Starting Your Own Business: An Interview With a Practical Entrepreneur

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For many people, the only type of the work they’ll ever know is working for someone else.  For others, staring their own business or following through on a late night idea is part of their genetic makeup.  
The following is a bit of insight from David, a small business owner / entrepreneur.  David is an ideal example of what I like to call a, “practical entrepreneur”; that is, someone who sees opportunities in ordinary tasks no one else wants to do (like getting rid of a skunk underneath a deck).  David’s story is a great example of learning a particular skill set (that is in high demand) in a field with a low cost of entry and, thereafter, optimizing revenue with modern marketing tactics.  David’s story, as you’ll find out, also contains some very common sense tips, such as: working hard, not thinking like everyone else, not being satisfied with a particular experience and thereafter acting on it, being stubborn, paying attention to the important things, and just diving in at the right time

Here’s the interview:  

Question: Why did you decide to open your own business and was it difficult to leave the security of your 9-5 job?
 
I’ve believed since I was 15 that I’d start my own business someday, so perhaps I was biased.  My goal was to have fun creating something myself.  My father was a dentist, and his independence influenced me.  If he had a 9-5, I’d probably have thought “that’s just the way things are done”.  I did a 9-5 for three years, but largely did so to validate my college education.  I did not like much about the corporate culture, from the schedule to the power structure to the inefficiencies and inequities I saw in the corporation.  It was not hard for me to leave emotionally, and financially, I had no obligations like a mortgage or children, so it was relatively risk-free.  I knew that if I failed that I could go work for a company again, and give another go at my own business later.
Question: Why did you go into the business you currently own?  How did you differentiate yourself from competition?
 
I began to investigate potential businesses.  As a younger man, I had grand aspirations, and partially believed that I had to enter a field of refined and high intellect and become a bazillionaire.  With time, I began to accept the idea that I could start small in something more humble.  My eyes were opened when I lost my keys at work and had to call a locksmith to make a new one for me.  Despite my lengthy efforts to find a good deal, the cheapest man still made almost as much money from me in 30 minutes as I made all day in my business suit.  And I knew that his business day was packed.  Something was just not right, not fair.  I’ve long known that the world is not fair, especially in economics.  The key is, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!  The next time you feel you had no choice but to pay through the nose and it makes you unhappy – that’s a business YOU should start!  So with this in mind, I began to seek out a business with the following parameters:

1. Low barrier to entry, so that I could learn it and start it easily, without much hassle.

2. Low start-up costs, because I didn’t have much money.  

3. Could be done anywhere, because I wanted the option to move wherever I pleased. 

4. Inelastic demand – I wanted my business, like the locksmith, to provide something that customers would find essential, and no real alternatives but to pay for.  
5. Low competition – This of course makes my service all the more essential and allows me to charge more.  

6. Low operating costs – This makes the risk less, because if it costs less to run the thing, there’s less chance of going bankrupt.  

I patiently bided my time and kept my eyes open, observing all of the small businesses around me.  I knew, for example, that I wasn’t about to start my own pizza shop, which has a large startup cost, huge competition, ties you down, etc.  I knew a specialty service field was the best model.  When I was exposed to the field of nuisance wildlife removal, I found that it met all of my requirements.  I wasn’t even excited about the prospect of starting such a business – I simply knew without a doubt that I would do it.  There was no reason not to.
Question: Talk about failure and starting your own business, should most small business owners think that they may fail?
 
Yes, all small business owners should think that they might fail.  This keeps you realistic and on your toes and motivates you to work hard.  If you think that it’s going to be Easy Street or that you’re entitled to success, you probably won’t work hard.  My first year in business was difficult.  Despite all of my shrewd planning, I wasn’t prepared for many of the surprises my first business threw at me – like how to not be shy with customers, and actually charge them.  I broke even in my first year and watched my living expenses eat up my small life savings.  But I was stubborn and determined as hell, and I spent every moment of every day making sure that it would work.  I basically refused to fail and I did everything I could to make sure that I didn’t.
Question: Did you start your own business because you wanted freedom, to earn more money, or bring a great idea to market?
 
My primary goal was freedom, of course.  Not just freedom from the 9-5, from having someone else tell me what to do, but from many of the constraints that lack of money place on life.  So in that sense, I also wanted more money, in order to buy myself that freedom.  Work hard for a few years now, and enjoy a life of financial freedom later.  By freedom, I don’t just mean a life in which I can make my own decisions; I mean a life in which I have enough money to always live free of worries about bills, a mortgage, or anything.  But money aside, for me, the satisfaction of running my own show, with no one telling me what to do, and knowing that I did it all myself, it felt great.  It’s actually true that I started to work harder, much MUCH harder once I had my own business.  But it was work that I cared about, and it was fun.  I kind of felt the phenomenon that it’s not really work unless someone else makes you do it.
Question: Would you do anything different if you had to start all over again?
 
