Tag Archives: Entrepreneurship

A Message from the [Slacking] Author

My apologies to anyone who got way too used to my 3-a-week blog posts. A road trip over the weekend lead into this week, which brought about a new business project for me (details to come). This project has come with the typical excitement of starting a new project mixed with the craziness of adding it to my schedule. Consistency of The Thinking Bat may suffer, but I suspect that the subject matter will get interesting! (For the love of all things sacred, it’s about time something interesting showed up on here, right?) I’m even thinking of a makeover for the site. Comments welcome!

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The “I’m Starting My Own Business” Talk

There is one very difficult step every young entrepreneur will take in the process of starting a business. It could lead to outrageous amounts of stress; it could lead to a complete reorganization of your strategy; in fact, it could derail the entire thing. When pursuing your dreams, I advise anyone who has a strong vision to power through any roadblocks… well, this could very well be your first. What is it?

Having the “I’m starting a business” conversation with your parents.

I’ll pause while you shudder…

All parents are different, so I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I know many young entrepreneurs know exactly the conversation (or at least the implications of the conversation) that I’m talking about. After your folks helped put you through undergrad then business school, and helped you pay for crap, and gave you money for books which was inevitably spent on beer (“I swear Dad, the damn thing costs $300!”) you sit them down and tell them you’re gambling it all on a fanatical business venture.

Granted, I think every graduate has a business idea at least once. Especially in this job market, after playing the resume and interview game every young, disgruntled student goes, “Screw it, I’m starting my own business!” (Note: the chances of this rise 10-fold after watching a Hugh Hefner documentary. Seriously, who doesn’t want to be that guy?) But very few people go through with it.

This doesn’t just pertain to recent grads either. I know people several years older than I who have had this conversation with parents. Sure, the older, wiser and more financially stable you get the easier this goes, but the conversation still takes place. I recently had a conversation with a man who was in his mid-30s who had a great business idea and told me that he was pitching some potential investors the following week. When I asked him how he felt about it he replied, “It will be a breeze after pitching my parents on the idea last weekend!”

The parent talk, however, can be the most significant reality check you have. Now, in my experience, I did not have to ask my parents for money. As a consultant, I need less upfront capital than a lemonade stand. But if you will be asking for money, work on your pitch just as you would a high-level venture capitalist. They will take even more stock in your idea, because with parents it isn’t just a financial investment; it’s a personal and emotional investment.

If you aren’t asking for money (and in reality, I would only recommend doing so as a last resort), then you will likely hear from the greatest devil’s advocate you can get, especially if one or both of your parents is a business person. But if they are not business people, then be careful, because you may receive false encouragement to pursue your line of kitten Christmas sweaters. Or at the very least, you will receive a brain-numbing amount of questions.

Let me tell you my experience. It did not at all happen like I planned, though like I said, the risk/reward of a one-person consulting company does not merit tons of concern from the parentals.

Now, my parents are very encouraging, and I know they would support me in just about anything. However, my father is a financial advisor – which means fiscally minded, structured, planned, and well aware of the business world as a whole. So boy was I prepared for the devil’s advocacy.

I, not being structured and planned (ask anyone), took a “ready, fire, aim” approach to the business model. Well done, Matt. I had a business plan, a mission, etc. I also had just completed my website, and started up this blog. My problem was that I had too many ideas about the website and the creative aspect which I had to get out first. I wanted to get the “aim” part taken care of before I told my parents the idea, but apparently when you “fire” and it’s live online, people find it quickly. Once again Matt, probably should have seen that one coming…

So before I had all the details ironed out, I visited home. I didn’t even have the Michael Bublé song I was singing in the car out of my head before my mother was saying, “So tell me about your website and this business idea!”

That’s how I broke it to the parents.

That weekend my entire family was coming to visit. Oh great, not only is the “aim” portion of the business not ready, the entire family is going to be pitched this at once! The weekend consisted of everyone – and I mean everyone – in my family taking a look at the site, proofreading and critiquing. Between my parents, my brother who is close to my age, my grandmother who was a teacher, my granddad who was a judge, and a couple uncles who are business men, I’d say I had my bases covered.

Let me tell you, you don’t develop a 30-second pitch much quicker than when you have to do it on the fly in front of that crowd. 

