On Saturday, August 12, I was honored to be a Keynote Speaker for a program called, V-WISE or Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship. V-WISE is a premier training program in entrepreneurship and small business management for women veterans, operated by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. My speech was directed at the female entrepreneurs to help them in their journey.
Unfortunately, their day of learning was interrupted by the tragic and repugnant events in Charlottesville. When I stood up to address the audience about my life as an entrepreneur, my first thought was to stick to the topic. But then, I had a brief, “a-ha moment.” I realized that one of the first lessons of an entrepreneur, and frankly for all of us, is to define who you are and what you stand for. A true entrepreneur must have purpose and passion of conviction and live by their values, or they will never succeed.
I was addressing heroes, who have volunteered to defend all that our country stands for; they fought for the freedoms and values that have made our nation great and for which we are proud. We must look to our leaders to directly call out those who do not share our principles of diversity and inclusion, which we hold true to who we are. There are not “many sides” to this issue. We have no room for Neo-Nazis who want to institutionalize hatred. We have no room for them in our nation; we also have no room for these people within our politics and no room within our companies.
I could have remained silent about the days’ events, but I couldn’t; I didn’t. I began my talk by asking these entrepreneurs to stand up, literally, and embrace each other. I asked them to speak the words; “I honor you for serving our country and its values and I embrace your diversity. And, by the way, as a military person, I have always had your back, and you can count on me to continue to do so.”
The reaction was humbling. It was awe-inspiring to see almost 200 active military and vets on their feet, embracing each other for all of the things that make our country great and why we continue to be an example for the world of what is “right” about us. Frankly, I think every business meeting should start this way. That is why I’m writing this article today for Forbes, the preeminent voice for business. Business needs to make sure we embrace these values.
The Journey Of The Entrepreneur
Find Your Passion And Purpose
After standing up and embracing one another, I got back to basics of my speech, which focused on becoming an entrepreneur. I used my journey as an example. The entrepreneur has to find what they are good at and enjoy doing. Too many young people will say that their goal is to get rich. Getting rich is not a goal; it’s a by-product of finding your passion and purpose. As Kyle Westaway put it in his Weekend Briefing No. 183, “… the catch, of course, is that true purpose doesn’t sit around waiting to be discovered. It requires pursuit.”
Your passion also needs to be built around a need (or created need) in the marketplace. Steve Jobs is famous for creating products that he convinced people they needed. People didn’t know that they needed the Mac, or iPhone, or the iPad. He was passionate about what he was doing. I’m old enough to remember when the microwave was introduced. We didn’t “know” that we needed it to heat coffee, defrost food, or cook bacon. But, today, it’s a utility in any home.
This seems obvious, but if you don’t have a clear goal of where you are going, you will never get there. The goal-setting process forces the entrepreneur to articulate what they want from this journey. The goal will then help to develop the framework for the strategy and tactics to attain the entrepreneurial mission.
The timeline for success will be another step along this journey. Now the entrepreneur has to start to get granular in their approach. It’s great to be optimistic (a trait that is necessary), but the entrepreneur also must be realistic. Realism has to be employed every step of the way. Do you have enough seed money to start? Do you need investors? How about support staff?
Know Your Customer
You need to know everything about your customer. I spoke about how I knew where my mom-customer shopped, where she ate, what media she watches, and how she cares about being a good mom and wants help. Sounds too granular? It isn’t. If you don’t know your customer, you can’t sell to them.
Hopefully, you are or are becoming an expert in your chosen field, but it’s also essential to know who else is out there and how they are fulfilling the need that you want to fill. Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon, dispensed some important advice when talking about tech companies. “Obsess over customers, not competition.” I agree, but I also want you to know the competition intimately. Knowledge does not necessarily equate to obsession.
Jeff Bezos and others talk about having enough agility to recognize that you may be headed in the wrong direction and you need to have enough smarts to pivot and change direction. Many entrepreneurs, and frankly, large corporations get wed to their way of doing things. And, as the market changes, they are too blind or arrogant to morph into what is necessary. Your agility will allow you to change your course when you hit the “No’s” that you will encounter as an entrepreneur. Rejection hurts, but it should force you to rethink your strategy or product or people, or whatever.
I again want to thank the V-WISE vets for their service to our country. So, what is my biggest message to the women veteran entrepreneurs at V-WISE (as well as all entrepreneurs, in general)? Consider the words of Roy E. Disney, whom I was lucky enough to know when we were both members of the Board of the U.S. Committee for UNICEF. “When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”