Don’t be an entrepreneur …
That’s the takeaway after hearing the stories of three local business owners in Jacksonville. Yes. If you’re starting a business or developing an idea, people are going to label you anything from the dismissive title of “dreamer” to the hackneyed moniker of “entrepreneur.” But you, the future game changers, must strive to be more.
Learn by example. Take for instance Robin Sorensen, co-founder of Firehouse Subs. Founded in 1994, by the Sorensen brothers, this sub shop is a staple of the Jacksonville food scene (and a lot of the U.S. now). This year, the company is on track to open their one-thousandth restaurant. Another standout is Mark Shaw, founder and president of UltraTech International. Launched in 1993, this company is fueled by innovation. They hold 60-plus patents and work with more than 1,500 distributors in more than 60 countries. Another successful business owner is Ben Davis, founder of Intuition Ale Works. Established in 2010, Intuition was the first Florida craft brewery to can their beers, which are now distributed throughout the state. Soon, Intuition will expand their operation into the downtown area.
So, be a passionate individual.
From the beginning, Robin Sorensen loved to cook. Then, as a teenager, Robin worked in a sandwich shop and found he loved interacting with guests. Making food for people was his forte. Robin let passion be the driver, and at the age of 26, he opened his first sub shop with his brother, Chris.
Ben also wanted to be a chef, but his desire to create taste from lots of flavors led to beer. He began brewing at home during his college days and later worked in the vineyards of Northern California to learn winemaking. He enjoyed the process of making wine, the results of using different grape varieties and the fermentation and aging. It was all very similar to brewing beer. When family brought him back to Jacksonville in 2008, friends suggested he start a brewery, and the idea stuck.
Also, be a problem solver.
Mark Shaw was an economics major when in the early ‘80s he saw a news broadcast about the cleanup of Love Canal, a neighborhood built atop a toxic waste site in the state of New York. Watching leaky steel drums full of chemicals being placed into larger leaky drums, he thought, “I’ll build a drum that doesn’t leak.” To this day, Mark and his company UltraTech continue to look at problems as opportunities for solutions. As Mark puts it, “an inventor doesn’t get frustrated (at a problem). They just think of better way to do it.”
And, be aware of your weaknesses.
Early on, Robin and his brother sought the advice of consultants. It was “expensive, but worth it,” Robin recalled. They were willing to learn and try methods that weren’t their own. When a need arose, they worked to hire a person with the appropriate skillset.
The theme of hiring to one’s weakness is a common thread among these businessmen. Mark noted that more often than not, inventors need a partner to move their idea from concept to execution to market. Ben offered similar advice. “Be willing to swallow your pride,” he said. “Say, ‘I don’t know. I need help.’ You can’t be too proud to ask for help.”
The encouragement to “be more” could go on for several more pages. For example, fiscal responsibility is a key to success. By 2001, Firehouse Subs was debt-free. Or perhaps, becoming more involved in the community. A major goal of Intuition Ale Works is to engage with people through local events and support nonprofits. Oh, and be wise about intellectual property strategies. That last super practical nugget is courtesy of Mark (everyone remembers the Winklevoss twins right?).
Wherever your endeavors take you, recognize that you are more than what you’re inventing or building. “Entrepreneur” is a very one-dimensional way to define you. Don’t sell yourself or your dreams short.