I got lucky in that “marketing consultant” is an easy sell, and everyone was more curious and intrigued than concerned. I also got some great feedback for the site, and it should be grammatically impeccable now.

Finally, my immediate family went out to dinner, and the subject came up. My dad said, “I have some questions about your business venture.”

Ok, here it comes… deep breath… another sip of wine… hit me.

I wish I could give you a great dialogue here; some kind of quid pro quo between the businessman and myself. But the line of questioning was very simple. He asked me about all the things I hadn’t worked out yet. He asked me how I was going to be paid, what would I charge and why, and what the legal ramifications were. All encouraging and valid questions, only I wish I had more of an answer than “yeah, still working on that…”

Long story short, he told me that I needed a mentor. This is something I knew in the back of my head, I had just not reached out yet. But he was right. Every successful person has a mentor. Every young entrepreneur has someone showing him the ropes. No one ever ever ever does it completely on his own. At first, I wasn’t sure what kind of concerns my father would have, or what advice he would give me, although – and it pains me to say it – he is usually right. Therefore I was going to listen. What transpired was great advice and nothing but support from both my folks.

So kids, talk to your parents. The talk is inevitable, though I would advise you to be more prepared then I was. Pitch them as you would pitch a professional. You never know what could happen, but if you leap this hurtle you are well on your way.

At the very least, you have a few more subscribers to your blog.

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Quantifying Intuition: Starting a Business After Business School

Quantifying Intuition

Congratulations to me, I am now $50,000 in debt and have three letters after my name. That’s right, I did what many underemployed undergraduate graduates have done: I got a leg up by getting my MBA.

The experience allowed me to grow on so many levels and in ways that I could have never done otherwise. On an academic front I learned valuable material; however, hindsight vision being sharper than Reese Witherspoon’s chin, I now notice that there was something missing.

For a while I didn’t know what it was. Then one day I had to read a chapter for coursework that was talking about dealing with employees. The chapter outlined a person’s mood changes throughout the day… by using a graph.

At this point I realized that everything I was learning throughout the program was based in analytics, statistics, formulas, quantifying measures, etc. After all, that’s the way business programs are designed, and that’s the way business professors know how to teach.

So I can confidently say that I can quote you theory and formula (and also improv a presentation like I was on Who’s Line Is It Anyway?); but now I’m beginning to go through the motions of starting my own business and I realized something: I don’t know the intricacies of how to actually start a business.

Sure, I have a business plan, a logo, a website… that’s not what I’m talking about. Of course a business plan is where you start. I have even done a SWOT Analysis, something that I vowed if I ever had to do post-graduation, I would Jason Bourne it out the nearest window.

(SWOT is analyzing the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of a business, for those of you who didn’t go to business school – or if you did, if you were sick the day they taught business.)

But the question is, after all that… now what do I do with it? What’s the next step? Where was the class, Starting a Business 101?

We had an entrepreneurship class, as any MBA program should, but it was more theory, graphs, charts and analytics. Granted, in an academic program you need some of this structure and basic theory, and in the business world it is also vital. But…

If I were teaching an entrepreneurship class I would do one thing on the first day: “Class, you will be starting your own business over the next 10 weeks… ready? Go!”

Where was that kind of practicality?

So as much as I did learn from this program, towards the end I started to think a little differently. When someone asks me what my key takeaways were from business school I won’t point at a book. I will tell them that I learned to question things. I will say that I now know it’s not about the time value of money, discounted cash flows or the statistical valuation of a company. It’s about taking calculated risks… but without sitting down and actually calculating the risk itself! It’s about taking chances, intuition and – most importantly – hard work.

Business school is a box. You learn from a book, with a syllabus, in a curriculum, in a school system. After that you enter the job box: resumes, cover letters, interviews and climbing the proverbial corporate ladder. I knew I didn’t fully subscribe to all that noise in undergrad, but it took me a higher education to learn how to take what I needed from within the box, and combine it with my risk-taking, intuitive, creative ideas from outside of the box. And voilà! I have made it as far as this blog.

So here we go. This is the new class. The new Matt Williams School of Business. Scratch that…

The Matt Williams Art of Industry Less Restricted.

This is about business-savvy out-of-the-box thinking, questioning status quo and being successful at it! And I promise there will not be one graph or chart trying to quantify what should otherwise be intuition.

Ready? Go!

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