I would have started sooner!  I would have skipped college and started my own business right out of high school.  Barring that, I would have graduated college and then burned my degree and started up right then.  I regret ever wasting time sending out resumes, wearing business casual, commuting, listening to a boss, yearning for the weekend to come, and waiting around for a tiny paycheck.  Aside from that, there’s a million little things I’d have done differently w
ith my specific business, things that only time and experience taught me.  I got a lot tougher with time.  All this said, it’s easy for me to be confident because my business worked out, and I’m not arrogant enough to discount the value of luck – or more specifically, the absence of bad luck.  One accident could have made me fail, and I’d be here today telling you that I wished I’d taken precautions against that accident, or perhaps I would be sour on the idea of my own business altogether.  And I was often very reckless.  So if I had to do it all over again, perhaps I’d be more careful than I was – I’d have started off with more capital, emergency funds, insurance, and better research and planning.  The reality is that I just dove in somewhat recklessly.  But then again, that’s really what much of life, from relationships to art to business, is about.  Sometimes you have to just dive right in, results be damned, because if you don’t, you may never get started.
Question: Describe your business model.
 
My first business was a mobile service business.  I ran a nuisance wildlife removal company.  I drove around in a pickup truck with ladders and tools and helped people with problems with wild animals, such as the removal of squirrels from the attics of a home.  I started marketing in the Yellow Pages, and quickly learned that the internet was a more powerful and economical marketing tool, so I got very good at internet marketing.  My business grew with time, as I got better at marketing, got repeat and referral business, and better at actually performing the job.  Then a lucky thing happened, which is often the case when one starts to learn and create value.  I got so good at internet marketing that soon other wildlife operators were asking me to do their online marketing.  I parlayed this into selling online advertising for them through my websites.  I started to split my time in half, doing both wildlife field work and internet marketing.  The internet marketing grew so large that I sold my field operations business and focused only on the internet marketing.  The field work was more fun – it was great to be outdoors doing real labor, handling real critters.  But the internet work is higher income with less labor, or what one of my friends calls “mailbox money”.  Now that it’s in place, it operates itself, with only a little maintenance.  I now have the money and freedom that I originally set out to have, and it feels freakin’ awesome!  I’m super pleased.
 
My advice to anyone – just allow this idea to sink in your head: you don’t have to rely on the traditional career structure of a good education, a solid resume, climbing the ladder at a 9-5.  Believe that yes, you can do it yourself!  Once that idea is in place, you start to notice the small businesses all around you, that people no smarter or harder working than you managed to create.  Save up your capital, and when you get that moment in which opportunity knocks, in which you see that slam-dunk business that’s just right for you, then pounce!  And go at it like a maniac – at first, the business isn’t your job, it’s your life. And for crying out loud, be smart, competent, and responsible!  I’ve watched hundreds of small businesses over the years now.  Many have failed, yes, and so many of those were people who had a gold mine in front of them and simply shot themselves in the foot by being careless and lazy – not answering customer calls, not delivering goods or services as promised, simple things like that.
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14 Comments

  1. Vin, David, this is great. Michael

  2. Thanks, Michael. It really is a great story and a credit to David! It’s on the homepage of Tip’d currently: http://tipd.com/ (it’s Digg but for financial content).

  3. I am not in the business field currently but I think it was really interesting reading your piece and I think it has many applications probably to the world of non-profits, which I am more familiar with, simply in terms of delivering services and dealing with clients.

  4. Starting Your Own Business: An Interview With a Practical Entrepreneur

    Sometimes it pays to simply jump head first into things you know are better.

  5. Hi Simon,
    I agree that there are applications to non-profit work. I think there are lots of opportunities available in the non-profit space. Thanks for the comment!
    Vince

  6. Thanks for a great read! You’ve done exactly what I want to do, but I haven’t found my ideal niche yet. Hoping to try something else later this month, and maybe get it off the ground. At any rate – thanks for being inspiring.

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    Very informative posts. I’ve worked for and started numerous businesses. The legal side is always an important aspect both at the start and during operations.
    At the start: You need to decide what type of company you want to be for instance: ltd, ltd partnership, partnership etc.
    That will set a frame on your company. For instance a ltd company is a legal entity on its own.
    Moreover if you are going to sell things you might require licenses depending on where and what you sell. Same applies for services (Again depending on what it is that you want to do). If you are going to do some exporting/importing you will be involved with taxes on imports or exports. If you start making money you will need to pay taxes (if you earn enough money, depending on your country), then you will need to apply for VAT, then if you get workers you have to get them contracts and pay salaries and taxes (At this stage it is best to get a lawyer as a consultant.)
    During: You need to have access to a lawyer at all times, especially if you deal with retail or services where you work with a lot of people. Because people WILL want to sue you (Both clients and workers), and you need to know what you can and cant do legally. There are countless things that you can run into here. If you want a lawyer cheap, there are companies that offer consultancy instead of getting your own personal lawyer.

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  11. Thanks for this interview Vince & David.
    There is some useful advice here especially in the necessity for hard work. I come from an internet marketing background and see a lot of people promoting stuff because it is easy, and unfortunately people buy this and inevitably fail. Few realize the commitment needed to run a business so this interview should set a few people straight.

  12. No problem, glad you liked the interview. David is not only a good guy, but also very passionate about what he does (being genuine is at the heart of his business and life).
    Vince

  13. This is a terrific interview in that it reveals that starting your own business by launching a micro-business is very possible if you’re willing to do what others aren’t willing to do themselves but which they don’t mind paying someone else to do for them.
    This is the essence of successful entrepreneurship. As David implies, this is a lesson not even college teaches you.

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