Street Smarts Live – an Inc. Magazine Event

Tonight I went to an event sponsored by Inc. Magazine (where I write for the Start-Up blog). The event featured Norm Brodsky, a serial entrepreneur and writer of the Street Smarts column, and Bo Burlingham, Inc. Magazine Editor at large.

I ran into Lauren Solomon of LS Image Associates, whom I worked with several years ago, and haven’t seen in good while. She introduce me to Elyissia Wassung of 2 Chicks with Chocolate.

We went inside, and here are my live blogging notes (excuse typos and partial sentences – this is raw note-taking).

Street Smarts Live – an Inc. Magazine Event:
The Knack, How Street Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up, by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham.

How Street Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up.

Norm: 1st Business  asked How were our sales yesterday didn’t understand that there were more than sales gross margin, profits, etc are important
Cash is the hardest commodity to get, and easiest to spend. Lots of first time entrepreneurs think image type things like stationery is important, decorations, etc. They’ll need to have cash later on, don’t waste on fancy stuff. He always bought furniture at bankruptcy or close-outs.
Logo design did within company  – never outsourced to designers.

Sold recent business for much more than last one because it had better gross margins important to understand.

Norm always learns from mistakes.
Biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is in planning  don’t just start business do free market research also, other executives in business  not in  your exact field or territory may answer questions for you. Go to sector groups.
Make sure business you are starting fits in with your life/life plan. For example, if you only want to work 3 days a week, don’t start a 24/7 store. His long range plan was to take off 16 weeks a year. It took him 15 years to set the business up that way, but he worked to it.
Make sure you’re capitalized sufficiently to get to level that you don’t need to be borrowing. If business will cost 200k, put 50k in reserve (25%).
Most people are overly optimistic in projections.
Most common problem in running, on going business: people don’t understand gross margins. They’re not making enough in sales. Sell service for 10$, your direct cost is $6, 4$ is your gross profit. $4is used for overhead,   If we hire and pay salesperson 40k a year, we need 100k to hire him or her.

Accounting is Quickbooks good? QB or any accounting system crap in, crap out. If you do it by hand you may understand relationship between numbers more directly.
If you follow numbers by hand, it may show you trends that you might not notice on computer.
Accountants are great historians, but when you get year end or quarterly statements it may be too late. You need understanding quickly.
Q: as business starts, most people micromanage everthing. As business grows, you have to hire others. How to do this best.
A: Important to set culture of the business. Learned he’s a terrible manager liked to be involved in everything. It is hard for entrepreneur to let go and let others do their jobs. Also promote people to peter principle to too high a position. Learned also to hired people for attitude, and can teach them abilities. Try to promote from within. If you hire good in the beginning, you’ll be better later on.
Let people make some of own mistakes.
Eventually let staff lock him out of staff meetings.
Q: When’s the right time to step out of the business?
A: business must be running on own cash flow, and you know that people there can do the job.
Q: Bo there are different stages to this at one time, you backed off from meetings, but you were still involved.
A: He was also making decisions that were in best interest of him, not of the company. He stayed on for a few years when he sold company, and there were challenges.
Q: What happens when you have been running business for years, economy changes, and you have to grow it. The employees aren’t of the ability to grow it?
A: You have to take emotion out of business decisions people work with him or for him but they are not friends, because sometimes you have to make decisions that affect them in a mental or monetary way. If you make decisions about what’s best for company, you may hurt people along the way but the company, if it gets bigger, may be better for everyone. The business comes first.
Q: Did you have investors invest in  your companies?
A: First business funded by lawyers and accountants that financed him. He eventually bought them out (didn’t have a buy out agreement, so there was a dutch auction). He had customers fund cash to fund his buyout. 95% of all companies do <$1M a year in business.
Only 5000 companies do 30m a year or more. Microsofts and HPs are the rarities in business.
Q: How to get away from staff and day-to-day to create systems and processes
A: Believes in critical numbers simple reports, weekly: Sales, margins, new boxes in, etc. and a few more, and via that he can tell how business is going. In fact, staff will tell him how things are going put in notes when things change.
Also, surround yourself with someone who’s great with numbers, and other weak points, but learn to understand it.
Bringing up 2 entrepreneurs now, Brian Kelly, City Beans, and Mike ? West End ? Express
Mike: Wanted to get from $1MM to 10MM a year, Norm told him he couldn’t do it in way he was talking about got him to $3MM, then eventually. They allowed him to do it while taking off weekends, having a life plan. If he had done sales sales sales, he never would have been able to enjoy life.
Brian: Went to Norm, article about shredding business, had a coffee business and was working as fireman, Norm helped him get business started.
Business nightmare starbucks was moving in next door to his store. He had been competing with Dunkin, business was cash-flow positive. He was worried that they’d cluster around him and drive him out of business. Norm helped him look at it a different way – $bucks is big company, what can I do that they do, and how can I make up for the loss of business they’re going to have  what’s the plan? The answer was he had done catering for years they did soup, salad, sandwiches, and did corp catering. Lost 11% but gained it back in catering business.
The important thing is you’re going to have competition, you have to figure out why you’re better than everyone else.
Norm: Dad was door-to-door peddler bought dresses for $4, sold for $8. There are opportunities everywhere.
Customer asked box storage question he did research, found industry prices, and realized he had opportunity to outsell them. Put boxes in his office to start, eventually became largest archival storage company in the country.

