Overcoming Obstacles

Posted: September 22, 2013 by Chuck Matthews in Uncategorized

Nothing is an obstacle unless you say it is.

UC Chuck Matthews

             — Wally “Famous” Amos, Cookie and Literacy Entrepreneur

Starting a business can be more than a little daunting. While it is easy to say all great new ventures start with an idea, it is quite another to nurture that idea into a concept with some substance, formulate a plan to bring it to reality, and ultimately launch the venture.  Entrepreneurs are particularly adept at overcoming obstacles, staying the course, and pursuing their passion when others are skeptical at best and downright negative at worst.

Wally “Famous” Amos knows a thing or two about overcoming obstacles. Beginning in 1975, he established one of the most recognizable brands of his day, Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Against the odds, he achieved success building the first stand-alone retail cookie chain in the U.S.  Vision, passion, and a gift for promotion were the ingredients in his recipe for making his dream a reality and overcoming obstacles that came his way. Even when one of his key investors pulled out right before his grand opening, Amos didn’t panic, but persevered.

Here are some of the key lessons that I have learned over the years that can guide you on the path to turn an idea into a venture.  Let’s get STARTed.

Keep it Simple.  There is a natural tendency to overcomplicate everything.  Amos knew to keep the message simple.  He had a vision to make the chocolate chip cookie the “superstar” of cookies, but he really was selling a momentary escape from the everyday hustle and bustle.

Technology, funding models, legal matters, and other issues are important, but should not distract from the straightforward reason for being in business. Today, he continues that tradition with his Chip & Cookie gourmet cookie brand and to promote literacy.

Be Tenacious.  Every great idea has skeptics.  It is very difficult to “stay the course” when you are buffeted by naysayers.  Differentiating constructive criticism from debilitating negativism is both an art and a science.  One key is to heed the advice of the late Norman Vincent Peale, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” Successful entrepreneurs balance the praise and criticism and transform it into a clear path to achieve their vision.

Consider Alternatives.  From a strategic perspective, cosmetics entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash, captures the need to keep contingencies in mind. “For every failure, there’s an alternative course of action. You just have to find it. When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.”  For example, research I have done shows that on the continuum of sources of funding for nascent ventures from credit cards to venture capital and everything in between, the vast majority of new startups are funded with credit cards, followed by personal savings, family, and friends.

One of my favorite alternative sources of funding involves supplier credit and extended terms that allow the small business to take a discount usually reserved for quick payment on longer terms.  For example, instead of a 2% discount for payments by the 10th or full payment by the 30th, ask for 3% by the 10th, or a sliding scale 2% by the 20th or net 30 days.  If you do go the credit card route, don’t fall into the trap getting behind on payments.  I only recommend it if you pay off the balance before interest and penalties kick in.

Review, Review, Review.  When considering your idea, business plan, and implementation steps, a powerful, yet underutilized start-up tool is evaluation, review, and feedback.  Entrepreneurs I have interviewed often relate how they leverage advice, customer feedback, supplier, and others input not just once, but over and over.  For example, knowing who your customers are as well as who your customers are not is equally important. In the early days of a start-up, it is tempting to be pulled in the wrong direction. Seeking and using timely feedback can keep you on the right path.

Leverage Team and Training.  Coalescing the right team and identifying the need for training are critical.  Successful entrepreneurs are the first to acknowledge the power of the team with whom they work.  Microsoft founder Bill Gates often advises to find very smart people and create small teams. Moreover, the on-going need for training can be very important as the venture matures.  For example, often key suppliers will provide no or low-cost training for your employers in mission critical goods and services.

There is more than can be captured here, but the journey of thousand miles begins with the first step.  Get STARTed.  Till next time, all the best for continued entrepreneurial success!

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