Posts filed under Deep Thoughts

A LESSON FROM ONE OF HISTORY'S GREATEST

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Arguably, one of WWII's greatest heroes was Winston Churchill. He is immortalized with many famous quotes but the most important one for me in my life of entrepreneurship has been:

“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Life in general and entrepreneurship in particular is fraught with challenges. We, who live and die on every decision we make to determine the course of our livelihoods through self-enterprise, are particularly vulnerable to the slings and arrows of our detractors. Not only must we constantly face the challenges of creating a venture from scratch from our own passion and ingenuity but we must also secure financing and sustain our dreams through the life of that creation.

Along the way, our heels are nipped by the naysayers and by the "dogs" that are ill-equipped to do much more than whine and remain merely irritants in the scope of things, belittling the entrepreneur's vision and doing anything in their power to rain on our parade. Through all, we as entrepreneurs owe it to our families, our supporters, and most of all ourselves, to embrace Churchill's credo to "Never give in."

Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Deep Thoughts.

MEMORIAL DAY IS MUCH MORE THAN FAMILY PICNICS

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As I sit before my computer on the porch overlooking the beautiful hills and forests of my part-time home in California (I live in Ethiopia most of the time) I am moved by the freedom to conduct business and live a life far away from the strife many others face across the world. My experience of moving to Africa was quite a revelation and I'm so thankful to have served as a humanitarian volunteer in that peaceful and safe capitalist democracy, while the rest of Africa seemed to explode with murderous conflicts each passing day. Truly, Ethiopia is like an oasis on the African Continent, as the USA is an oasis on Earth.

The reason I can happily pound out my thoughts of free expression and even conduct worldwide commerce on my laptop while sipping my morning coffee on the porch of my dear friend's multi-million dollar mansion is because of the brave souls of the US military that gave their very lives to protect the freedom that I and so many generations of other Americans enjoy but, regrettably, often take for granted.

My grandfather, Peter Senior, served in WWI. My father, Peter Junior, served in the Pacific battlegrounds and until he passed away a little under two years ago, was one of the last remaining combatants who stormed Iwo Jima and precipitated the defeat of Imperial Japan. My dear father is featured, along with a half dozen other Iwo Jima veterans, each anniversary of that immortal battle on the Discovery Channel in a feature entitled, "Going Back." Watch it if you can. It's the "real deal."

I served my country as a US Army infantry soldier at the age of 17 at the end of Viet Nam and while I was blessed not to have gone overseas, I lost many fine young fellow soldiers to that infamous war. We, as Americans and indeed the entire world, owe a debt of gratitude for every single American life lost in the preservation of Freedom that marks America as the one true Superpower and the Forever Guardian of the Free World.

As you all enjoy a peaceful and fun filled Memorial Day weekend gathering with your loved ones, take a moment and bow your heads for the brave souls that gave their lives for the Freedom we all enjoy as Americans.

God bless America.

 

Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Family, Deep Thoughts.

FAMILY, WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT IN THE END

Last weekend, my two daughters and I trekked from Phoenix to Santa Barbara to attend a family reunion for the celebration of my father's 85th birthday. Reaching that milestone is noteworthy enough but the gathering had far more meaning for me.

I grew up the eldest son in a proud and achievement-oriented New England family. For many reasons, each of the three sons and one daughter took very different life and career paths and I was the proverbial "black sheep" of the Burns clan. As time and distance grew, the times for family gatherings became less frequent and often, by either situation or choice, I was not included. My daughters took offense at that and even my former wife tried to help mend fences on my behalf but was met with a stone wall of resistance.

You see, I just didn't quite fit into the whole "family dynasty" thing. It wasn't that I was not very proud of who my family was or what they had achieved in life, it's just that I wasn't part of that life, since I left home on my own journey at 17 years old.

Great success was mine at a very early age. I counted myself a millionaire at the tender age of 22. My brothers and sister were just finishing college at that age, preparing to enter their respective fields. The distance between us as siblings grew wider as I flitted around from one farflung business to another and reaped the success of entrepreneurial freedom. My siblings climbed their respective corporate ladders, married and had families. The occasions of sharing time together became less and less frequent.

