An MBA and a business plan. These were the key elements for entrepreneurial success, at least as I was told by a few business students during a recent business visit I oversaw. Moreover, students reiterated the importance of vision and focus and learning when to say "no" to opportunities outside your scope.
All of these insights were spot on -- but also greatly oversimplified.
For that reason, I had hoped to build on these ideas with the more realistic and gritty elements of entrepreneurship as we visited with Marc Brawner of Little Spider Creations, a unique company that creates and fabricates custom props and themes for amusement parks, haunted attractions, and just about any other event or locale needing a ten-foot tall Sasquatch (if that is your thing).
Brawner spoke with my group of university business students on our visit, during which we toured his facility and heard about Little Spider's unique and humble story.
Brawner, a creative and artist by trade, founded the company 25 years ago in the busy suburbs of Denver, Colorado. Recently, however, he moved his business and family, many of whom actively work in the business, to the smaller and relatively sleepier town of Little River, South Carolina.
Why would Brawner move from such a vibrant and growing city like Denver, a prime location for creative talent and regional distribution?
As Brawner explained, "You do what you have to do."
And that, in a nutshell, was what I wanted -- and needed -- the students to hear.
He went on to explain that when marijuana was legalized in Colorado, the cost of renting industrial warehouse space in and around Denver skyrocketed, in some cases increasing 400 percent.
"My family and I grew up in Colorado," Brawner explained, "and we love it there, but we just couldn't make it work with the rising rents." He went on to emphasize that while you may have an emotional connection to a location, if the best decision for the business is to move it, then you need to do what you have to do.
Brawner also told the story about an early business transaction made during a period when, like most boot-strapping family businesses, the company was struggling to make ends meet. "One day," he recounts, "a guy with two other brawny-looking guys walked into my office and asked if I could help him remodel his business. I said that we could, which is something you say when you are starting out -- even if you don't know if you can."
Later, Brawner discovered that the man in his office was the owner of a gentleman's club who was seeking to "theme it out."
"We are a conservative and religious family, and I was really struggling with taking on a job for a nightclub like this," Brawner explained. "My wife could see I was struggling, and she asked me, 'If he had come to you and asked you to install new carpet, would you do it?' I replied that I would, so she smiled and said simply, 'Then you should do this.'"
Obviously, carpet was not Brawner's business, but it was a trade he knew well. They were a struggling small business trying to find creative ways to generate income and keep the doors open, so when a business opportunity comes through your door, it is best to put your business plan -- and pride -- aside and take the business.
"We did what we had to do," concluded Brawner, who explained that he took the job and eventually did all the work during hours when the nightclub was closed, usually from 2:00 to 6:00 AM, to avoid any contact with the "staff."
As Brawner explained, in the end, whether you are starting a business, growing a business, or simply trying to make a business work, you do what you have to do to make it work. It may not always be what you want to do, and it may not fit into your business plan or even your ego, but if the ends justify the means, you need to grit it out and get the job done.
What do you think? Do you have a similar story of doing what it takes to keep your business going? Please share your story in the comments below.