I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I was 8 years old, we moved into a new house in New Jersey. We owned one of the first houses built in a new development that would ultimately have hundreds of homes. So there were a lot of homes in the process of being built and it was a hot NJ summer. This was in the mid-1960s and there were no mobile canteen trucks serving the many construction workers that were toiling under the hot sun. So I came up with the idea to buy soda from the local store, ice it up and take in my wagon from site to site. I bought the sodas for $.07 a can and resold them for $.15 a can. My mom would drive me to the store to to pick up the soda (free transportation and storage helped my margin). I really enjoyed it and learned so many business lessons. For example, after doing this for about a month, a new neighbor (competitor) saw what I was doing and went out before me in the late morning and mid-afternoon to sell sodas to the construction workers. My neighbor stopped after a few days because most of my customers said no thanks, Gary is coming in 15 minutes. My first taste of competition, but also the value of being reliable and treating your customers right…building loyalty. Another business lesson started one day when I shocked to find that the generic brand soda was out at the local store. So I could buy the name brands at $.25 a can, increase my price, take a loss or just not sell soda that day. I decided to be upfront with the customers, bought the sodas for $.25 and resold them for the same price. I learned to be honest with customers, if you have a good relationship they will understand. That said, a few wouldn’t buy and though I was ripping them off, but most paid and appreciated my candor and my making the rounds. At the end of the summer I actually bought a bike, bought a TV (don’t think the IRS can go back this far) and learned some great lessons. And while the money was nice, creating something from nothing was priceless. As it would turn out, the following summer canteen trucks were all over the neighborhood, with soda, burgers, ice-cream and so on. It was like Wal-Mart moving in next to the small retailer. It was a nice ride, but it was over. Another lesson learned, always look out for your competition and know when to take your ball and go home.
I love entrepreneurs. I love working with them, advising them and being an entrepreneur. So how do you know one when you see one? They come in all shape, all sizes, all ethnicities, and all social and income classes. They do have one thing in common–what I refer to as the entrepreneurial spirit. They want to build something from nothing…take an idea and turn it into a product, solve a problem, create a market. They are always thinking of ways to solve problems and better ways to do what is already being done. But the idea isn’t enough. You have to have the intestinal fortitude to put it all on the line and actually do it. And the passion to really want to do it. It isn’t just the high profile names like Facebook or Google, its anyone defying the odds and doing it on his/her own.
The entrepreneurial spirit is what I look for in advising a company or investing in a company. I want to see the passion, the fire, the fortitude to turn a concept into reality. These are the people I respect and want to work with. While it is hard to specifically define it, you know it when you see it. For me it is like looking in the mirror at the 8 year old boy.