My official tenure in an entrepreneurial venture lasted for less than 12 months. It failed. Quickly. There are a myriad of reasons for this failure. Chief among them may have been my total lack of understanding what the hell it meant to be part of a startup.
After the failure, I ended up at St. Louis Small Business Monthly as an editor. I did not know it at the time but the gig was a front row seat to the evolving entrepreneurial scene in St. Louis. I spent hours with people I had not valued as much as they deserved. They were creative, had conviction and were excellent leaders and employers. What they did mattered.
And, it turns out, they were laying the groundwork for the fledgling entrepreneurial environment in the region.
For the past couple years that I’ve been at Kolbeco, I’ve had the chance to help some start-up companies through the Arch Grants program. This is fun work. The energy is palpable. This generation of entrepreneurs is gritty – ready to take on the world. After a couple hours of sleeping on a sofa each night, they come into their offices at the tRex wanting so badly to find the right promotional tools to pitch more investors or make a name for themselves.
Even though I am there to help in a marketing capacity, the discussions turn quickly to larger business questions. I’ve witnessed some entrepreneurs fall victim to thinking that they have to reinvent every aspect of business. I admire their energy, but there are many who came before and humbly paved the way for the innovation we now take for granted. And they have some hard-fought wisdom.
I thought back to some of the impressive characters I have met and put together a list of the simple entrepreneurial principles by which they live. I did not do this out of nostalgia or reverence for the past. I did this because before we can address which social media platform is right for a business, that business must first know itself. And that takes some stepping back and some training of a person’s business intuition.
Passion is required. It’s not just an Oprah word.
Attilio D’Agostino, serial successful entrepreneur
D’Agostino is one of the most unpredictable characters I’ve ever interviewed. He once owned 11 locations of Attilio’s Supplement Stores and was a cofounder of ALIVE Magazine. D’Agostino is at once creative and explosive, yet calm and methodical. He poured himself completely into whatever was in front of him. The next photo, pose, edit, conversation. There is not room for anything else but his passion and that has led to his serial entrepreneurial success. Read more about him here.
When in doubt, love.
Peter Strople, Most Connected Man in America
I was very cynical about business and about “networking” when I met Strople, but after a few of days with him in Austin, Texas, I learned how deeply he loves people. Strople will tell you that he is not the smartest man or the most talented. But he has a knack for making each person he meets feel like the single most important person on Earth. That is his connection and the key to his success. Watch Peter in action here.
Humbly move forward despite what you face.
Brenda Newberry, The Newberry Group
“People will tell you that you will not succeed. Humbly move forward, anyway.” Several times in her tenure at leading her IT company, Newberry would be asked to leave the room. The space of government security was not traditionally seen as one that should involve women or African Americans. Newberry fought this stereotype. By quietly kicking ass. The company was one of the fastest growing in the St. Louis region before Newberry sold it to her employees just a couple years ago.
You can have the best ideas and all the knowledge in the world. And you will get nowhere without knowing your why. At the root of all of the above entrepreneurs’ greatness is an earnest focus on their brand. These people know their why. They can tell you easily what drives them each day to do what they do. This leads to a fearlessness and the ability to live by those principles. The question is: Can you answer your why? What are the principles that will drive your success?
Header image photo by Bill Sawalich and reprinted from Small Business Monthly.