Entrepreneur

Door-to-door fresh flower sales.  That was the first company that I started with my little sister when we were in the early part of our elementary school education.  Our mission was simple:  raise enough money to purchase a small Lego set that we had our eyes on.  Wild flowers cost nothing and our venture backers (our parents) agreed to lend us the gardening tools required to cut the flowers as well as a cart to transport the flowers around our neighborhood.

We made a lot of mistakes but it was also a great learning opportunity about how to sell to people.

  • We only sold the best wild flowers that we could find.
  • We quickly learned that by improving the presentation of our product we noticeably increased sales.  In our case, we took old coffee cans and used them as vases for our flowers.

And yes, we did earn enough money to purchase our Lego set.

Later, when I was in undergraduate school for mechanical engineering, I launched my first technology business .

Duquesne Incline, Pittsburgh. Photography by Tom Libertiny

Duquesne Incline Gears
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Photography by Tom Libertiny

The good news:  I teamed very experienced engineers with young designers who could rocket through computer aided design (CAD).  There’s nothing like being part of a team where experience and new ideas are openly and enthusiastically shared.

More good news:  We were successful and my first company helped pay for my undergraduate degree.

But like many businesses back then, automotive and aerospace industries were a roller coaster of feast or famine and we hit this lovely thing called a “recession.”  Fortunately, we were able to sell our firm to a larger company.

Obviously I wasn’t happy with the overall outcome, but I learned what I knew and what I didn’t know.  Teaming experienced people and people new to industry was a system that I would adopt for all of my companies.  Focusing on people as opposed to cutting edge technology was also important knowledge.  I also recognized that I needed more finance and marketing experience so I earned my MBA and also worked on projects and for companies that gave me hands-on-experience in these fields. Most importantly, I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur because frankly, it was a lot of fun!

In the ensuing years, I’ve started numerous successful technology (automotive, aerospace, semiconductor), business (finance and marketing), and entertainment companies (books, music, live productions, movies).

I’ve also worked as an entrepreneur within very large technology and finance companies.  Often, the position of entrepreneur within a large business meant that I was part of a “business incubator,” which is a fancy management term for “entrepreneur.”   In essence, we started new companies and the larger business acted as our investment banker.

Being an entrepreneur, I’ve always believed in giving back to the community by teaching other entrepreneurs what I’ve learned.  Everything from small interactive classes to keynote addresses at places like Disney World for over 1,000 people.