Our Company, NovoLogic, Inc, is involved with our county’s high school entrepreneur program. Weekly during the school year, we mentor and share lessons with novice entrepreneurs as they work out business plans and strategies, gaining the confidence and tools needed to launch their businesses. Our goal is for these young adults to graduate with a diploma and a real business.
During our sessions, we help students understand the importance of four simple, but profound, truths:
- Leadership means serving others
- Your parents will always think you’re special
- Look for excuses to win, not your reasons for failing
- Be willing to give out before you give up
Lesson 1: Servant leadership is important
Leaders have to learn generosity. Leaders must be generous with their time, their knowledge, and their resources. Many of the students in the entrepreneurial program grow up with little or no good leadership examples. They’ve experienced either command and control or complete apathy in their home and school environments. We start by teaching them the way they will receive help from others is by first giving help to others.
We show them specific ways to use their business for the service of others. Then, we brainstorm with the students on how to generate revenue from that service. We believe the pay-it-forward model is essential for a sustainable, thriving business.
Lesson 2: You’re not as great as your loved ones say you are.
One of the the messier conversations we have with budding entrepreneurs is about creating a wide perspective and the difference between external and internal objectivity.
First, many suffer from what we’ve labeled American Idol Syndrome. We’ve all seen the train wrecks on American Idol; Hopefuls, longing for a Golden Ticket to Hollywood, stand in front of the judges and sing like a goat giving birth, only to be crushed when told for the first time in their lives that they can’t sing.Their response is always, “But my mom and dad think I sing great!” Volunteer mentors often hear excited students say, “My parents think selling eight-wheel bicycles is going to be the next big thing” or “My cookies are better than anything my friends have ever tasted and should sell well over the internet.”
Before starting a business, get advice and opinions on your idea from anywhere except your friends and family. If you really want to succeed, you need honest and objective feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. This will never come from people who care about hurting your feelings.
Internal perspective is also vital for entrepreneurs. You have to be able to see the forest and trees. It’s not enough to only focus on your product, but you also have to focus on finance, marketing, sales, operations, and customer service. Many times, we’ve seen students who have a great product, but are pricing it where they’re actually losing money on each sale, or who have thought of everything but how they’re going to actually produce their product. This is a crucial area that we focus on with these students. We help them see the bigger picture while figuring out the details needed to execute.
Lesson 3: Complaining is not a strategy
All too often when students fail to get their businesses from concept to reality, we find them coming up with excuses such as, “ This wasn’t fair”; “People just don’t get why this is good”; or “My materials cost too much.”
We show them life isn’t fair. In fact, the fair only comes around once a year, and when it does, you have to pay to get in and ride.
Instead of focusing on why things aren’t going their way, we help them find excuses to win. The Navy seals eliminate “I can’t” from their vocabulary, because they know to be successful you must fully commit and fully believe in yourself. Ask yourself “What is my objective?” Only then can you visualize it, believe it, and achieve it. No excuses allowed.
Lesson 4: Success takes Courage
While I was on the University of Georgia Track Team, we had many practices where my body begged to quit. Yet, those of us who had committed to being the best never let our thoughts or fears stand in the way. It wasn’t an automatic or God-given ability that enabled us to do this, but rather long and hard training. With lots of encouragement from our more experienced teammates and coaches, we were able to push ourselves beyond the point where our bodies wanted to give up. If we sustained that final push and never gave up, our bodies would give out sometimes. There is a difference, and this is a lesson in courage.
Learning the difference between giving out and giving up is critical to any entrepreneur because success rarely comes easily or from blind luck. It takes work, hard work. The kind of heart-pumping commitment that scares you, but yet forces you to go over, around, and often, through the walls placed in your way.
It takes real courage to keep pushing toward a finish line when you can’t see where the finish line is. But ask any successful entrepreneur if it’s worth the struggle.
Last month, we held an event for the student entrepreneurs styled like Shark Tank. It was exciting to see which students had incorporated our lessons and which ones had dismissed them. During the event, each student or partnership of students had to pitch their business and provide the what, why, how, and projected financials. The “sharks” then awarded the businesses with either feedback, a check for up to $2,000 to help grow their business or both.
The best business pitch was for a lawncare service. The two co-founders exemplified the four lessons we had taught them over the past year. They created their business out of their love for landscape architecting, their desire to work outdoors, and their ability to help people. They sought advice on the name of the company, Weed’em and Reap, from everyone but their family, they worked relentlessly on getting clients and making sure their clients were raving fans, and they never let setbacks or mis-steps keep them from have a positive attitude. For their efforts, the Shark Tank awarded them with $1,000, and they went on to win the Gwinnett Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.
It was gratifying to see our mentoring efforts and knowledge directly applied by this young entrepreneurial team. They have met and exceeded the goals of the entrepreneurial program – to graduate with a diploma and a thriving business. The true rewards, though, will come after their business thrives and they are able to serve other young business people with their mentoring and experience.