This week I had a fun interview on entrepreneurship. I wasn’t talking to Inc., How I Built This or Squawk Box. I was interviewed by Jayson Koel, a sophomore at Germantown High School in Germantown, Wisconsin with great hair. Jayson is taking an entrepreneurship class and is working on his own business, an apparel company called Midwest Running Club. Which I assume doesn’t sell Speedos to New Englanders.
Jayson (Y ask Y there’s a Y) had 8 good questions for me that I thought would be worth sharing with others who are considering entrepreneurship, or who simply wonder how someone gets started on their entrepreneurial journey.
8 Questions on Entrepreneurship with Jayson Koel
- When did you know you wanted to own your own business?
At the very beginning of my career. I immediately loved the idea of creating my own version of an advertising agency. I was always envious of entrepreneurs for being brave enough to do what everyone else dreams of doing. And I think envy is a great navigational tool. (Unless you are on a ship. Then you should use real navigational tools.) 3 years into my career a film director I was working with told me I had to start my own agency in order to secure my future. I took the advice. And I wrote about it here.
2. How did you prepare to get started?
I spent 19 years learning how advertising works, building relationships, creative skills, leadership skills, and nunchuck skillz. Because girls only like guys who have great skills. I had a subscription to Inc. magazine that whole time and continuously studied entrepreneurship. I surrounded myself with other entrepreneurs, and learned how they thought, and increased my courage and confidence through their examples. Then, in the last 6 months before I launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, I bought The E-Myth, by Michael Gerber, which is a great how-to book on how to run a business the right way. Even for southpaws.
3. Who helped you start your business?
My cousin Brooks Albrecht and I launched The Weaponry together. Brooks was in Seattle working for Amazon, I was in Atlanta, working at Moxie, the largest ad agency in Atlanta. We collaborated and planned and made things happen from opposite corners of the country, with a 3-hour time difference between us. We used Zoom, Slack, Google G-Suite, and Dropbox while planning the business because we had to to bridge our distance. That created a perfect infrastructure for the business operations too. Brooks was like a rocket booster and stayed with us for the first year, then peeled off and rejoined Amazon full time. He is now a rockstar at Chewy.
4. What obstacles were incurred in starting the business and how were they overcome?
Our first and largest client in year one was only a 1-year client. Which meant that we had to figure out how to quickly grow and replace that revenue in year 2 and beyond. I had seen what happens to businesses that don’t continuously grow by attracting new clients. (They go out of business.) So from the beginning, I developed a mindset that all of our clients were going to disappear on New Year’s Eve each year, and we would have to start again with all new clients the next year. But at the same time, I wanted to treat our clients so well that they never wanted to leave. Those 2 approaches of continuous business development and excellent customer service have kept us going and growing.
5. What are your characteristics that have benefited you the most as an entrepreneur?
My relationship skills. Personal relationships have always been important to me. And I quickly realized once I started The Weaponry that the hardest part of entrepreneurship, which is relationship development and maintenance, was something I had been working at for the past 30 years. And that has made my entrepreneurial journey really enjoyable. My creative skills, strategic thinking, and careful financial approach have also benefited me significantly as an entrepreneur. My optimism and sense of humor help a lot too. Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster ride. Believing each down will be followed by an up keeps you from throwing up your cereal every morning.
6. Where do you see this business in 10 years?
Large and in charge like Large Marge. We will grow significantly, have offices across the country, and will be sought after by the very best brands. (I shared my actual goals with real numbers and specifics with Jayson to give him a sense of how big I am thinking. But talk is cheap. So I’d rather show the rest of the world what we have done than talk about what we hope to do.)
7. What are the rewards of owning your business?
There is great peace of mind when we go through difficult economic times like we have experienced over the past year. I am still in control of my own future, and won’t be ejected by a business that wants to save money by dropping me like a hot bowling ball. There is also a great sense of control over my life and my future. I sink, swim or fly based on my own actions. I love creating a team culture, working with people I enjoy. Your earning potential when you own your own business is unlimited. I also get to decide on the company t-shirts and hoodies. And I never have to regret not starting my own business.
8. What advice would you give to my classmates and me?
Start thinking about owning your own business right now, while you are still in high school. Keep your eyes open for entrepreneurial opportunities all along your journey. Learn a craft really well so that you are good enough at it that you can start your own business someday. Develop and maintain your relationships. And read Rich Dad. Poor Dad. by Robert Kiyosaki and The E-Myth.
Oh, and start a blog. Share what you know with people and make them laugh if you can. People love to laugh as they learn, except when they are drinking really hot coffee or peanut brittle and it shoots out their nose.