The Entrepreneur’s Ultimatum
What’s holding you back from starting your own business? Here’s a guy whose motivation was driven by personal need. He recognized what he needed to make his life more fulfilling and went out and built it.
Today’s guest post comes to you from Mike Calvo. Calvo is a seasoned blind entrepreneur who disrupted the assistive technology industry with unconventional practices to get more products into the hands of blind consumers. His philanthropic efforts have benefited blind communities in developing countries. Now a CEO at Pneuma Solutions, Mike is hard at work moving his entrepreneurial spirit into a new chapter of development, and in this piece he gives a few thoughts on how others can follow a similar ambitious track to move their plans from ideas to reality.
Take it away Mike!
Do you want to know the secret to my success? I got tired of not having access to those things I needed out of life. As a blind person, it can be frustrating to be denied those aspects of technology other people take for granted.
I enjoy today’s virtual assistants as much as anyone else. Would it surprise you to learn I was enjoying some of today’s features as early as the late 90s? I understood I was the most invested person in my dissatisfaction, so little by little I set out to build a series of products and user interfaces that ultimately led to the creation of what became Serotek Corporation.
Here, in no particular order, I want to share some of the driving principles that have guided my entrepreneurial philosophy in hopes that it will help you in your own success.
1. Dare to Dream
I know. That probably sounds like a tidbit straight out of an after school special. It’s helpful enough. You should dream big, and then go out and pursue that dream relentlessly.
Here’s the missing half from that piece of advice though: Every dream worth following is going to require hard work. No matter how much you enjoy the pursuit, inevitably the pursuit will start to feel like a job. It’s okay for it to become an occupation. Unless you’re giving away your services for free (and there is a good place in your life for philanthropy,) people will hand you their hard-earned money and expect a good product or service in return.
The difference between those who work for a living and those who live for their dream is that those who live for their dream will never see the job as an obligation. I have woken up some mornings with the weight of responsibility for my employees and the community I serve. I have never woken up thinking, wow, I have to drag myself to the office again…
2. Write Down the Fundamentals
Every good entrepreneur, blind or sighted, needs a vision and mission. The first will tell customers what you believe, and the second will tell them how you achieve it.
A business plan is essential to running a business. There are people who devote pages upon pages of charts and figures to illustrate the market research they did to prove the necessity for their business. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but too many people allow themselves to be intimidated by the idea of a long and complicated document. If the business plan does not make sense to you, you will never be able to lean on it to communicate to people what your business is about.
Also, a business plan is your single best method of keeping your ideas straight. Often as a technology developer, you face enormous criticism from customers who feel you should have done things this way instead of that. You should always take feedback in stride, but you should always remember the core motivation that led you to run your business the way you do.
3. Anything is Possible
Take it from a guy who was not born into a life of privilege. With enough time and resources, anything is possible.
By now you probably figured out there is a caveat. Time is not infinite. If you want your plan to move from an idea to a business, you are going to have to make certain sacrifices. You are going to have to make the business a priority.
As to the point about resources, I cannot stress the importance of networking. You may not possess all the resources to get your operation off the ground, but someone in your extended network may know someone who does. It is in your best interest to meet with and communicate with a diverse pool of people. Maintaining a healthy network will better help you understand both the market you serve and the market you have not yet tapped. Putting business interests aside, you might find yourself in a position to help someone else, and that is the most compelling means of paying it forward.
4. Understand the Reality of Failure
Failure is not defined by those things that did not work out. The true essence of failure is never following through on your ideas. Here are just three reasons why this brand of failure is especially destructive:
First, if you don’t act on your idea, someone else will. Do you want to lead your own operation, or do you want to work for the guy who took initiative?
Second, life is full of risks. I would never advocate you put your family’s well-being in danger. With proper planning, however, or that is to say, with a good business plan, you can minimize some of these uncertainties. You won’t be able to eliminate all risk, but then, if life were that predictable, there would be no need for articles like this. Speaking from experience, taking calculated risks is half the fun.
And finally, don’t let pessimists trick you into believing business success is all about luck. Yes, there are a certain number of odds involved in determining whether or not you make it as a business person, but you swing those odds in your favor the more you knock on doors and proudly talk about your business venture as though it was your love interest. You will only fail if you sit on your butt. The guy who said if you build it, they will come was sorely misguided.
5. Experience Always Trumps Academics
Let me be clear. There is always a place for college. I believe it can be a fine opportunity to learn about yourself and the world around you.
I’m specifically speaking to would-be entrepreneurs who believe they might be interested in post graduate studies in order to get a slight edge. As someone who has hired a myriad of people in the course of my entrepreneurial life, I will always value the guy or gal who can show me what they’ve done with their skills a little more than the guy or gal who can only say they’ve learned the skills. If you have to pick between business school or real world, always pick the real world. It will do a much better job of preparing you for the intricacies of leading an effective business.
In closing, I have a vested interest in seeing the blindness community excel. The more we collectively push past custodial views and misconceptions, the more we can all uniformly benefit from everything life has to offer. Sometimes it means abandoning ideas whose time has passed. People have a hard time believing me when I say I always set out to put Serotek out of business. I always understood that when that day came, it was because we had done enough to make that style of business no longer relevant.
I met my own objective for that season in my life. Now I am interested in a new set of priorities. I have been around the block enough times to feel confident about the path ahead, but risk is always lurking around the corners. Yet, I have a deep passion for what I do. I believe in my abilities and have a firm plan for how I will overcome challenges. Quitting is never an option.
And you know what? I think you can do it too. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.