Along my journey, I had lost my way. Money and power replaced my responsibilities of family and conscience. My marriage collapsed, through no fault of my long suffering wife and my mother died way too early at the same time I got divorced. What relationship threads I did have with my siblings vanished, or were never there in the first place. Instead of being the undisputed leader of the pack, my two younger brothers replaced me and reached the pinnacle of success in their respective fields and my sister had married well and had a large and successful family of her own.

To add insult to injury, my now former wife packed up my two beautiful daughters and moved across the country from our winter home on Sanibel Island to the desert of Phoenix while I was out of town with yet another of my "flavors of the week." I returmed from that vacation to discover that everything that I had owned - houses, businesses, autos, furniture and even clothing, was gone. The saddest revelation of all was that I knew that I deserved it and that I had nothing left to do but to start over.

The next 14 years were spent moving out of my comfort level of an upper-crust East Coast mentality and embracing the "Wild West," first landing in Denver, courtesy of an old Harvard classmate, then to Las Vegas and finally to Phoenix around 10 years ago. To say that I started over from scratch at each turn is a gross understatement. Landing in Phoenix just months before 9/11, I arrived with only $200 to my name and through a series of fortunate events, moved from renting someone's 500 sq. ft. guest cottage to buying a grand manor house of 12,000 sq. ft. (circa 1929) at the venerable Phoenix Country Club in a matter of six months. But that's another story.

In any case, through a series of skillful and mostly lucky business moves, I quickly reclaimed my legacy as a "serial entrepreneur" and in no time was back to my former grandiose lifestyle, driving a Rolls convertible and entertaining the rich and famous at my newly acquired estate. My father, newly arrived from California, moved into the main house with me, much to my siblings' chagrin. It seems I was a "bad influence" on my dear old dad. Oh well, the black sheep is always the black sheep.

That "Hugh Hefner" adventure lasted 8 months until my real estate partner's deception of diverting the mortgage payments caught up with him and the bank took back the house, the Rolls, the antiques, everything. Oh well, on to the next chapter. I ended up in the email marketing business and made some great cash. Next, I moved into the magazine business, pioneering the "insertazine" concept and then started the area's first "Entertainment Card."

I bounced around from venture to venture until I was moved to take my two young daughters on the greatest adventure of all, a pilgrimage to Medjugorge, a tiny village in what was once Yugoslavia and is now in the country of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Along the way, I had returned to my roots of Catholicism and this pilgrimage completely turned my life around.

I returned from this fateful trip and decided to teach school, landing a pro-bono adjunct gig at my daughter's school at Barrett Honors College at ASU. That precipitated the beginning of Club Entrepreneur; the teaching evolved into my starting the country's first College of Entrepreneurship at Grand Canyon University, I launched the eFactory, (CEO's predecessor) and started a number of new businesses.

Step by step and most importantly, I became closer to my children, reunited with my father, became best friends with my former wife and as of my father's 85th celebration in Santa Barbara a couple of weeks ago, am happy to say that I'm even making some progress building back my relationship with my siblings.

Life is a journey and really can and does come full circle, which I dearly hope happens with my family. Because that's what life's all about, family.

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Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Family, Personal History, Deep Thoughts.

LIFE AS AN ENTREPRENEUR NEED NOT BE LONELY

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I know all about writing countless emails, after doing the due diligence on a project, reaching out to potential team members and financiers and hearing nothing back. I know all about the thankless hours spent brainstorming over $5 lattes at coffee shops with prospective strategic partners and teammates and going back home feeling drained and empty. I know all about sitting at my home office computer or laptop outside on the porch and wondering why I'm the only one that seems to be working on a myriad of projects while everyone else is sleeping, out entertaining or even better yet, on vacation. Vacation(!) what's that like, I continually ask myself???

The path of the individual that forges his own path in entrepreneurship is a daunting one. There are no bi-monthly paychecks, health insurance benefits or car allowances. There are no "paid lunch hours" or sick days or anything else that 99% of working Americans enjoy every day. Now, of course, that has changed drastically over the devastating economic decline over the past several years but let's face it there are still 90% of Americans that are gainfully employed somewhere.

