To be or not to be an entrepreneur has never really been a question for me. I come from a long line of self-starters who, luckily for me, braved the odds of success and showed me that it can be done. No one in my family struck it rich like an Internet start-up phenom, and, as with any business, bad times came a long with the good. But I grew up having a much better lifestyle than I probably would have had otherwise and for me, it wasn’t really about money. It was the example set in front of me. The nightly conversations at the dinner table or family gatherings that excited the senses and gave me the passion that with hard work, I too could test my ideas and make something out of myself. After all, isn’t the notion of self-reliance, bootstrapping and being a self-made individual what made this country great?
A New Vantage Point
On a plane bound for Los Angeles at the age of twelve, I spent the majority of my first flight glued to the window taking in the unique vantage point of the views below. As in any person’s life, you never really know what experiences that come along will touch you in an unforeseen way, provide inspiration or even guide you onto a new path. But as an aspiring entrepreneur looking for that one good idea, this view did much more than entertain me during a long flight. It reminded me that there are opportunities & places beyond my hometown and the only limitations are the ones I place on myself.
It has been quite a long time since that flight. And during that time I have pursued my passion with my own business primarily within broadcasting, film, video production, marketing & graphic design. I have had a tremendous amount of unique opportunities, have worked within large corporations when the opportunity presented itself, earned new experiences and became friends with people that have taught me a lot as well. I’ve learned that the road to that one great idea is a circuitous one marked by successes & failures along the way. In fact, it might not even be about one great idea, but several smaller ones that you identify during your travels. It might be something that solves a problem, or creates opportunity that you previously wouldn’t have noticed or understood.
But the single most important opportunity that has occurred in my life was when I became a father. Which in fact wasn’t a single moment but two unique moments in my life as I have two incredible boys. For the first time, my desire to be successful, to prove my self worth and do more than be an employee somewhere, was no longer just about me. It was now for them as well. In fact, I realized that I now had an obligation to do more than just provide for them. But to show them, how my father and grandfather had shown me, that you truly can be whatever you want to be in life. That working towards a goal that may initially be out of your reach is far more meaningful and challenging than something that is easily obtained.
Fear & Other Time Consuming Emotions
There’s an old axiom that declares, “Sometimes chefs eat hot dogs at home”. Plainly stated, when you are busy showing other people how to market, position and strategize their companies towards success, you often times neglect your own business. Of course there’s also the tried and true belief that “anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. But this does little to alleviate fears and cash flow problems when disaster strikes. And sooner or later, it always strikes.
Like a lot of other companies, the Great Recession as it is now known, hit my business with a fury. My two largest clients were nearly simultaneously, and without warning, acquired by larger companies who didn’t feel the need to continue my services however valuable they may have been. Clients and prospective clients with whom I had spent countless hours courting, communicating and meeting, who were also feeling the pain of the economy, began to cancel projects left and right as though it were a game of tag. Even worse were the accounts receivable that began to collect dust on my desk rather than be paid. Without cash, it doesn’t really matter how much is owed to you or how long you have worked or even what your Dun & Bradstreet or personal credit rating is, you’re done.
You begin to realize how many clients you have allowed to monopolize your time without out a clear benefit to your bottom line. Or how talented everyone thinks you are when you are willing to work for free or reduce compensation. It also occurs to you that you should have spent more time marketing your own business, launching company owned initiatives and a long-term plan should have been more than an item on your to do list.
And to make matters worse, my wife, being tired of the ride that is no longer fun, decided she wanted out.
Hope & the Road To Redemption
So what do you do in times like these? You tell yourself that a smart person would give up the dream, send out resumes and comfort themselves with the logic that some income is better than nothing. After all, you have children to support and other financial responsibilities. So I tried the traditional route, sending out resumes, making calls, filling out applications, networking and going on the occasional interview. It’s an employer’s market, with hundreds of people applying for every opening. It’s hit young people just out of school and more experienced adults the hardest. Being an entrepreneur, a self-starter, self-employed or whatever you want to call it, is not seen by employers as an asset. “You are over-qualified” or “You would be bored in this position” are excuses you hear a lot for their choice in passing you over for the job. Employers are so overwhelmed with applicants whenever they have an opening, most applicants don’t even get an acknowledgement of their application. And many employers will not hire someone who is unemployed, which is a cruel irony.
And then it occurs to you. Do something. Anything. You are an entrepreneur. What have you always done? You have created opportunity where it didn’t exist. So, go create something!
A few years ago, I had an idea for a website that would serve as a point of connection for many diverse people, businesses and other entities — a mosaic, or Internet Art, using submitted images as the starting point for links to explore. It would be a Million Pixel Mosaic. But I was too busy at the time to develop the idea, and so the mosaic was put on the back burner. But now, that idea became all the more attractive and was moved back to the front burner. I couldn’t give up. My entrepreneurial mind went into overdrive.
The Big Picture
As I had learned many years earlier sitting comfortably at 30,000 feet, we live in a world much larger than our comfort zone and of unlimited possibilities. To be able to have an idea and then create an online mosaic with contributions and visitors from around the world, is an interesting experience. To be able to add value to other entrepreneurs online ventures would be, at the core of what business is about, solving problems. Solving my own problems, earning valuable lessons and re-inventing my business would be a tremendous opportunity.
But to me, the real story is one that goes back to the founders of this nation. I know it sounds like a cliché’, but without their determination, character and innovative ideas, where would we be? It was the same type of spirit that led our country out of the Great Depression and paved the road for generations of prosperity. Yet today, we rarely hear any media coverage of the ingenuity or entrepreneurial drive that will, no doubt, fuel the economic recovery ahead. How many former CEO’s or corporate staffers who were laid off are turning to self –reliance out of necessity are instead, realizing a new method of production, a valuable widget or a solution to a problem that may be the next big thing?
And in the end, we are teaching our children, that settling for what is easy or what seems secure is not necessarily where your greatest challenge or opportunity will come. It may come from exploring that entrepreneurial spirit that resides within you.
If I am able to inspire my children to dream big, work hard and achieve, than my mistakes will have been worth it. After all, the American Dream is still alive and well. Isn’t it? You bet.
This guest post is courtesy of Randy Gregory. He has worked in marketing, online social initiatives, sales, film and tape, broadcasting, photography, management and entertainment, meeting the needs of such clients and employers as Walt Disney World in Orlando, Gannett Inc., Cumulus Broadcasting, The Washington Redskins, Raytheon Group, Nike, Kodak, Hard Rock Café-Orlando, Baxter Pharmaceuticals and Universal Studios — a mosaic of experiences, if you will. To see the mosaic for yourself, or to buy a pixel block to promote your own website, blog or social cause visit http://www.millionpixelmosaic.com.