Let's face it. We entrepreneurs are cut from a different cloth. We're never satisfied with what most people would consider success. We constantly seek new challenges with greater risks and more undefined rewards. We trade everyday terra firma for soaring highs and abysmal lows. We are gluttons for punishment and we never look back. Well, almost never. And, perhaps best of all, we never know where our careers will take us.
For me, every business I have ever undertaken has been about much more than money. Entrepreneurial endeavors have served as an outlet for my creativity, a means of helping people, and a seemingly never-ending series of problem solving opportunities from which to grow personally. Though emotional highs may not show up as line items on a balance sheet, I have found them to be a driving force in my career as an entrepreneur.
Inc.com is brimming with brilliant business minds who regularly contribute columns that are sure to help keep your business on track. This column will not be one of them. My hope is to offer the insights of a regular guy as he makes his way across the entrepreneurial landscape. What makes me tick. My personal hang-ups. The choices I make. My relationships with other business people. And what I learn about myself along the way. It's bound to be an interesting journey.
Where did it all start? From the first time a neighbor handed me five bucks for shoveling her front walk, I was hooked on the entrepreneurial high. This small monetary reward and the satisfaction of feeling as though I had helped out a neighbor, gave me all the confidence I needed to work my way down the street. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was beginning to learn three of the most important entrepreneurial lessons -- selling myself, building relationships, and not allowing rejections to get the better of my drive to move forward.
More than 25 years later, I am still working on these three lessons. I have a sneaking suspicion that this will continue to be the case for the balance of my entrepreneurial career (which probably won't end until the day I take my last breath).
Once bitten by the bug, I found myself dreaming about creative ways to make a few bucks and get my next entrepreneurial fix. The shortlist of business schemes that were born out of the countless hours spent in less than stimulating classrooms still gives me a chuckle to this day. Snow removal, landscaping, raccoon trapping, marine wood restoration, tree trimming, and scads of other odd jobs didn't exactly build a resume for the Blue Chip corporate world, but they did provide the hard-knock lessons that really stoked my fire. Not surprisingly, it is the real world education I received tending these small-business ventures that I draw from to this day. I never did figure out what the heck the Pythagorean Theorem was all about, and thankfully, I can't seem to recall a time when I needed it as of late.
Each business that I have undertaken has presented new and greater challenges. The personal satisfaction I got ditching school to plow driveways gave me a sense of satisfaction that no test or reading assignment ever could. I got my plow stuck more than once, but I always managed to work things out. Though I bleached the name off the side of the boat on my first teak refinishing job, I made things right with the customer and went on to master the skills necessary to build a successful business. Many of the trees I tackled during my first days as a tree trimmer were way over my head, yet I overcame my fears and successfully completed every job I began.
If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would someday be designing and manufacturing clothing, I would have told them that they must have fallen out of one too many trees. The thought of trading in my chainsaws for sewing machines would have seemed completely ridiculous to me. I guess this is the beauty of resigning yourself to looking at your entrepreneurial career as a lifelong series of unexpected bends in the river. When I mentally reached the end of the line with my successful foray in the tree-care industry, I can recall wondering and waiting for what would come next.
But, as is so common in the entrepreneurial world, it took a full two years before the next idea hit me, and who could have imagined that it would come in the form of a pair of pants, or be catalyzed by a 35-foot fall from a red maple! But when the idea for Arborwear did hit me, I knew without question or hesitation that this was my next challenge. I believe that just about everybody has at least one (if not many) "brilliant" business brainstorms during their lifetime. The interesting question is, how many of those individuals go out on the proverbial limb to try to make a go of their brainchild? What happens as you walk out on that limb, well, you might call the Inc. Life.