Bill Green, a long-time entrepreneur and author of All In: 101 Real-Life Business Lessons for Emerging Entrepreneurs, has this advice for young entrepreneurs: Before you think about the big shiny reward at the end, keep in mind why you’re starting in the first place.
In fact, this is the mantra most successful entrepreneurs want to pass along to today’s hustlers. Green himself is known as a straight shooter when it comes to the grit of entrepreneurship, having built multiple businesses from beginning to end during his 40-year career.
One of his most impressive stories is how he took his first company, Wilmar Industries, from a flea market table to an IPO. After acquiring 15 competitors and eventually rebranding to Interline Brands, his company is now owned by The Home Depot, with revenues exceeding $1.8 billion.
Green explained that his earliest experiences as an entrepreneur gave him the foundation to build companies into success stories. When you’re young, it can be easy to devalue simple jobs like selling newspapers or running a fundraising campaign for your school, but Green insisted that these lessons are essential. As long as you’re being challenged and are aware of the takeaways, no experience is a bad experience.
“Being a door-to-door salesman at a very young age gave me the ability to not be afraid to ask people for their business and to accept rejection. Honestly, I was too young to know the difference. Of course, nobody loves being rejected, but because I was so young I quickly came to realize that it is just part of the business or job,” Green explained.
“Being a paperboy was very helpful in shaping me,” he continued. “I learned what it meant to deliver great customer service, build relationships, upsell (take a Sunday-only customer and make them a daily customer) and, most of all, manage school while getting up early to deliver my daily papers. To me, getting a head start on everyone while others are sleeping has paid me huge benefits. My newspaper jobs taught me how to be responsible. No excuses.”
Building Something Great Means First Building Things That Aren’t So Great
When you’re young, it’s easy to assume that the first pursuit you sink your teeth into will be a huge success. But the truth is, it’s often not — and sometimes neither is your second or third or even seventeenth attempt. Building something that is truly successful takes time and patience. It takes a willingness to pivot and adjust. And most of all, it takes persistence. Nothing worth having comes easily.
“My entire business career and all of my successes have been the result of a series of pivots. When something isn’t working, I pivot,” Green said.
“I think the worst thing someone can do is be so afraid of change that they won’t shift, usually out of the fear of being perceived as a failure. I could write a whole book on mistakes — mistakes I’ve made, and mistakes I’ve watched others make. But I live by an old saying: ‘Failure is inevitable. If you show me someone who said they’ve never failed, I’ll show you someone who hasn’t done very much in life.’”
Move Quickly But Intelligently
Finally, Green pointed out that one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is when loyalty clouds their judgment — whether it is loyalty to people who are under performing, or even loyalty to old technology and being unwilling to keep up with current trends.
“If you want to be disruptive, you have to be able to spot shifting trends in your industry,” Green said. “That’s what gives you a big advantage over your competitors. And in order to do that, you have to stay up to speed on your own. You have to be knowledgeable about your industry, as well as what other parallel industries are doing.”
This means investing time in learning what you don’t know.
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