Sean Yazbeck worked in the telecom staffing industry before landing a spot on Donald Trump's reality show, The Apprentice, in 2006. He was not fired—that is, he was that season's winner—and as a prize was given a job managing the Trump SoHo hotel. Yazbeck left the job after a year to start a company of his own, the New York City-based Wavsys, which provides contract engineers to telecommunications companies.
It's no secret that when you win The Apprentice, you get a salary of $250,000. That's good eating, but I wanted more. I want a huge piece of the cake. One thing I learned from working with Mr. Trump for a year was that you need to have a fire in the pit of your belly to be successful, and it was my dream to start a company of my own.
Another lesson Mr. Trump taught me was that to be successful in starting a business, you need to love what you do and have some experience doing it. You wouldn't want to open up an Italian restaurant just because you love the food. That's what real estate was like for me. That's why getting back to telecom staffing made sense.
One day I walked into Mr. Trump's office on the 25th floor of the Trump Tower. He always has lots of things going on, so you know you need to make it quick: two minutes, tops, with lots of bullet points. You need to phrase questions so that he just has to say yes or no. I told him that my one-year contract was coming up and that I wanted to start my own company when it did. I asked him if I had his support to do that or if he needed me to stick around. He was very supportive. He told me to let him know if there was anything he could do to help me.
It was my dream to start a company of my own, but I had never done anything like it before. It is nerve-racking to put everything else in your life on hold and put 100 percent of your time and effort into taking care of your little baby. It's like going into a big abyss; you're not sure it's going to work until you get that first check from a client. I applaud anyone who has the guts to start a business from scratch.
I have been an actor since I was a child, and it's something I remain passionate about. I have always been happiest when I'm onstage doing Shakespeare. But unless you're going to be the next best thing in Hollywood, you'll spend your days working in a restaurant or a bar. So I decided to hang up my acting hat when I started my business.
I learned early on that you can't do it alone. So I brought on two partners that I worked with at a previous employer. The three of us complement one another.
Wavsys provides wireless operators such as Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile with the engineers that help build and maintain their networks. We employ the engineers and contract them out for things like setting up an antenna out in the field or writing code that will run the next generation of handsets. Our challenge has been finding the right kind of talent here in the U.S. We have had to recruit engineers in Europe and Asia to find the right skill sets. That's why I am a big believer that the U.S. needs to create more opportunities to get children to study math and science.
I learned a lot of things working with Mr. Trump. It got my foot in the door. People will take your call if you're the winner of The Apprentice. I'm grateful for that. But war stories from the show will only get you so far. At some point, you need to deliver good service and products.
DARREN DAHL is a contributing editor at Inc. Magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, NC.