Q: New entrepreneurs most difficult part is finding sufficient capital. Where is capital most easy to access?
A: Norm: it is A difficult part, always an issue. Most people start with their own, bank accounts, 2nd mortgage on house, go to family and friends or rolodex for money. Some unconventional avenues  – going to potential customers  get them to invest in your company if you’re going to produce service for them. You may have big idea, but start at a smaller level. Get investor to help you do small part, before you go to larger idea.
Brian financed first Coffee business by working 2 or 3 jobs, took money from tax returns, credit cards, built coffee bar himself as carpenter.
Q: You spend time finding the Niche you have to continue to look for ways.
A: Perfect Courier  the only computer you could buy was an IBM32  a big box that could take customer addresses and total a bill. Was trying to get Scalia, McCabe, Slobes as a client. Problem they had was a chargeback to clients they were not getting the data in way that accounting department could use it. He took 1500 tickets, had 20 typists type the bills perfectly  the agency’s accounting department wanted the program he said it was proprietary. He had to have 60 typists until he got the thing programmed 4 months later.
He went from courier to a billing service.
Niche he discovered with storage service he was closer into town than big companies like Iron Mountain he could do faster delivery.
Q: Focus on making sale, getting customer and develop a relationship What’s value of capital vs getting customers?
A: You’re either an onsite or offsite shredder offsite was 750K, onsite cost 250k.  Partnered with someone outside of town. Eventually he doesn’t own a shredder he basically owns customer relationships and partners with everyone.
Q: You’re making money – how to expand correctly
A: Before you start business, you don’t know opportunities stick to One. Once you’re running business you see many opportunities. Once you have cash flow sufficient, you can expand, but also do them one idea/expansion at a time.
Be careful you don’t kill golden goose.
Q: Debt vs equity financing? Challenge of getting rid of equity
A: doesn’t like to give away equity. In beginning, you may not be able to get rid of debts quickly enough.
Q: Finding partners and structure
A: His 2 partners were sweat equity partners, took >20 years for them to get it, with right to buy it out.
Q; In book you talk about compensation of sales people no commission  how do you keep them motivated?
A: Doesn’t believe that only commission motivates people. If you’re not feeling fairly paid, or happy with job, they can find other jobs. They have a culture, and pay sales people fairly, and prosper for bonus, and how company does. Sales people also want consistency  it can be positive for them. Sales people can cover for each other.
Q: Have run by KASS rules up to now, has challenge finding a good lawyer.
A: Rarely gets involved with lawyers both sides walk away a little unhappy is a good settlement. Lawyers shouldn’t make business decisions for you  they’ll tell you about the law.


One response to “Street Smarts Live – an Inc. Magazine Event”

  1. Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor