The best way to become an entrepreneur is through your unmet needs.

If you are like most people you have fantasized about owning your own business. It is an easy thing to fantasize about. Being an entrepreneur has many benefits. It’s an exciting challenge. It offers professional freedom and the potential for great income. Plus, it’s a really great way to finally learn how to spell the word entrepreneur. (The e always comes first.) But for most people, the hardest part is actually knowing what kind of business to start.

Here is a simple suggestion from a mid-career entrepreneur.

Think of products or services that you wish existed. Then create a business that delivers them.

Your business doesn’t have to be massive. It doesn’t have to change the world, go public or someday sell for a billion dollars. If those are your criteria you will likely never start anything. Instead, simply offer products or services that you would like to have for yourself.

I started a t-shirt business several years ago called Adam & Sleeve because I had humorous t-shirt design ideas that I wanted for myself. But when other people saw the designs, they wanted the t-shirts too. So I made enough shirts to sell to other people, which meant that I could get the shirt I wanted for free.

In 2015 I was ready for a job change. So I started talking to a number of advertising agencies about potentially joining their team. But I didn’t find the right combination of culture, clients, and opportunity. So I decided to create what I was looking for. And clients liked the idea too. After months of taking on night and weekend projects, the demand kept swelling. (Like my face after a bee sting.) So I officially launched The Weaponry, an advertising and ideas agency in April of 2016.

My friend Dan Richards started his business, Global Rescue, a worldwide field rescue service, after hoping that the business already existed. When he discovered that it didn’t, he decided it needed to, so he created it himself.

Today, I think about businesses that I wish existed all the time. In fact, my son Johann and I are in the process of launching a used piano business. But I also wish we had a local shoeshine that also cleaned sneakers. And I want a Flip Flop Ambulance that I can call when I’ve blown out a flip flop, or stepped on a pop-top. And maybe a business that came to clean out the bottom of your grill for you. (I would call that Grillax.)

Key Takeaway

Keep your antennae tuned to those things you wished existed. Businesses exist to fill a need. And if you have found a need that isn’t being met, you have found a space for a new business opportunity.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

+For more of the best life lessons I have learned check out my new book, What Does Your Fortune Cookie Say? from Ripples Media.

The best first step to take to be highly successful.

Last week I was a guest on the ContenderCast Podcast with host Justin Honaman, Justin interviewed me about entrepreneurship, and the things I have learned by launching and running the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. We discussed lessons from my book, What Does Your Fortune Cookie Say? And we talked about his transition from Diet Coke to Coke Zero. (This paragraph has been brought to you by Coke Zero.)

I can’t wait for the podcast episode to drop. I expect it will change my life the way Sara Blakely’s life changed when she went on the Oprah Winfrey show. So don’t be surprised if the world starts wearing my undergarments too.

Advice

One of the great questions Justin asked me was, ‘What advice do you have for other people who want to start their own businesses?’

My answer was clear and instant:

Spend time with people who have already done it.

But that advice is not specifically for want-to-be entrepreneurs. Or wantrepreneurs.

It is the best advice I can share about any type of success and achievement.

The best way to achieve a massive goal is to spend time with people who have already done what you want to do.

When you spend time with superstars their mindset rubs off on you. Unlike tickets on the Polar Express, their mindset is transferrable.

Spending time with high achievers is like going to a Success Optometrist. They help you see success in much greater detail. You see the actions they take, the mindset they have adopted, and the relationships they develop and maintain.

When you see those things up close you realize that you can do all of those things too. Suddenly, your belief in what is possible expands. Your risk tolerance increases. Your view of money transforms. And your excuses fade away.

There is an intelligence that increases with increasing levels of success. It can appear mysterious or unattainable from a distance. But once you have a front-row seat to higher levels of success, it demystifies the process. It’s like seeing how magic tricks are actually performed. You quickly realize there is no magic. There are simply skills developed, practiced, and perfected until it looks like magic.

Key Takeaway

Seek out successful people. Step into their orbit and let their positive peer pressure propel you. Notice the way they act, read, and think. Modify their approaches to your needs and style. Soak up the education and inspiration. It will change your life like nothing else can. Because when you are close to those who model the behavior you want to see in yourself you can’t help but replicate it. It’s like a language immersion program. Only the language is success. Soon you’ll notice others who want to get close to you and learn how you do what you do. That’s when you know it works.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

+For more of the best life lessons I have learned check out my new book, What Does Your Fortune Cookie Say? from Ripples Media.

