“Living a pipe dream with tunnel vision”
I’m standing on the bow of my mega yacht, a salty breeze blowing my hair back into a form only the ocean air can. I glance to my right and I see the adoring smile of the girl I knew before the spoils of riches took us in circles around the globe. It’s the same smile I saw in a small apartment when we sat up late at night talking about all the things we wanted to see in this world, pondering “What else is out there?.” I raise my glass of scotch that’s as old as I am and we toast to never-ending adventure. I think of my parents. They’re living in a house that’s paid off, driving cars that are too. They’re finally retired. My Dad is playing his newly local golf course today, his swing is ten years younger without the weight of a mortgage on his shoulders. My Mom is on the back porch reading a book that’s been collecting dust on the shelf for years, patiently waiting for her to thumb through its pages. She flies through the story, imagination soaring with the words on the page, and she doesn’t have to stop once from cover to cover with worries of what she needs to prepare for Monday morning. I take a sip of my scotch and it burns against the salty air. The burn warms my chest and I swell with pride. The kind of pride a man can only feel who has dared to reach for his wildest dreams, and can finally touch them.
I can feel my eyes blinking and my vision corrects itself. I’m sitting in my 10×10 bedroom/office in sweatpants staring at my busted computer screen. A freshly cracked Bud Light sits next to my computer. The screen reads “Business Plan” centered atop the page, and two lines below, that incessant cursor blinks it’s condescending blink. I laugh, nearly to the point of hysteria. I’ve read stories of great entrepreneurs; moments like these are the ones they remember. Hopeless moments saved only by faith in oneself. The sight of my computer screen is pretty pathetic, and I haven’t made any progress yet…but somehow I have a smile on my face, and I know that I will.
While trying to decide what I wanted to write about for this blog post, I kept coming back to the term “thought leader.” If you’ve ever heard a marketing expert speak about the key to blog writing, then it’s a near guarantee that you’ve heard the term. So naturally, I googled it.
one whose views on a subject are taken to be authoritative and influential.
Then I thought that a successful entrepreneur gets the distinct opportunity to see both sides of that definition. An entrepreneur is told that they’re crazy, that is until they’ve made it big. And then all of the sudden, they are Marshall Law on whatever subject they speak upon in the business world.
a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.
And then by chance, I saw the following clip of Jim Carrey giving his famous Commencement speech at Maharishi University with the closing quote that will give any human not made of stone the goosebumps. “I learned many great lessons from my father. Not the least of which, was that you can fail at doing what you don’t want. So you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.”
And with that quote, I found my revelation – the reason I kept coming back to the term thought leader. It is because an entrepreneur is a thought leader before, during, and after his/her successes. Literally. An entrepreneur thinks of a way to solve a pain point for thousands, maybe even millions of people. They then spend years of their lives afterwards, obsessed with this thought, and the implementation of how to properly alleviate every single person associated with this pain point. It’s almost certain that someone else has previously had this same idea, but they didn’t have the discipline to follow through with it. They weren’t a thought leader. Look at our buddy, Geoff Fox, CEO of Flippze. He is making serious waves, being mentioned by Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Inc.. His company is “the Craigslist for colleges.” He provides a safer platform for transactions that originate on his site by getting local businesses to host the transactions in the safety of their facilities. There’s no way you can tell me that Geoff was the first person to ever have this idea. But he is a thought leader by nature, and that drove him to put himself in front of any local business who would listen. He’s now in 32 college towns with Flippze, and that number is only going to grow. Which leads me to the point of my entry today.
The three traits that I believe every entrepreneur must have to become the thought leader of a new and successful business, which in turn becomes the thought leader in the industry.
- Faith: I do not mean in the sense of religion. I simply mean faith. An entrepreneur must have faith in themselves and in their company. Though the portrayal of an entrepreneur is sexy and laid back, the reality is not quite the same. It is a life of long nights and personal sacrifice that can only be justified by undying faith. An entrepreneur will have to learn more in a short period of time than they ever expected. Accounting, financial projections, website design, you name it. All the stuff you thought you’d get to hire somebody for, being the boss, you’ll end up doing yourself in a dimly lit room by yourself. Our CEO, Andrew Williams, has a tower of those little yellow “For Dummies” books. He tells us he would spend days on end sitting in Barnes and Noble with nothing but a notebook, a pen, and the next “For Dummies” book in line. Put simply, Andrew says
“I had to. So I did.”
- Tenacity: In the words of a friend and mentor, Chuck Whitlock, “people buy my passion.” If you’ve ever met Chuck, or heard him speak, then you’ll understand. His genuine excitement for the topics he speaks upon are absolutely infectious. When he speaks to you about his business he looks you directly in the eye, squints a little bit, and always has a sly grin on his face. You can feel the passion behind what he says. In sales you hear the term, “people buy the person, not the product.” And that’s just to get somebody to decide between something mundane like DirectTV or cable. To convince an investor that you’ll work relentlessly for as long as it takes, and the world that your invention is worthy of their money, you had better be excited when you tell them about it. You had better be sharp. You had better be tenacious.
- Humility: The first two traits seem somewhat obvious. But the third you don’t hear about much. When you tell someone you’re an entrepreneur, they’re instantly intrigued. You can even hear the ooh’s and ah’s from time to time. That’s great, and it will make you feel good, but here’s the problem: If you talk to enough people who pat you on the back without any real feedback, it’s easy to let a hint of apathy slip into your voice when you describe your business because you feel that you’re just going through the motions. This is dangerous, because as an entrepreneur you have to be on the ready and express all three of these qualities at all times. As an old boss of mine used to tell me, “You never know who’s sitting across the table from you.” So stay humble, and keep at it. Because the second you think the world owes you something just for working hard, you’ll miss the opportunity of a lifetime.
The path of the entrepreneur is never straight and never easy. The strength of each of the above three qualities will be constantly tested. There will be times where you feel absolutely hopeless, and just don’t understand why you haven’t yet hit a breakthrough. In those moments, remember that nothing is owed to you and you signed up for this. Hold strong to your faith, even if you can’t find a good reason to at the moment. And finally, take the advice of a marathon runner whose name I cannot recall, and have never been able to find online. I remember it vividly when he was interviewed. He said, “I couldn’t breathe. My body was going numb. And then I had a thought that I’ll never forget. ‘I can either quit, or I can run harder.’ Every stride I took after that thought was longer, faster, stronger. That was the first time I ever experienced runner’s high. I was laughing as I crossed the finish line.” This man believed in the power of the idea. Certainly, he was not the first runner to have this thought. He won’t be the last. But he was a thought leader, and because of it, he had a profound realization about his craft. He found a way to finish his race faster than he had previously thought possible, and felt proud afterwards because he had earned his way to the finish line.
At Elite Innovations, we understand the struggles of entrepreneurship, because we’re entrepreneurs ourselves. This is our veteran CEO’s third business that he’s started. He has sold one, and the other is the cash cow fueling Elite Innovations. Three of our employees also have businesses blooming under the Elite Innovations umbrella. When you bring product ideas to us, you’re not just getting hourly employees plugging away from 9-5, you’re getting Elite certified faith, tenacity, and humility going into every aspect of the product development process. So the next time you take a moment to drift off and dream of the life you want to see for yourself and your family, know that we’re right there with you. Know that we want it just as badly as you do. Know that we won’t stop until we get it.