Entrepreneurs have to hire themselves. They have to create the jobs within their own organization that have to provide a product or service and then sell them for more than they had to spend to create them. Then, and only then, can the entrepreneur get paid, often at rates that are less than minimum wage. Why do we go through the brain strain and Herculean effort to do this? Because it's in our blood and as a true blue entrepreneur, one just can't be satisfied doing anything else.

Still, it is lonely out there, often holed up in a home office, away from everyone else as we toil away at bringing a new idea to market or in battles to prevent our fledgling businesses from going extinct. The good news is that there are others out there that are facing the same challenges or have done so and won the good fight. They are your fellow entrepreneurs and "corporate refugees" seeking a piece of the American Dream - business ownership.

Organizations abound for the business owner and entrepreneur. Most are specific to the industry or level of experience and size of the entrepreneur and their enterprise. As the founder of one such organization, Club Entrepreneur (www.clubeoffice.com), I can attest firsthand to what a refuge and support network we have been to literally thousands of Phoenix area business owners and entrepreneurs.

Reach out and participate with others with the same dreams and aspirations that you have. Ask them the hard questions and seek out their advice. Offer your own hard-earned knowledge to others that you can help. It's all about "Open Source Entrepreneurship," that is, sharing the three types of capital: Knowledge Capital - where you may know something specific that could help another and share it; Relationship Capital - where you have a contact that can solve another's problem or energize their business; and Capital - where you have a source or alternate financing angle that can save the day for a struggling entrepreneur.

That's what it's all about, my friends. Share the struggles. Share the solutions. Most of all, share yourselves by becoming involved, reaching out and participating with your fellow entrepreneurs. We are all that America has left to correct the terrible position Big Business, Big Banks and Big Government has left us in. Join forces with your fellow entrepreneurs, the founders and backbone of the United States and take America back and right the course. It's your destiny and you need to seize it.

Come join us at Club Entrepreneur and learn what a difference you can all make!
 

Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Deep Thoughts, Entrepreneurs.

PLAY TO YOUR OWN "GENIUS"

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As a "pureblood" entrepreneur, I'm often asked how do I put complicated deals together so quickly when others look at the same line-up of components and facts and don't recognize any discernible pattern, let alone see the opportunity to profit. The simple answer is that I play to my "genius," that is, I do what comes naturally, which happens to be recognizing patterns, putting disparate pieces together and monetizing that effort.

We all have our God-given talents, be it in the creative zone of developing graphically beautiful web sites, figuring out how to organize members of an entrepreneurial team (equivalent to herding cats) or developing tech solutions and financial models for any kind of business. Entrepreneurs, being the "lone wolves" that they often are, sometimes forget the importance of collaborating with a team with complimentary skills sets, often making the effort of moving forward, stronger, quicker and better.

Doing business well is all about how one gets along with other people. If one can respect another's talents and work together to achieve a common goal, both win. When a team of like-minded entrepreneurs learns to successfully delegate responsibilities and creates a system of accountability and measurement towards reaching that common goal, magic happens.

The trick is to not only "play to your own genius," but allow others to do the same.

Recently, the creators of our successful StartUp Now workshops, Jim and Sonia Graham, and I had a meeting to see how we might improve upon what we had started with the workshops. Out of the four sessions to date, there were four new businesses started, which is wonderful. However, only a handful of each of the four groups decided to participate in each new business launch, leaving most of each group on their own.

I offered to use my "genius" of recognizing opportunity in a free 45 minute session with any of the StartUp Now group members that wanted to explore the possibilities of starting their own new business, outside of their group, or perhaps move into one of our eFactory business opportunities. I reasoned that given a focused session one-on-one with the erstwhile entrepreneur, I could recognize that individual's passion and motivations, fashioning an opportunity for them on the spot. At least that's the plan and if members from the upcoming April 30th StartUp Now workshop take me up on it, we'll end up having more than one business started from each workshop from now on.

Here's another tip - not everything works the first time you try it. Practice does make perfect and we learn more from what doesn't work than what does and continue to improve with each lesson learned. Now, I don't know how many members of our upcoming StartUp Now workshops will take me up on my offer to fast track them into self-employment but I'm a big believer in "nothing ventured, nothing gained," so if you happen to be in our April 30th or subsequent StartUp Now workshops and don't want to join the group business effort, take a shot and schedule a talk with me. You never know what can result from one simple conversation and maybe you'll find your own "genius" too.
 

Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Deep Thoughts, Entrepreneurs.

SCHADENFREUDE

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Over the years, I've been the occasional target of the German term "schadenfreude."

According to Wikipedia:

"A New York Times article in 2002 cited a number of scientific studies of schadenfreude, which it defined as "delighting in others' misfortune." Many such studies are based on social comparison theory, the idea that when people around us have bad luck, we look better to ourselves. Other researchers have found that people with low self-esteem are more likely to feel schadenfreude than are people who have high self-esteem.

A 2006 experiment suggests that men, but not women, enjoy seeing bad people suffer. The study was designed to measure empathy, by watching which brain centers are stimulated when subjects inside an fMRI observe someone experiencing physical pain. Researchers expected that the brain's empathy center would show more stimulation when those seen as good got an electric shock than they would if the shock was given to someone the subject had reason to consider bad. This was indeed the case, but for male subjects the brain's pleasure centers also lit up when someone else got a shock that the male thought was well-deserved.[22]

Brain-scanning studies show that schadenfreude is correlated with envy. Strong feelings of envy activated physical pain nodes in the brain's dorsal anterior cingulate cortex; the brain's reward centers, such as the ventral striatum, were activated by news that the people envied had suffered misfortune. The magnitude of the brain's schadenfreude response could even be predicted from the strength of the previous envy response.[23][24]"

When you're an entrepreneur, you're really the "warrior of the business world." There isn't a net to catch you if you plummet from your attempts at self reliance in your own venture. If you try something and you fail, there are those around you that will forever chant "I told you so, I told you so." If you surpass all odds and not only survive but thrive in your venture, there are those envious souls that sit in the dark crevasses just waiting for you to fail at your next juncture.

After three and a half decades of starting and running my own companies, well over a hundred of them, I've definitely soared to great heights as well as crashed and burned. Each event brought out the detractors, the naysayers and the cowards that stay in the shadows with their "Anonymous" comments directed to anyone that will listen.

Well, I say to all those who cast stones, "show yourself and let's see how perfect you are". Where are your trimphs and successes and better yet, what were your failures? The odds are you are pitifully living lives of "quiet desparation," as Henry David Thoreau described. You "Anonymous" detractors, who haven't the stones to identify yourselves when you spit out your vile detractions are cowards who probably never moved from the comfort of your insignificant little 9-5 jobs with your insignificant little lives.

You are the ones to be pitied. I'll continue to take chances and risk failure rather than "play it safe" by living in the darkness of your lame practice of schadenfreude.

Drive on.

Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Deep Thoughts.

THE LOST ART OF GRATITUDE

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We're all guilty of it, not being thankful or even acknowledging the help we are given from another. Now, I'm not advocating the constant reaffirming of another's good deed into perpetuity but when a glaring omission just stared me in the face on another's blog entry yesterday I must admit, I was more than a little annoyed. 

Five years now, after a random coffee break at Starbuck's with a friend (I thought), we discussed the plight of entrepreneurship in the state of Arizona. Each of us lamented the fact that while there were efforts in several individual silos, there was virtually zero collaboration and as a result, Arizona lagged far behind almost everywhere else in the country as far as a unified entrepreneurial effort was concerned.

My friend had been involved in helping start-ups and had actually founded several successful businesses over the 40 years she had been living in Phoenix. I was a relative newcomer to the area but in the five years preceeding, I had managed to start half a dozen businesses, sparked the entrepreneurial movement at ASU through my program of four classes at Barrett Honors College and even founded the first accredited College of Entrepreneurship at Grand Canyon University, for starters.

We both agreed that the answer to unifying the various entrepreneurial forces would be to host a consortium or a conference of sorts. Thus, the "First Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference" was born!

Both my friend and I went to work marshaling resources. I reserved the Ritz to host the Conference for several thousand dollars on my credit card to reserve the date. Next, I started to bring in sponsors like the Phoenix Business Journal, Jim Riggs of Shea Commercial and a host of others. The operations aspect and roster of workshop speakers, except for the main attraction, was left to my friend to execute. I bagged superstar Michael Gerber to be our keynote speaker, as well as the most prominent and financially lucrative sponsor, Grand Canyon University.