It’s not too late to be who you wanted to be.

At the end of a gym workout recently my son Magnus asked if we could go sit in the hot tub. I said yes, and we made our way to the pool area. When we got to the hot tub there was one other guy already in it. After we settled into the water I greeted the guy, who was staring out the window, and we began to speak. (Which is also how the song The Gambler starts.)

As the conversation proceeded I asked him where he was from and what he does for work. He shared that he grew up near Mequon, Wisconsin, the town north of Milwaukee where we both live. And when he is not hot tubbing, he works at a nice job for a good company.

Then he asked me where I was from (Vermont), where I went to school (The University of Wisconsin), and what I do for work. I told him I owned my own business. I started my own advertising and ideas agency called The Weaponry.

My pruney new hot tub friend told me The Weaponry was a cool name for an ad agency. Then he revealed to me with great resignation, ‘I always wanted to start my own business. But now I am too old.’

I asked, ‘How old are you?’

He answered, ‘I am 37.’

I shot back, ‘F**k you. I was 42 when I started The Weaponry. This is a great time to start a business. And a great time to stop making excuses.’

(I should also mention that my son Magnus was cooling off in the swimming pool at that time. So he didn’t get hit with f-shrapnel when I dropped my f-bomb.)

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

― George Eliot

Key Takeaway

If there is something you’ve always wanted to do, then do it. Do the things the kid version or young adult version of you wanted to do. You are not too old. It’s not too late. It’s time to get going. Now you have 2 weeks to plan the great thing you are going to start doing with your life in 2022.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

If you want to be an entrepreneur you have to be willing to eat the butt.

Yesterday I was making myself a sandwich for lunch. I have packed my own lunch for school or work nearly every day since I was 13 years old. The sandwich is always the star of the show, with pretzels and a banana typically playing Kramer and Costanza.

When I pulled out the bread to make my daily sandwich magic I realized I had come to the last 3 pieces of bread in the loaf. Two out of the 3 pieces were butts (meaning the end slices of the loaf). However, there was a fresh new loaf sitting on the counter right next to the sad bag of butts. (Which is what we called the math teachers at my high school.) Now I had to decide what kind of sandwich to make.

Would I…

A: Make a sandwich with 1 butt and 1 regular slice?

B: Open the new bag and make a sandwich with 2 regular slices?

C: Eat a 2 butt sandwich?

Moment of Profunditude

At that moment I realized that this wasn’t really about sandwiches. It was about life. It was about my choices, values, and philosophies. I could decide that life is too short to not eat great sandwiches. Or I could decide to suck it up and eat a 2-butt sandwich for lunch.

The Choice

The choice was clear and easy for me to make. Throughout my life, I have trained myself to do the harder things and take the harder path. It has helped me as an athlete. It has helped me as a parent. And I simply would not have succeeded as an entrepreneur if I wasn’t willing to take the more challenging path. Because as an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to make the business succeed. Failure is simply not an option. At least not if you want to keep putting sandwiches on the table.

Key Takeaway

Entrepreneurship is like eating a 2-butt sandwich. You have to take on whatever is in front of you. You use all of your resources. You don’t make excuses or avoid hard or unpleasant things. Train yourself to be comfortable with less than the ideal and success will come much easier. And it will be more enjoyable as a result.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

The end of daylight saving is a great time to start your next big thing.

In 2005 I went to Iceland during the summer solstice to film a TV show. It was an incredible experience. On the flight from Minneapolis to Reykjavik, I watched what should have been the sunset through my airplane window. But instead of setting, the sun bounced off the horizon and went back up. And I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

The sun never set the entire week I was in Iceland. It never got dark. And we never got tired. It was fun and energizing, like being in Vegas. Except the buffets were mostly fish, lamb, and rhubarb.

The atmosphere created a natural high. It was as if we were binging life through the nonstop outdoor activity. However, I couldn’t help but wonder what the counterbalance to this experience was.

I asked our producer Sven (of course his name was Sven) what people did during the winter in Iceland when it was cold and dark for long stretches. He told me that winter was wonderful because people spent a lot of time on their projects. On creativity, reading, art, and making things. And keeping each other warm (wink wink).

Now is a great time to get comfortable and create. But don’t think too much about the weird bird statue in the corner.

The End Of Daylight Savings

Today marks the end of daylight saving time in the United States. Which means it will now be dark by the end of the typical workday. Plus temperatures are dropping and in many parts of the country, snow could arrive any day now. That is unless global warming gives Mother Nature Alzheimers and she forgets.

