I recently sat down and talked to an entrepreneur: William Chang, to be specific. What he had to say was highly illuminating, as you can say below, sharing his advice with would-be entrepreneurs who might be concocting their own plans in their basements across the nation.
The first thing you should know is not to get too comfortable. Ever.
“You are always one phone call, one email, or one text message away from an impending disaster, whether it’s a trade that didn’t settle, reporting that didn’t quite capture what you needed, picking a floor tile colour, finding out you have permitting issues, or finding out that numbers were missed by a wide margin,” he explained. “The enticing part of entrepreneurship comes with many broken bones, bruised knuckles and empty bank accounts. That being said, my ventures have been some of the most satisfying and exhilarating things I have done in my life.”
Sometimes the non-linear path proffers the best chances. Be open to opportunities that seem compelling but may deviate from your norm.
“The experience at Roaring Brook Capital was immensely therapeutic. I had oversight over a number of aspects of the job (within reason). This was particularly good for me, as I was no longer subject to bureaucracy and political whims found at a large corporation. Things could be done much quicker, without getting mired in the drudgery of a long approval and reporting process. Progress was measured on a day by day basis and not limited by approval times or hamstrung by (the lack of) signatures. New projects and initiatives were now brought up as quickly as we could envision them,” he stated. “Don’t like the format of the report? Can you think of a better way to show the data? Or a better way to put on a trade? GREAT. Best idea wins. Away from finance, my involvement in hospitality ventures have also been rewarding. By working with other ambitious individuals with a common goal, the sharing of ideas and viewpoints has been refreshing and insightful. The more people I speak to, the more I learn, and sometimes an analogy in one field can conceptually be taken away and reproduced in another. For example, within my foray into the world of frozen yogurt (Lab Café), we tried to bundle certain goods together to play around with the product mix and improve margins.”
Surround yourself with good people that you can learn from and that believe that they can learn something from you
“Do NOT let yourself become complacent or easily satisfied by mediocrity.” On this note, he’s very passionate. “While I enjoyed my time at a larger employer, I knew that on some level, I was getting complacent. Towards the end of my ‘tenure’, I was not finding myself stimulated and there was very little encouragement to try and learn more beyond the scope of my job, because there was no reward for working harder than other people. I’ll never forget the day I was denied training at my first job because it was ‘too far beyond the scope’ of what I was doing. To me, it was sad because I was passionate about driving change, but I was actively denied the right to learn a new skillset that could have helped the organisation. And this breeds resentment. Conversely, since I never felt that I was being ‘pigeonholed’ at Roaring Brook Capital, I was always looking for various ways to bring value to the bottom line. Similarly, anyone who thinks that there is nothing to learn from someone else who has had a different set of experiences and/or body of knowledge is just being egotistical.”
You should be thankful for adversity. If you don’t have enough of it in your life, seek it out.
“The reason why pebbles at the beach are so smooth is because they are constantly being ground against each other,” he tells potential entrepeneurs. “PICK ADVERSITY- it will leave you polished. Getting through the 2008-2009 market was one of the toughest times I had ever been through. The markets had a ton of volatility and most days, the joking and chatter on the floor consisted of jokes about how much longer we would be employed. That being said, I think we all have a little more intestinal fortitude as well as better budgeting skills after all that we’ve been through. Similarly, at the frozen yoghurt shop, I was constantly on the prowl for margin saves. We were on a very tight budget, and I would run through our monthly accounting statements and demand answers for why we were losing money on certain products, or not making enough on others. In the end, this taught me to be very precise in our methodology and to be able to differentiate acceptable answers from excuses.”
Use your network to the best of your ability.
Ah, yes, networking. That ever-crucial step. “I was able to help find a number of potential clients either from my associations at Cornell, or by the conferences and meetings that I attended while under the employ of Roaring Brook Capital. Everyone is or knows of someone that can be a potential client. Don’t be afraid to help others out. A favour given today may be your largest asset tomorrow. Aside from money and time, your network may have extensive experience in the area that you may be looking to grow or become more proficient in. Sometimes it pays dividends to show your cards, as you never know who might have the matching ones. The folks at Lab were some of the best networkers I knew. They threw together a great marketing campaign which enticed many people in the community to check out the business and to get the name of the business out.”
If you aren’t having fun doing whatever it is you are doing, QUIT.
“It’s a fairly well known piece of advice, but unfortunately ill-adhered to,” he warns. “Stop making your own life, your spouse and your coworkers miserable. There are good days and there are bad days, but you have to think about what you can or can’t live with.”
And there you have it: a word from the wise. Don’t be afraid to take chances, because look where they can possibly lead you.
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