Next, we started the campaign to bring in attendees, who would pay a fee to attend the many workshops that my friend planned. Others were recruited to help the Conference from a logistics standpoint. I left the minutia in their capable hands. However, when it came to filling the place and footing the bill, all eyes looked to me. When the dust cleared, I had reached into my pocket to the tune of $12,000 and personally covered the cost of 150 attendees out of a total of around 450 that attended our November 2006 function.

To add to my contributions, I recruited key student members of Club Entrepreneur to perform much of the "gut work" to make the first Conference run smoothly. With my connections at Thunderbird, I was able to bring 20 Afghani women in full tribal wear, who were members of Barbara Barrett's pilot program to educate Afghani war widows into entrepreneurship. I also brought the Hollywood premier of "Bella, The Movie" to the Ritz, with the stars in attendance, for a presentation of the Big Screen movie in one of the rooms decked out as a movie theater, complete with snacks and popcorn! That cost me a few more grand, which I happily forked over for the good of the Conference.

In any case, the "First Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference" was a smashing success and its leaders were excited to continue this event in forthcoming years. During the day long Conference, I noticed that the only so-called Arizona entrepreneurial group that was not in attendance was EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) aka YEO or the Young Entrepreneurs Organization, of which I was a founding member back in 1987. I'd been having some pushback from that organization's executive members, ever since I had moved to AZ and joned the local chapter. It seems that my initiatives in entrepreneurship, which I managed with no help from EO, had basically eclipsed their nearly decade old efforts in the State. So they boycotted the conference to basically shun me. Well, let me tell you what resulted from that slight.

At the Conference, I looked around and saw the numbers of bright and eager Club Entrepreneur members from ASU that were helping out. I decided then and there to expand Club E to the general populace. With my ASU members gathered around me, we decided to hold our first open event in February, a couple or three months from then. The gang got to work and at the February 2007 event at the now defunct Tempe restaurant , Grilled Expeditions, we packed the house with over 200 entrepreneurs from every age and business stage. The press was there and Club Entrepreneur was born. In a few short months, Club E's membership overtook the local EO chapter's membership tenfold and today, less than four years from it's launch, Club Entrepreneur's Phoenix-area membership rivals the entire world membership of EO, which has been has been in existance for 23 years! Needless to say, I never looked back, left EO in the dust and more than a few former EO members are now part of Club E.

So, to get back to the point of this blog, gratitude, or the lack thereof. The 2nd Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference became a different animal when my friend decided to take over the Conference herself and make the thrust of that event tech-related only. Same with the 3rd and 4th year events and I'm sorry to say, they bombed, compared to the first Conference. Now, I'm not going to claim that without my spirit, connections and financial backing, the subsequent Conferences were a mere shadow of the first one in which I staked but...

However, I politely withdrew from anything to do with the Conference after the first year, mostly because of the antipathy directed towards me from other Conference do-nothing, busy-bees. I didn't have time anyway, as I was focusing on Club E and my other entreprenerial initiatives. I kept my distance and let the "glory" remain with the others.

Well, yesterday, a blog from my "friend" got my "Irish" up. The subject was the upcoming 5th Annual Entrepreneurship Conference, with flattering, nearly obsequious mentions of everyone that had made the Conference series possible, .except for yours truly. That's right, not one mention of the man that co-founded the event five years earlier, who was the largest financial contributor, not to mention the provider of 150 attendees plus the lead speaker and most, if not all of the paid sponsorships....me.

The blog went on to whine that only 100 attendees had registered so far, the event was coming up right away and blah, blah, blah. I pack 'em in my events every month, over 200 last Wednesday, in fact. My weekly round tables and "Fridays at 5" social hours for Club E regularly enjoy 40, 50, 60 and sometimes as many as 80 attendees.

So, the "5th Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference" will come and go soon and I expect the memories of this event will fade as fast as my "friends" at the 1st Conference "forgot" my involvement in the project's even getting started in the first place.

Gratitude, it really is fleeting.

Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Deep Thoughts, Personal History.