The Indoor Season

Today we all transition to our indoor season. Which should be just as exciting and interesting as the warm and sunshiney months. Because now is the perfect time to start new projects, or resume those important projects you couldn’t carry while wearing flips flops and bikinis or board shorts.

Create

Now is the time to focus on creating businesses, writing books, reimagining your home, painting, and drawing. Now is the time for making music and playing instruments, even if you’ve never done it before. Because you can learn anything online.

The indoor season is the perfect time to plan your next vacation, your next adventures, or the next chapter of your life. Enjoy the time to think, and to do all the things that thinking inspires you to do.

Key Takeaway

Reframe the way you see the darker and colder part of the year as the exciting indoor season. Embrace and enjoy all of the additive elements it offers. Tap into your creativity and make new things. Think, read, write, and learn. Challenge yourself to make progress towards larger life goals that demand the type of focus the indoor season affords. And let the sunshine of spring find an even better, happier more fulfilled version of you.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Why it’s important to give yourself permission to be an amateur.

When I became an entrepreneur one of the greatest gifts I gave myself was permission to be an amateur. Or perhaps the only reason I became an entrepreneur is that I was okay with being an amateur. It’s hard to say.

Entrepreneurs ultimately need to know everything there is to know about starting and running a business. Yet the vast majority of this knowledge comes from on-the-job training. Which is how you learned to ride a bike. It’s how the Wright Brothers learned to fly. It’s how MLK learned to give great speeches. And how we all learned to do the Electric Slide. #boogiewoogiewoogie

By allowing yourself to be an amateur you allow for mistakes. You put a premium on learning, not knowing. Remember, you could never learn to juggle without making mistakes. The same is true for standup comedy. And parenting your children. (Don’t tell my kids that.) We start every area of life stupid. Being okay with that is the smart way to begin.

I make progress by doing what I know to do until I discover a better way. The secret is to always be looking for and open to that better way. Once you find it, you add it to your personal weaponry and you take another step forward. Those who reach the highest level of achievement simply never stop taking steps forward. Neither should you.

My kids and I recently learned to surf. Which is kind of like learning to ride a bike. Only with tighter fitting clothes.

Key Takeaway

Allow yourself to be a beginner. It makes you much more likely to begin. Allow for mistakes. When you accept your amateur status the journey from ignorance to intelligence is more enjoyable and rewarding. Learn and grow as you go. Recognize your improvements. And know that you can apply the same approach to anything in life.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

+For more of the best life lessons I have learned check out my new book, What Does Your Fortune Cookie Say? from Ripples Media.

The Weaponry turns 5 years old!

I always wanted to start my own business. Not because I was an unhappy employee or a free spirit who couldn’t stand to work for The Man. I just like a good challenge. And everything I ever heard about entrepreneurship made it seem like it was the career equivalent to bull riding. Or free solo climbing. Or streaking at the Super Bowl. I knew it was dangerous. The likelihood of failure was very high. But if you are successful, there are few endeavors as rewarding.

On the set of a recent TV shoot with Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts. I tried to steal his necklace, and he tried to defend it. It was all very subtle.

Some Fun Entrepreneurial Facts

  • There are 31 million businesses in the United States
  • 90% fail within the first 5 years
  • Only 4% ever make $1 million a year.
  • The average age of startup Founders is 42 years 
  • A first-time entrepreneur has an 18% chance of succeeding
  • 70% of entrepreneurs were married when they started their first business
  • 60% had at least one child
  • 44% had two or more children
  • 66% of start-up founders pay themselves less than $50,000
  • 69% of American entrepreneurs start their business at home
  • 80% of small businesses are non-employer businesses. 
  • 51% of small businesses make less than $100,000 in annual sales. 

Riding The Bull

With these facts in hand, I launched The Weaponry, an advertising and idea agency, in 2016. I wholeheartedly believed that we would succeed. The statistics didn’t scare me. They motivated me to prove that I was one of the few, the proud, the elite non-failers. Although I am sure the failers also felt confident when they first started out. After all, you don’t jump out of an airplane unless you are highly confident your parachute will open. Unless maybe there were snakes on the plane.

A constant reminder in our offices to think.

Turning 5 Years Old

Today, I am thrilled and proud to say The Weaponry is 5 years old! We gave grown significantly each year. And despite the global pandemic, 2020 was our best year yet. Now 2021 is off to a strong start. We continue to add to our team. And we have added 2 new clients in the past 2 weeks.

