Entrepreneurship: Get started. Make the call.

Aloha, and mahalo for reading Talking Story! Welcome to our August Ho‘olaule‘a.

This is Part Four of my interview with Tom Ehrenfeld, business journalist, and author of The Start Up Garden, How Growing a Business Grows You.
Part One. Part Two. Part Three.

Rosa:

The Startup Garden was published in 2002. Now, three years later, do you see any significant changes would-be entrepreneurs must be aware of, or place added emphasis on? Any thoughts on what another chapter might be if you were to release a new edition?

Tom:

Other than the passing of the dot-com bubble, which I referred to earlier, I don’t believe the state of startups is all that different. I guess I’d say that the only thing that’s different is me, in the sense that I’ve grown a few years since then. And perhaps my lesson of the past few years deals with a humble admiration for the folks who simply get done that which they say they will do. That’s part of what excites me so much about entrepreneurs in the first place, and it’s a quality I continually seek to improve in myself.

As for what I might do differently with the book, well, I think the one thing I would do is add a chapter titled “The Entrepreneurial Decision Tree” and it would chart the key decisions that you make as an entrepreneur whether you realize you are making them or not. There are a handful of essential decisions that get made early on and are very hard to undo later. The first is probably deciding the scale of your venture: will it be a modest, homespun and stable type of business; what some call a ‘lifestyle’ business. (I don’t like the term but accept it as a label for many companies.) Because while the vast majority of ventures fit in this field, many founders make decisions as if they are chasing venture capital and hypergrowth. Big mismatch and a recipe for disaster. The next key decision on this path is the choice of investors; the vast majority of businesses are self-financed. But even so, those that receive funds must carefully match the source and amount with the most natural future.

Rosa:

Well I’m certainly not implying you needed to do more, for I’ve already written here about how your book translated into three different readings for me, and became the catalyst of a few aha! moments on my own journey. One thing I really liked about The Startup Garden was the use of your Sidebars in the book. I could tell how carefully and deliberately placed they were. I wholeheartedly agree with what Jim Collins had written in his Foreword for you, that “finally, I have the one book I’d like to give them (those thinking of starting a business and asking for advice) to read as a starting point.”

Tom:

I think I managed to fit in all the Sidebars I had thought of. My background as a magazine writer certainly influenced my decision to have many smaller elements in the book, as well as my desire to share longer quotes and lists from sources that were near and dear to me. If I were to write the book now, I would add a sidebar on the available online resources, especially blogs and online communities.

I think that over the past few years the continued growth and improvements in technology do make it easier for entrepreneurs to develop some techno-chops; to be fairly fearless about using the web and leveraging the power of their computer for everything from research to home-brewing their own pamphlets. I continue to develop an appreciation of the fact that investors, when appropriate, really are out there, and often closer to home than you realize (although the trick remains to find value-added investors, those who support the venture as well as expect a return on their money.) But again, my number one recommendation remains: get started. Whatever it takes to take that first, or second, or eighth step. Make the call. Try out the next version of the product. Research the legal question, or secure that form you need. Just remember that the essence of entrepreneurship is creating your luck, realizing success by hard work and by putting yourself in the position to succeed.

Rosa:

You are a master at asking the right leading questions in The Startup Garden, questions that will cause entrepreneurs to be more introspective and honest with themselves as they pursue their calling and create their business. Since you’ve phrased them so well for me, I’d like to ask you a couple of your own questions now, and discover the answer to your Ho‘ohana: What matters to you? What do you want to change in the world? What do you go out of your way to learn about? Quite simply, what is your passion—what does Tom Ehrenfeld truly care about these days?

Tom:

Well, my family is the most important thing in my life; my passion and joy. So I spend a great deal of time around the children and our community. I just finished a second three-year-term on the board of my kid’s school. Other things that matter to me. Well, unfortunately, and I don’t want to drift into politics on the web, but I am not happy with the leadership in this country, and that takes up a lot of my share of mind. But let’s not go there.

No, let’s go there. Here’s one thing that really bothers me: the creation of a new class of people who are in permanent debt. Between the relaxation of standards for credit card companies (which now charge usurious rates and an ever-escalating array of fees and penalties), the changes in bankruptcy laws, and the conversion of the debt counseling field from one of small local charitable agencies to virtual storefronts for for-profit hucksters, it’s bad. There are already alarming discrepancies in this country in the allocation of wealth, and the credit epidemic is eviscerating what’s left of the middle class. Obviously I believe in free markets and in enterprise, but not to the extent to which we ¹re producing debt peons.

Rosa:

Ooh, sounds to me like some passion waiting for a script! Are you writing another book?

Tom:

My next book is a mystery. Literally a mystery that is. And the main character is a forensic accountant who solves crimes through his knowledge of personal finance. He parses individuals by studying their credit reports and tax returns. He learns his trade by battling his own demons. And he invariably runs up against the big players in this growing industry of debt. I have another non-fiction book in the works as well, but am just writing the proposal and will share details with you as soon as I push it a bit further.

Rosa:

Tom you have shared so much with us; this has been wonderful. You are definitely an inspiration to me as an entrepreneur yourself, one who is a successful writer! We all know writing takes talent, and that it is a creative art form, however to make it one’s career does require business acumen and these traits of entrepreneurship we have been discussing. In fact, one can argue it is even more difficult to sustain a writing career these days in light of web communications and evolving media. Your book showcases the entrepreneurial success of others, yet you are quite humble about your own first hand experience. I can hardly wait for what you have in store for us next!

What’s next? Be sure to click in on Monday: Tom has written a new article for first-print exclusively here on Talking Story.

Comments

  1. says

    What does ‘financial literacy’ mean to you?

    In our talk story Friday, Tom Ehrenfeld mentioned how something really bothers him: “”the creation of a new class of people who are in permanent debt. Between the relaxation of standards for credit card companies (which now charge usurious rates