“It’s never too late to switch careers and do something that you really want to do,” said Eric Holtzclaw--and he should know, being the serial entrepreneur that he is.
Growing up, Holtzclaw dreamed of having one of two careers--either President of the United States (specifically Jimmy Carter) or an IBM employee. But after he actually snagged a job at IBM, he realized it wasn’t for him, quit and entered the start-up scene.
And things are going well for the entrepreneur-- “It’s a great time to be a geek,” he said.
Since leaving IBM, Holtzclaw has founded multiple start-up companies, authored Laddering: Unlocking the Potential of Consumer Behavior and is currently the founder and CEO of Laddering Works, a marketing and product strategy firm. Thursday, the Atlanta-based Holztclaw sat down with Inc. Senior Writer Christine Lagorio-Chafkin during an Inc. Live Chat via Google+ Hangout and shared with the audience what he has learned from his more than 20 years of experience working with start-ups. In the interview, Holtzclaw passed on his wisdom on work-life balance, company culture and what it means to be an entrepreneur today.
“Someone once told me ‘to get a life,’ but as an entrepreneur, your company is your life,” said Holtzclaw. “So saying that is like telling a person not to do a hobby that they love.”
Or at least that’s the way it should be. Holtzclaw cautioned that entrepreneurs need to make sure they create companies they actually want and put in place the right structure to guarantee this--otherwise what’s the point?
“As an entrepreneur you have to be careful about building a self-made prison,” he said. “You could found a company that is more like a job and that’s not why entrepreneurs do this stuff.”
In the interview, Holtzclaw made the point that it is important for entrepreneurs to be able to take a break from work and go on vacations. He added that if you can’t be away from your company for two weeks--there is something wrong with your company.
“Taking time away is very important,” said Holtzclaw. “I have made some of my greatest discoveries during those times.”
Entrepreneurs also need to keep in mind that it is his or her company--not their employees. “It is a fine line you walk, because you don’t want your staff to work the way you do,” said Holtzclaw. He added that you must make your expectations clear to your employees, “I don’t want to be penalized for the fact that I enjoy what I am doing and that I want to do it.”
Actually, Holtzclaw never wants employees that simply do what he does and follow his lead. He made it very clear that yes men are a no.
“Things don’t just happen along a happy path often. You don’t want yes men around you. You will never survive that,” he said. “If you are going in every day and things are rosy, you may have to surround yourself with people who are going to help you grow.”
Holtzclaw prescribed a daily dose of constructive conflict for every company.
“You should have constructive conflict. You are looking for the conflict because that is going to get you to a resolution,” said Holtzclaw.
His favorite type of employees? The new ones who ask ‘why.’
Holtzclaw talked about how entrepreneurship has changed since he first started playing the game--and the importance of the culture and the people.
“This is one thing that people really need to understand. The world changed. People don’t buy for companies anymore, they buy for people,” said Holtzclaw. “Before the thought was to put all your equity behind the brand and let them know that there are people. Now you need to let them know who the people are and that there is a company behind them.”
He identified that the best companies today aren't those focused on the having the lowest prices and are in “a race to the bottom” but companies that are differentiate themselves with their product and the experience they offer consumers.
“Any company that is focusing on making something better and building an experience around it, those are going to be the leaders,” said Holtzclaw. “And there’s so many. I come across so many brand new companies everyday that are doing things that you haven’t even thought of. It is a really interesting time to see people sliver out problems and solve those problems in a better way.”
Watch a playback of the Live Chat.