From a trip to India in 2018 to work with our clients Fifth Third Bank and SLK Global Solutions. I didn’t get the White Shirt Memo.

Funner Entrepreneurial Facts

  • The Weaponry has offices in both Milwaukee and Columbus.
  • We have 24 clients
  • We have clients in all 4 US Time Zones.
  • We have clients in 3 countries: The United States, Canada and India.
  • We offer Health Insurance and Dental Insurance
  • We have a 401(k) plan with a 4% match
  • We have two red refrigerators
  • Both of our offices are in Suite #206 (Although the signs say Sweet #206. Because I thought that was funnier. Those are the kinds of dumb things you can do when you start your own business.)
This is where the magic happens.

What’s Next?

I feel as if we have only just begun, like Karen Carpenter. We have much more to accomplish. We expect us to grow and expand significantly. It is clear that we are having great success with happy clients who have hired The Weaponry 2 and 3 times as they have changed jobs. Which I think is the best compliment a client can give you.

Our 3 Pillars of Success.

Before we won our very first client (Global Rescue), I declared The Weaponry’s recipe for long-term success. And unlike that finger-licker Colonel Sanders, I am happy to share it with you.

  1. Great Creative Idea
  2. Excellent Customer Service
  3. A Fun Experience for Everyone Involved.
Me and Dan Richards, CEO of our first client, Global Rescue. We were trying to look tough while wearing polos.

What’s Next?

If we continue to deliver on these 3 points we will enjoy perpetual success. And while I am very thankful to have made it to 5 years, I believe the job of leadership is to keep a business in business forever. To do that we will have to continue to listen, learn, adapt and improve. I am fully committed to it. Just like a streaker.

Key Takeaway

Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. In fact, it offers one of life’s greatest challenges. But if you want to try it, I highly encourage you. It is extremely rewarding in more ways than I have room to share in a concluding paragraph. To dramatically improve your chances of success start a business doing something you know well. Choose work you love to do. And you will have the intellectual equipment and the magnetic pull to get you to 5 years and beyond.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Why 2021 might not be all you dreamed of.

As we approach the final two months of the year I have noticed a trend. People are TGIFing 2020. They are thankful that this year is almost over, and can’t wait to move on to the next 365 days.

But be careful. We have no idea what 2021 will hold. Yes, 2020 has been a year for the history books. We have had an assorted collection of challenging issues develop over the past 7 months. You may have noticed.

Covid-19, the economic recession, the renewed spotlight on systemic racism, and our contentious political environment have made for quite a cocktail. It’s hard not to have bitter-beer face just thinking about these issues.

A lot has been broken and burned this year. Cities near me, including Kenosha and Madison, Wisconsin look nothing like they did on February 29th. In fact, so much has happened this year you probably forgot we had a February 29th. Poor, forgotten February 29th…

In 2020 we are also experiencing unprecedented weather issues, including an unprecedented wildfire season, and a double shot of hurricanes and tropical storms. We have also had the earliest heavy snowstorms to ever hit the midwest, and that windy thing that knocked over grain bins in Iowa.

But don’t fast forward to next year just yet. The calendar flip will not solve the issues we are facing.

The Future

I am not a pessimist, but I fully recognize that 2021 could be even more challenging than 2020. The weather is not likely to back off. The pandemic is showing all signs of intensifying before it recedes. And the economic implications are sure to mount as people are out of work, businesses close, and loans are unpaid. Plus, what’s up with coins? (Said in my best Jerry Seinfeld voice.)

Back to Today

Instead, look for the good in this year. And in every day. If you are healthy, and your family is healthy, you have much to appreciate. Be thankful for increased time with those closest to you. We can all be thankful for a renewed awareness of old issues, and the great possibility of us solving them together. Cue We Are The World

2020 has introduced innovation and adaptability that will move our entire planet forward. We are all now more prepared for all manner of challenge to come.

2020 has created an amazing opportunity for businesses and entrepreneurial-minded humans. If you can’t find a problem to solve right you are not thinking outside the box. Speaking of boxes, would someone please launch a business to fix the box problem? I am tired of breaking down and recycling cardboard boxes, only to have new boxes arrive at my doorstep the next day. #ReuseTheBoxes

2020 has redirected travel from crowded cities and manufactured tourist attractions to quieter countrysides. We have spent more time in local, state and national parks. Many of us have reconnected with the wonders of the natural world. We have recognized the value of a walk in the woods, the view of mountains and the magic of sunrise and sunset that we haven’t noticed since Fiddler On The Roof.

