Taking the leap to being an entrepreneur is rewarding, but it is not for everyone.
I recently attended an entrepreneur symposium at my alma mater, Denison University, where I had the opportunity to connect with others who jumped at the chance to start their own business.
One of these contacts was Christian Elliott, the owner and president of Ohio Soil Recycling. He was kind enough to share some insights into his experience as an entrepreneur.
What prompted you to become an entrepreneur, and how do you feel about that decision today?
To be honest I think a big part of it was that I have never been one who liked to be told what to do or how to do it! I’ve always enjoyed the process of figuring things out for myself.
Interestingly, I’ve always been involved in team sports as a player and coach and I think everyone that has associated with me in those settings would say I am a great team player. I would not say that I am not a team player when it comes to business, but I do like to have that independent control that comes with being an entrepreneur/owner.
I would also say that once I got my career going, in the case of both businesses I now own, I first worked for someone else doing the same thing and saw the amount of money being made off my efforts. I definitely saw no reason I should be making that money for someone else when I could do it myself!
What’s surprised you most about the decision, or what’s been the biggest learning from the move?
I think the biggest surprise to me was just how much extra work there is outside of the core of the business that led me to go out on my own in the first place. Starting your own business means wearing a lot of different hats and not just doing the work at the core of the business that drew you to it in the first place.
In my case the core work is/was environmental consulting and remediation. But once I started my own firm and company, I was suddenly in charge of marketing, finance, HR, etc. I learned very quickly that as a science guy I needed a boost in my knowledge of all the other facets of owning a business. That led to me getting my MBA pretty early on in my entrepreneurial career.
What is the best advice you’ve received and who gave it to you?
Due to the up front expense of building out my soil remediation facility I had to have a partner in starting that business. One of my clients was near retirement and was ready to pass his business on to his sons but wanted to invest and stay loosely involved in something ended up being a great business partner and mentor.
One of his favorite sayings that has always stuck with me and proved to be true so many times was, “Opportunity favors the prepared mind.” To me this meant planning ahead, being ready to seize opportunities as they came, and having the courage to jump in fully when one pops up.
Given everything going on in the world at the moment, what advice would you give people considering starting a business or who recently started a business?
I think if you dwell too much on it, you can always come up with reasons why NOW is not the best time to start a business. If you go with that mindset you will never pull the trigger. Certainly the current pandemic is a big reason to say now is not the right time, and it does of course deserve much consideration and analysis, but I would also say that one needs to ask themselves if it is a truly legit reason to avoid doing a startup at the moment or if it is just one of the many reasons that could be found for not going for it if you let all the “what-if’s” get to you.
I would also recommend that in the current economic climate making sure you have a good plan for managing cash flow early on is key. From my experience a lot of really good startups fail, even though they are great propositions with a lot of future upside, because they run out of cash in the startup phase and never get over that initial hump. As we enter a recession due to Covid-19 a good plan for cash flow management is probably even more critical than usual.
If you had a chance to redo your career to date, would you do it the same, or what would you differently?
I would assume I am not the only entrepreneur to say this, but the biggest thing I would do differently is take more chances, and thus likely fail more, earlier on in my career. I wish I would have embraced even more the limited amount if material things, cash, etc. that you actually need when you are young.
The weight of getting older and having a family can definitely curb an entrepreneur’s appetite for taking on new things and the associated risk when they are considering college savings, keeping their family living in a comfortable fashion, etc. All of those risks are a lot easier taken at 25 versus 45!