Donny Zanger is the founder and CEO of All Week Walls, a New York-based pressurized wall company. In addition to All Week Walls, he has started up a number of other businesses too. I talked to Donny recently about his experience as an entrepreneur, and what it took for him to create a successful business.
The words that follow are all Donny’s.
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According to my high school report card, I shouldn't be where I am today. My college GPA will concur. Ask around among my teachers and former classmates and they'll probably recall me as a below average student, at best, and "that kid with learning disabilities," at worst.
Growing up with dyslexia is no walk in the park, and it's an open secret that schools are built to cater to one specific type of student. For the rest of the world--the creative thinkers, the talented artists, the energetic athletes--sitting at a desk for hours on end, memorizing lists and analyzing information in a test-taking format, doesn't necessarily compute with our skill set.
Personally, I found the theoretical nature of school studies antithetical to my own way of thinking. Who cares if Adam has ten green apples and Sarah has four less? The main question is, could Adam get Sarah to buy those apples from him for more than he paid? Now that's my kind of thinking.
I never could pick up on the etymology of obscure SAT words, and doing spelling homework with dyslexia is like trying to sew on a button with your toe--it just ain't equipped for a job like that. But here's the catch, the covert information that no one tells you as you suffer through years of feeling second class: succeeding in business requires completely different areas of proficiency than succeeding in school.
Most of the information that you learn in school is entirely irrelevant when you go out into the real world. I don't even use half the stuff I learned in my business marketing class and I spend all day marketing my businesses.
To succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to know how to market yourself and your product. You have to be able to sell. It's important to be able to manage, so you can keep your burgeoning business afloat. You need people skills because there's a lot of interpersonal interaction. Honesty, integrity and creativity are all major pluses. When was the last time your school tested you on how to give a firm handshake and a genuine smile? Believe it or not, lots of valedictorians can't pull off these two crucial components of a business deal.
After I graduated college, I took my own $3,000 in savings and opened up my first business. I was 23 years old with no formal work experience and no prior knowledge of running a business, but I knew I had the drive and I definitely the determination to make it work. I'm proud to say that, seven years later, I'm still completely self-supporting.
My original business is going strong and I never took outside funding to help it along. I'm now also the founder of a technology company in the process of developing our own mobile apps. We have over five serious investors who have contributed more than $230,000 towards our development costs because they want a piece of what I have to offer. I may not be a millionaire, but I consider myself a success story in the business world.
To those out there who think success in school is a measure of future accomplishment, I am here to say, it is NOT. Don't look at your grades, your test scores, or your teachers' opinions. Don't focus on your learning disabilities or your inability to remember immaterial dates and numbers. Not everyone is cut out for success in school and that's okay: it's not a true measure of what you can achieve.
If you've got drive, creativity, motivation, passion and the ability to push up your sleeves and get to work, then come join the Entrepreneur's Club. We'll be happy to have you and we don't need your SAT scores to let you in; we know you can succeed no matter what number the College Board gave you.
I certainly did.