Struggling against difficult odds in business? Consider this wisdom from an Inc. 500 entrepreneur who came through a life-threatening illness.
As a coach, I help entrepreneurs through the issues that keep them from their dreams. For the most part I see these individuals as driven, passionate, unstoppable human beings. But after my recent discussion with one entrepreneur, the bar has definitely been raised.
Monte Lee-Wen entered the United States from Canada with few resources and little money. But he had a dream, and that was enough to keep him going. It wasn’t long after coming to the United States that Monte built his commercial real estate company, growing from four employees working out of his home, to more than eighty employees occupying an impressive office building in Austin, Texas—all self-funded! He even made the Inc. 500 list in 2009 for revenue growth of 670.3 percent in the previous year. He then went on to make the Inc. 500 list in 2010, moving up to the 20th fastest growing company in all of Austin. Outstanding results for any business person, but what I find particularly amazing is that this young entrepreneur achieved all of this against some very significant odds.
Now 35, Monte was just 28 years of age when he established The PPA Group, a commercial real estate investment company. He maintained his company’s growth during the downturn in our economy while most commercial real estate companies were crumbling. And, as if that wasn’t challenging enough, Monte achieved all of this while battling a life-threatening illness. In fact, he suffered a temporary loss of his voice during surgery and proceeded to close the biggest deal of his career without being able to utter a single syllable aloud. Today, after months of rehabilitation to recover his ability to speak, Monte’s voice is strong, and he has a message to share.
“I was the least likely to succeed in my peer group and extended family,” says Monte. “But I refused to allow my problems, adversity, and health issues define me.” Monte came into this world with a rough start and from it he built an undeniable mental toughness. “I was fortunate to learn from an early age what it means to have mental fortitude and it made me tough all around,” he says. But Monte believes that not everyone has to suffer to attain the fortitude to build upon their dreams.
“I believe in strong leadership,” Monte says. “Every entrepreneur must learn to become an effective leader. If you don’t grow as a person, your business won’t grow either. Remember that your business grows in direct proportion to your own personal and professional growth.” Monte devotes a good portion of his time attending workshops and seminars, as well as reading relevant books and publications. Networking is key to his success. “Meet new people,” he says. “You can’t run with the giants and stay small. I wouldn’t have made it without growing myself continually through learning and meeting new people.”
I spoke with Monte about facing adversity, his journey down the road to good health, and succeeding in business—despite the odds. The pieces of information garnered from that conversation are the gems that I share here with you today. Monte Lee-Wen’s philosophies and guidelines to life and business success:
Always look at the big picture in the economy and in your industry. What may be coming down the pike that will affect your industry? What indicators in economy could trickle down into what you’re doing? Take note of these possibilities and plan and prepare ahead.
Make sure not get bogged down. It’s important to create efficiencies, processes, and systems to get and keep yourself out of the rut. Don’t ever be afraid to take a step back to do this. Things may pile up in the short term but if you find solutions and work on the problem by building efficiencies into your business you will have the time to dedicate to other, more critical initiatives. Entrepreneurs who get bogged down in the daily requirements of their business often believe that there isn’t a solution. There are always solutions ; the real problem is that you don’t want to take the time to fix the problem. Stop. Fix it. Execute the solution. There may be a little bit of pain at first but will provide for long term success.
Don’t work on the day-to-day, month-to-month, or even year-to-year. If you want to be viable you can’t afford to think only of the short term. Have a long-term strategy and vision and build contingencies for the “what ifs”. Dedicate money in your budget toward initiatives that will work toward long term strategies. Pay attention to the big picture; don’t get blindsided.
After any setback, always review the circumstances and look for lessons. Ask yourself, and your team, a series of questions to gain perspective. Learn from failures, fail your way into success. Ask questions like, What did we do right? What did we do wrong? How could we have done it differently? After you identify the critical components put the exercise away, learn from the experience, get over the challenge and move forward.
Take calculated risks. Evaluate your decisions by looking at the cost vs. benefit. Make sure that your assumptions are grounded in reality and fact. Look at rewards and benefits; surround yourself with the right people to get the job done. Plan ahead and keep your risks in check mitigating them along the way. Don't get paralyzed in the analysis; be decisive. Do this and the probability of success goes up dramatically.
Trust yourself and apply a strong work ethic. More than you realize is within your control when you believe in yourself and work hard. Trust is a big factor in the decision- making process, as is your willingness to take risk. It’s also important to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you; people you can trust.
Create multiple revenue streams to build a strong revenue model. Look at larger, more successful companies in your industry. Evaluate how those organizations would succeed if and when anything changes in the economic environment. What fuels their growth? Study their revenue models and, if you find a stable one, improve upon it and build your own.
Perform due diligence in hiring employees. Interview your candidates thoroughly, check references, spend time getting to know them on a personal level. Also ask your team for input. Before considering anyone for partnership, make sure they prove themselves and always have an out.
Be cautious about partnerships. People often bring in partners because they don’t trust themselves to do it on their own. Once you bring in a partner you’ve created a marriage in a sense. Be careful because this is hard to undo. Protect yourself legally and never give away too much when your bring people on board. Also, be very careful about creating partnerships with family and close friends - these often do not work very well. Only introduce a partner into the picture if you have to and never conduct business on a handshake; avoid ambiguity in these business relationships; ambiguity will cause conflict down the road.
“Starting a business is a scary thing,” Monte concedes. “It takes a lot of faith in one’s self. I see too many people questioning their abilities; they didn’t finish college, don’t feel smart enough, and so on. But none of that really matters. If you come up with an idea that you find value in and can take to market, just believe in yourself and do it. There are so many things that people will spend money on. Remember: just because you may have experienced disadvantages or a disability doesn’t mean that you can’t get past them. I believe that I am living proof that it doesn’t matter where you come from, just as long as you can believe in yourself and are willing to put in the necessary time and effort to succeed. “