I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Nick Hampshire with the Northwest Young Entrepreneurs Association about building companies and what I've learned as we continue to grow TakeLessons.
Here is the Q&A:
Audio MP3 download of Steven Cox interview is located here:
Nick Hampshire: What is your philosophy on life and business?
Steven Cox: PERSONAL MISSION STATEMENT
I live my life in a way that makes a positive lasting difference on people and my environment. I support my friends and family with my time and finances. I live with the full expectation of succeeding and excelling in all I do. I understand that the value of life is not in what I own, but who I love, and what I experience. I make my life count by being a man of integrity that accomplishes greatness by reaching out to help others, being passionate about what I do, and fully developing my mind. I don't have the right to be ordinary. Therefore, I lead, I lift the human spirit, and I will create a legacy and an empire: an empire of both inner and outer wealth, and a legacy of love.
How did you get your start in entrepreneurship?
- College: Apartment locator service, bought seven houses on land contract/options, tried to buy a pizza business
- After school: Fisher scientific, but tried to open a gym
- Left my job to work for a startup ecommerce company
Do you remember your first "big" deal as a young entrepreneur and do you mind sharing a little about it (details, thoughts, feelings)?
- College – thought I could do everything. It wasn’t until things went bad that I started realizing that there was science and methodology behind operating a business. It’s harder than it looks.
- First Startup– landed University of Nevada. Wasn’t even in our wheelhouse. Changed the business.
What made you decide to start your own business?
- I grew up poor. Wasn’t happy washing dishes and working for other people. I liked the creativity and struggle. I liked the uncertainty.
As you have started different businesses over the years, have the lessons you learned while starting each business changed? If so, how have they changed?
- Balanced optimism: I now focus not just on the upside, but immediately how to mitigate risk.
- Long term: entrepreneurship is not a quick fix to wealth. Some people get luck, but there is a very big chance that you or me will not be lucky. Thus, we have to understand there is a large price to pay, and we have to be willing to pay the price. Else, just go get a job.
What do you see as the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face?
- Blind towards risk
- Trying to do too many things for too many people– no focus
- Not clearly identifying a problem
- Understanding your own weaknesses
- Stay up: “Certainty in the face of fear”
If you had to do it all over again, how would you start?
- Find a problem
- See if it’s a big enough problem that, if you can solve it, it will make a difference.
- Focus on solving that problem. Find people that will support it through money and/or time.
- Don’t think about the exit.
To all of the young entrepreneurs getting started in business now, what advice can you give?
- Plan on a long journey. The ‘quick hit’ is the exception.
- The 4-hour workweek? Complete horseshit.
- Want to build something that lasts? Work ½ day. (12 hours!)
- Because it’s a long journey, pick something where you’re passionate about solving a problem for others.
Have confidence in yourself and your ideas, but don’t believe your own hype.
- Don’t let optimism overpower realism.
- Admit when something isn’t working.
- Measure everything.
- Fail fast.
Build a team. Your job is to:
- Share the vision
- Hire smart
- Build a culture where others can strive
Capital: Raise enough to allow you to make mistakes with respect to your plan, but not so much that it makes you cocky which leads to laziness.
- Your forecasts will be off.
- Stuff you though would work, won’t.
- Competitors will not sit idle.
- Perfection is the enemy of good enough.
Know what your shooting for
- Have written goals – Quarterly, monthly, weekly.
- Hold each other accountable
I often get asked questions about "quick cash" techniques while someone is getting started with a venture; if you had to make $1,000 in one week with no list, minimal cash, and no contacts, what would be your strategy?
- Honestly, I would say that you need to go get a job. Entrepreneurship is not a one-week thing.
What systems have you created or borrowed to manage & grow your companies?
- I have a personal goals system that allows me to manage different areas of my life (spiritual, career, relationships, social) and see results year after year. I’ve applied that to business as well.
- SEED – SELECT – AMPLIFY: Don’t ever put out perfection. Just get it out and iterate.
- Culture matters – create a culture of owners where they focus on constant improvement.
How have you used Strategic Partnerships with other companies & individuals to grow your business?
- Life is about people, and business is about providing value for those people.
- When you cut deals, you have to focus on the value you can provide.
- Deals take forever
- Never count on them to go through.
- After they go through, most of them won’t work out
- So, don’t rely on them to make your business. Don’t ever be reliant.
If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be and why (business or life in general)?
I would’ve been less arrogant in my 20’s. Looking back, I now know to stay humble and learn from everyone I can.
What closing thoughts/suggestions/advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
- Some people are built for companies, some are built for entrepreneurship. Find your flow. There is no one answer, only a right answer for you.
- Don’t worry about someone stealing your idea. It’s already been thought of and tried. Focus on building a team that can help you execute.
- Your first two companies or your first 3-5 years will probably not be a big success. That’s ok. It’s part of the journey. Breathe and be ok with it.