus.  Create a regular schedule of zoom coffees and/or zoom beers to keep these vital conversations alive.
  5. Peer-based Zoom meetings. We have an amazing group of alumni entrepreneurs who all meet once a month to talk about their entrepreneurial journeys. Until we can safely meeting as a group, we are moving ahead, same time as always, on Zoom. Is it as good as meeting face-to-face?  No, but it is better than losing this source of social capital.

Even as we seek to stay safe through social isolation, it does not mean that entrepreneurs must become isolated from their critical sources of social capital.

Free Cash Planner for Small Business

Q1sah3oit2govg86wfld fileCash is King, Queen, President for Life, and Master of the Universe for entrepreneurs.  Just ask any of my students!

One of my alums, Ben Cooper, founder of Amplify, is offering a free cash planner tool for small businesses.  What a great gift to help all of us who are navigating the treacherous waters of cash flow during the current crises.

What you’ll get:

  • A Customizable Cash Planner Spreadsheet
  • 8 Training Modules
  • Free Call to Review Results

Thanks, Ben!!

Helpful Habits and Hacks for Working from Home

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

The word from Washington (and the word from here in Tennessee, too) is that we better get settled in to working from home for a while longer.  Even though I’ve been doing quite a bit of working from home over the years, it is an adjustment to be only working from home.

So, I reached out to a couple of my alums who have a lot of personal experience in working from home and working as part of a virtual team.

Key Work Habits

Corey Griggs, whose business helps companies build scalable web and mobile applications and integrates disconnected systems, graduated from our program a decade ago. He recently shared in an article at Medium the four work habits he’s developed from his experience working from home:

  1. Have a routine
  2. Keep your space clean
  3. Focus on client communication
  4. Stop working at the end of the day

It is a great read, and offers some good, practical insights for bringing these habits to life.

Corey also suggested a few additional hacks to facilitate successfully work from home:

  1. Stand up for phone calls
  2. Over-the-ear headphones for focus
  3. If you can, use a noise cancelling app that removes background noise from video calls
  4. If you have a client that doesn’t want to see your cat on a Zoom call, show them your name, company, and brand by generating a Zoom virtual background on ScreenBrander
  5. Keep it clean. If you eat, sleep, and work in the same place, you can’t create a balance. Cleanliness reduces stress when there’s less clutter.
  6. Stop working. If you don’t take breaks and separate yourself, you’re going to lose productivity for all of your customers. Recharging when at home is harder when you’re in the same room where you work.
  7. Exercise. I have used the 100 push-ups app and 100 sit-ups app for some quick, efficient exercises
  8. If you get distracted easily using something like the Freedom app can help

Virtual Teams Done Right

Chris Tompkins, Director of Sales for Rustici Software, graduated from our MBA program in 2009.  Although Rustici is headquartered in Nashville, Chris works remotely from his home in Seattle.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, the entire Rustici team now works virtually.  Here are tips Chris shared with me about virtual teams:

  1. Work from the Cloud:  “We’re already paperless and serverless,” says Chris.  “All agreements, invoices, POs, etc, are in digital pdf, all systems are ‘in the cloud’ including email and internal tools.  We have nothing in the building that requires someone to be in the office.”  Fortunately, this is not something Rustici put together just to deal with the coronavirus.  They have been working toward this approach for several years.  “I’m proud that our whole company is back to fully-functional speed, within a week of a massive change'” adds Chris.  “Nearly every Rustician feels like we might actually be getting more done day-to-day, myself included.”
  2. Single Best Tool Award:  Slack.  “It’s a place to meet internally, have open-door rooms, converse on a topic, work as a team, and more,” Chris explains.  “If there’s one tool I’d point at, as our key to success right now, it’s slack.  I don’t know how businesses operate without it.”
  3. Video On By Default: “We’ve all got cameras, turn them on by default.  Remove the post it, flip the little cover over, put effort into your back-drop,” Chris advises.  “We’re all performing at work, the video camera provides a stage.  Turn it on, keep it on, even if the other side does not.”
  4. Create Fun Spaces: “We all need to goof-off and bond,” says Chris.  “Everyone does it, so I like to create places for us to burn work time together.  At least the team is getting some value out of the downtime we all need, if we’re sharing that down time with one another.  A successful team needs to create ways to ‘waste time’ and bond.  We’ve created slack channels for The Pets of Rustici, car talk, ‘ping-pong-room,’ and even a standing team video chat running where people can pop-in as they want.  Just because we’re all working remotely does not mean we’re alone, we’re actively working on ways to make sure the human relationship continues to grow, not just our remote productivity.”
  5. The Biggest Challenge: “Scheduled conversations,” Chris admits.  “We’re noticing that we haven’t solved for the casual drop in.  The open video room is one attempt, but Leadership has noticed that the additional step to ‘schedule a call’ means we’re not just walking office to office to organically catch-up, then casually dive into work.  Without this pop-in approach, it makes every interaction feel way more intentional and formal than someone sticking their head into an office, when it looks like someone is free-enough to chat.  Since we can’t visibly really know if someone is heads-down, the way our office doors signal in the building, it’s likely reducing the total number of interactions within the company.”

Humility, Not Guilt

Image by Bluehouse Skis from Pixabay

Over the past few days, I have talked to many business owners whose business is either stable, or even growing.  Many express a sense of guilt over their current success. I get it. The news is full of small businesses failing, and yet they are lucky enough to have a business that is doing okay.

A Sense of Guilt

The coronavirus has not impacted all small businesses in the same way.  Certainly many have been decimated by the sudden shock of the virus to our daily lives.  Here in Franklin, TN, where Mrs. C and I call home, restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores, and other “non-essential” businesses have been ordered to close their doors. The owners of these businesses struggle to make it through by offering carryout, delivery, and/or going online.  Anything to keep the lifeblood, that is cash, flowing into their businesses.

