The financial challenges facing people due to Covid-19 has led to job losses and business closures. This sudden change of going from employment to unemployment has turned many into entrepreneurs. As of September 2020, applications for IRS employer identification numbers, used to identify businesses, had jumped by 500,000 from the prior year to over 3.2 million.
As people venture out into creating or building their entrepreneurial dreams, it’s important to learn from those who have been there. I connected with Brian Weisfeld, founder of The Startup Squad and co-author a related book series, to gain some insight as millions of American’s head down the path of being an entrepreneur.
How did you become an entrepreneur, and what was your greatest lesson? What was the mistake you learned the most from?
Brian Weisfeld: I spent my career helping entrepreneurs scale their businesses and I learned a lot about what it takes to be an entrepreneur. I was part of a three-person team that acquired IMAX Corporation, the giant-screen theater company, in the early ’90s and took it public. I then helped a returning founder grow a technology distribution company from $1.5 to $3.0 billion in revenue. In 2008, I moved from New York to Silicon Valley to be the COO of Coupons.com and I helped that founder grow the business from $15 to $150 million in revenue in five years.
I became an entrepreneur myself for the first time because there was something that I wished existed for my daughters but it didn’t, so I had to create it myself. The greatest lesson I learned was that any founder, no matter how talented, can only do so much by themselves. Ultimately, you need to surround yourself with great people who you trust and give up some of that control if you want to grow your business.
The mistake I learned the most from happened early in my career. I deferred to people who were supposed to be experts in their field even though their advice didn’t seem right to me. The advice turned out to be wrong and it became a big issue for me personally.
So, to this day, I always weigh my gut instinct against any advice and keep questioning that advice until either my gut or the advice changes.
How would you describe the entrepreneurial mindset?
Entrepreneurs see the world in a different way, and I believe that an entrepreneurial mindset can help people in any role, profession, or stage of life better achieve their goals and reach their potential.
My definition of an entrepreneurial mindset starts with being comfortable with risk and failure. Entrepreneurs are not afraid to fail because they know that even if they do fail, they’ll learn something that will make them more likely to succeed the next time.
Entrepreneurs are comfortable with risk and are decisive because they know that very few decisions are irreversible and that making a decision based on incomplete information is often better than making no decision at all.
Entrepreneurs also see opportunities where others see problems. They are notorious for encountering problems then inventing solutions that turn that problem into an opportunity.
People often think they need to leave their current jobs, or be an inventor to be an entrepreneur. Is that the reality? What does it mean to be an entrepreneur?
You can certainly be entrepreneurial in a job but to be an entrepreneur by definition you need to start or run your own business and take risk. If you can test the waters for a new business while working another job that’s great because it provides a safety net while you develop your product and sign your first customers. But ultimately, to be an entrepreneur, you have to cut that cord and take the risk.
What was the inspiration and the reason to become the founder of The Startup Squad?
When my older daughter was eight years old, I watched her attempt to sell girl scout cookies and run a charity bake sale with far more enthusiasm than understanding about how to market and sell a product. A few months later, I was reading books with my girls and found myself wishing that there were more empowering influences for girls. I just got tired of all the pink, princess, fairy, unicorn, rainbow books marketed to girls. For some reason, at that moment, those two ideas combined in my head, and I was struck by the inspiration to create The Startup Squad to inspire girls to start their first businesses and to empower them with an entrepreneurial mindset.
What is the best advice for someone who wants to start a business or create their own startup?
Take the plunge. It might be the scariest thing you’ve ever done, but just start. Create a minimum viable product, reach out to a potential client, get their reaction, adapt accordingly, and start the cycle over again.
I tell kids not to think “Win some, lose some” but rather to think “Win some, learn some” and the same goes for adults. You’ll probably get rejected during your first sales calls or find out that your product isn’t right. That feedback is gold! Change your sales pitch, adapt your product, and you’ll be more likely to succeed the next time.
What is your best advice to someone who began their startup or new business at the beginning of 2020 and is stuck?
The past year has brought unparalleled turmoil to the country and world. But I’ve always believed that chaos creates opportunity. If you were brave enough to start a new business during the pandemic then good for you. If you launched something right before the pandemic, I feel for your timing. I worked for 18 months on our second book only for it to release on May 5, 2020. I had to throw all of our marketing plans out the window on very short notice.
If you or your business is stuck, consider 2021 a brand-new year. Think of 2020 as a test run and 2021 as a chance to use what you learned in the past year to relaunch your business. What worked? What didn’t? Why did you think this was going to be a great, lasting business before the pandemic hit? Go back to that list and think about what you learned and what would you do differently if you were launching the business today. Then do it.
What have you learned from the young entrepreneurs you have worked with?
The “girlpreneurs” I’ve encountered are so inspiring. Each one has an amazing story about why they launched their business and what they hope to achieve. The thing that I’ve learned from kids is that they think without many of the constraints that an adult would have. They don’t know what can’t be done and so aren’t limited by what an adult might think is impossible.
They’re also creative in ways that adults often are not. There’s a girl named Reese who lives in Virginia. She realized that when kids don’t want their stuffed animals anymore, they throw them away or donate them to charity. She started a business called Wild and Wacky Pets. She collects these used stuffed animals, cleans them so they are good as new, and then decapitates them(!) and sews the heads back onto different bodies. I keep a pig giraffe (head of a pig on a body of a giraffe) in my office as inspiration to think like a kid.
What is the best way to help our children and grandchildren become more entrepreneurial and why is it important to do so?
There is a statistic that says roughly 70% of the jobs our kids will grow up to fill have not yet been invented. So how do you train a kid to succeed in a world of unknowns? You teach them to think. You teach them to see the world differently. You teach them to embrace risk and not be afraid of failure. Kids that have an entrepreneurial mindset will have a better chance of success in a world of unknowns.
The best way to get kids started is to encourage them to start a business based upon the things that they are already interested in. Do they love animals? Start a dog walking business. Love to cook or help out in the kitchen? Start a baking business or lemonade stand. Are they good with kids? Start a video game or sports tutoring business or become a birthday party helper.
There is no limit to what kids can do to earn money, they just need to take that first step. Even a simple lemonade stand can lead to greater things (if you need a recipe, my favorite is 6 cups of water, the juice of 6 lemons, and one cup of sugar). And make sure to celebrate your kids’ failures and ask them what they learned from the experience that will help them succeed the next time.
The Startup Squad’s website has a host of tools for parents to help them with their child’s entrepreneurial journey – everything from business plan templates, to activities, to tips for parents, to inspiring videos of nearly 100 girls between the ages of 6-16 who run their own businesses. We have tried to create a resource for parents to help them inspire their kids to start a business and to empower their kids with an entrepreneurial mindset. Good luck!
Jeanette Pavini is an Emmy Award winning journalist specializing in consumer news and protection. She is the author of “The Joy of $aving: Money Lessons I Learned From My Italian-American Father & 20 Years as a Consumer Reporter.” Jeanette is a regular contributor to TheStreet. Her work includes reporting for CBS, MarketWatch, WSJ Sunday, and USA Today. Jeanette has contributed to “The Today Show” and a variety of other media outlets. You can follow her moneysaving tips on Facebook: Jeanette Pavini: The Joy of $aving Community. Find links to her social media and her book at JeanettePavini.com.