2020 has helped us recognize more value in the little things. We have slowed our rushing and hard-charging a notch. We are being more understanding of the challenges of working parents and single moms. We recognize that anyone can suddenly be out of work. Even great pilots, chefs, and professional athletes.

We have become thankful for our schools and all the teachers have done for us. That awareness of the challenges other humans are facing is a gift. And just as the Great Depression impacted the financial decisions of those who lived through it for the rest of their lives, I hope the lessons we have learned in 2020 will last us all a lifetime.

Key Takeaway

There will be more challenges ahead in 2021. So find the good in every day. And do your part to help solve the issues that won’t go away without our help.

If you need encouragement here it is.

If you want to do great things find your Encouragers. They are the people who will listen to your crazy dreams and tell you that you should. Not that you shouldn’t.

Spend time with those who believe in you. It will make you believe in yourself. Find people who have bet on themselves and won. That mindset is contagious. Like the coronavirus. Only it’s good for you.

Too often when we have dreams, especially big crazy dreams, others see the problems and not the possibilities. They know it will be hard. They focus on the downside, the drawbacks and the pitfalls. But focusing on the downside doesn’t make dreams come true. Just ask Hall & Oates.

Don’t spend time or give credit to those who discourage you. They are quite literally trying to rob you of your courage.

Courage and effort are all you need in order to do hard things. Courage helps you get going. Courage helps you keep going. Courage is the bridge between believing and knowing. And it is the only way to get where you want to go.

Courage is a super fuel. It’s more valuable than gold, diamonds or oil. Because it propels humans. Courage is one of the most valuable resources you have because it helps you power past bumps, barriers and boundaries. You know, The Killer Bs.

Courage is the fuel to try. To dare. To do. Courage creates movement. Courage is what makes people take the leap, take on an enemy, speak up, speak out. And it’s what makes you throw a bucket of water on a wicked witch.

Increasing another human’s courage is one of the most valuable things we can do on this planet. When I told people that I wanted to start my own advertising agency no one told me not to. In fact, the response was quite the opposite. Everyone I talked to about my plan encouraged me to make it happen. So I did.

Now it’s your turn. Now is your time. And I’m happy to be your courage donor. I signed my card and everything.

Key Takeaway

If you have a dream you should follow it. If there is something you have always wanted to do, go do it. If you want to turn your passion into your profession don’t let anyone stop you. If you want to travel, volunteer or build something special you should make it happen. You can do it. And I encourage you to.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message I encourage you to share it with them.

What role will you play in the coronavirus story?

I love a good story. And right now I am in the early chapters of a really interesting new story. Only it is not a book, movie, or TV show. It’s real life. And you are in the story too.

The Coronavirus

The new reality caused by COVID-19 is turning into one of the most fascinating experiences of my life. And we are just getting warmed up. What began as a health problem in Wuhan, China is now impacting all manner of life on my side of the planet in ways that would have been unimaginable a week ago. Unless, of course, I was watching what was happening in Italy a week ago. But I wasn’t. Because sports were still on TV.

War of The World

Remember hearing the story of Orson Wells’ War of The World radio broadcast when we were younger? This feels a lot like that. Only the Aliens are viruses. And what was a fake newscast is really happening.

Shut’n Er Down

Sports of all sorts are cancelled. Schools are closed. Amusement parks, museums and zoos are shut down. Travel is greatly restricted, and will likely restrict even further. And I am not just talking about the economy class seating.

The Upside

Yet within these unprecedented times are amazing opportunities. Opportunities to connect with those closest to you. To slow down. To go for walks, hikes and bike rides. To play games at home. To cook more. To read more. To create more. And in 9 months, I expect to see a global wave of tiny little coronavirus-inspired Earthlings.

Do Good

Today, there are new opportunities to volunteer and contribute. Support the organizations that support those who are most impacted by this pandemic and the economic repercussions.

Build

There are new business opportunities all around us. The new reality means new unmet needs. And unmet needs are the seeds from which businesses grow.

Lead

There will be opportunities to lead. To take actions that help your community. Both in the prevention of the spread of the virus in your community, and in the recovery and return to normalcy after the threat passes.

Key Takeaway

A significant chapter of global, national and personal history is being written right now. Be thoughtful about the role you will play in the story. Keep washing your hands. And be patient. This too shall pass. And we will all have an interesting story to share.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.