On the other hand, some small businesses are holding their own. For various reasons, their business models help insulate them from the ravages of the current economic chaos.  

I would urge these business owners to save their feelings of guilt for things that they have consciously done that are wrong. You did not cause these crises.  You have done nothing wrong.  We need your businesses to succeed. Your businesses will be the foundation of economic growth once we get through the immediate crisis.  Your businesses will help reignite the economy, helping to create jobs and spawn entrepreneurs to create new businesses out of the ashes of this economic disaster.

Be Humble

A good way to frame this is to think of the impact of a tornado. One house can be completely wiped out by the storm, and yet the house next door is completely intact.  Is it because the one whose home was spared had some great foresight to pick their lot over the one next to theirs? Of course not! It is a result of the randomness that is a part of our lives.

So what should these business owners be feeling right now? How should they psychologically process the seemingly randomness of their good fortune while seeing others fail?

I would urge business owners whose businesses are still operational to turn any guilt they have into humility.

Feel humble that out of events that no one could have predicted, you are fortunate enough to have a business model that allows your business to continue.

Remember those entrepreneurs less fortunate than you.  Be humble, feel grateful, and keep moving forward. We need you!

SBA Coronavirus Related Loan Programs

The SBA has two loan programs for small businesses impacted by coronavirus.

Disaster Loans

Small business disaster loans are now available for those businesses impacted by coronavirus.

The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program provides small businesses with working capital loans of up to $2 million that can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.

Apply for these loans directly from the SBA.  You can apply for a disaster loan here.

Bridge Loans

The SBA offers bridge loans to businesses that have an existing relationship with the SBA to help provide quick cash until their disaster loan application gets processed.

Express Bridge Loan Pilot Program allows small businesses who currently have a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender to access up to $25,000 with less paperwork. These loans can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing and can be a term loans or used to bridge the gap while applying for a direct SBA Economic Injury Disaster loan. If a small business has an urgent need for cash while waiting for decision and disbursement on Economic Injury Disaster Loan, they may qualify for an SBA Express Disaster Bridge Loan.

“Mount St. Helens” Recession

Perhaps the recession we are entering into should be called the “Mount St. Helens” Recession.

Mrs. C. suggested this to me on one of our walks this past week.  When she said that the events surrounding the 1980 eruption reminded her of the current state of the world, I knew it was the perfect metaphor for our current and future economic conditions.

A History Lesson

Although us older folks remember the eruption of Mount St. Helens like it was yesterday, many of you were probably not around when this volcano erupted in Washington State forty years ago.

Scientists saw signs that Mount St. Helens was coming to life years before it erupted.  However, concerns heightened in 1980 when the mountain’s activity created thousands of small earthquakes. Then the volcano began to change shape.   The movement of magma upward created a huge bulge on the side of the mountain. As the mountain came to life, it spit out steam and ash.  As the earthquakes and small eruptions intensified, experts predicted an eruption was imminent.  They could not, however, predict the exact time and date.

On May 18, 1980, a massive earthquake from deep within Mount St. Helens caused a huge landslide on the north side of the mountain.  The landslide was followed by a lateral eruption that sent gas, rock, and ash out at over 600 mph, devastating an area of 230 square miles.

The lateral eruption was unusual, so dozens of people who were observing the volcano or just waiting it out in an area they assumed was a safe distance were killed by the blast.

After salvaging much of the lumber leveled by the blast, officials decided to let nature take its course and heal the landscape.  Over the coming years, vegetation grew back, animals returned, and the lakes and rivers that had been choked with mud and debris returned.  For a detailed history of this event, see this link to The History Channel’s website.

The Lessons for Today

As evidence showed that an eruption of the volcano could happen at any time, people were warned or given precautions to take – some listened, some chose not to.

Just as the days, weeks, and years before Mount St. Helens erupted, we had signs that we might face a crisis. Epidemiologists warned of a possible pandemic. Economists insisted that the economic boom that we faced was becoming fragile and unsustainable.  But just as with Mount St. Helens, nobody could have predicted when things would turn, nor the immediate devastation that would result.

The coronavirus pandemic seemed to come out of nowhere.  We were living our lives, planning for our spring breaks, starting new businesses, getting ready for new careers, and then suddenly everything catastrophically changed in what seemed like an instant.

The landscape after the eruption of the volcano looked like a moonscape.  How could it ever return to normal after such devastation?

And yet, it did return.  Not exactly like it was before, but it did return to a thriving ecosystem, and much more quickly that many experts predicted.  It showed the resiliency of nature.

If we let things take their natural course, our society and economy will come back.  Not quite like before.  Hopefully, through all of us working together, it will be a bit better.  Consumers will begin to spend again. Small businesses will start back up. Entrepreneurs will find new opportunities in the ashes of this recession.

A Note of Caution

One of the lessons of Mount St. Helens is that something like its 1980 eruption will come again, if not on that mountain, on one of the string of volcanoes that make up the part of the ring of fire circling the Pacific Ocean that cuts across the Western US.  It may not come for many decades or even centuries, but it will happen again.

My parents and grandparents never forgot the lessons of the Great Depression.  They tried to pass them along, but over the generations, memories faded.  None of us alive today will ever forget these challenging times. But to our grandchildren and grandchildren’s children, the events of 2020 will just be a vague part of history.

Let the wafts of steam that still come out of Mount St. Helen today act as a warning:  sometime in the future, generations to come will also face devastating events in their lives.

But just as nature is resilient, so are we.

Photo credits:  Jeff Cornwall