About 6 months ago, I was presented with a business idea created by a company out of Rochester, New York, called YEA! (Young Entrepreneurs Academy). The company was in the process of launching the program, across the country, to communities and their middle and high schools. The concept of YEA! is pretty simple, but strong. Take a 30 week course, break it into three, 10 week sessions, add in 20-30 middle and high school students, teach them the fundamentals of starting a business, pitching said business for funding, and ultimately running the business and you have YEA!. Obviously, I’m leaving out all the gory, but REALLY fun details, like helping the students and their companies develop business plans, conduct market research, pitch those plans to a panel of volunteer investors, and then launch their business, using community donated money and awarded by the investor panel, as real, legal entities in the world. I could go on and on about the program, because it really is a cool concept and I can only wish that I would have had something like this when I was younger, but alas, you can read more about YEA! at www.yeausa.org.
As I started by telling you, I was presented with the opportunity to be the third and final YEA! instructor for our community, every Tuesday night, for 10 weeks to help these young students take their newly created businesses to the next level and launch them for the world to see, follow, enjoy, and support. At the time, it seemed like a fun way to ‘get my groove back’ and would hopefully give me a small shot of ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ to start the spring off right. The first two phases had already ended, and luckily, the students had the benefit of Mike Bowers, one of the best ‘planners’ I have ever worked with, as the outgoing instructor to get them ready for their investor funding pitches…and, will probably be even more of a wild ride than investment capital, my ‘wisdom’. The saving grace for everyone is that the final 10 weeks that I will be instructing will be what I am best at and what I truly love more than any other aspect of business, the taking care of business, getting things done, doing, launching, selling, or as I refer to it, the executing phase.
I figured that since I went into this hoping to not only help others, but also grow personally, it would probably set up wonderfully for anyone else who is also interested in constant business growth and improvement to follow along with me (and chime in, please)! I can’t swear that each Tuesday I’ll learn 1, 2, or 10 lessons, because this is a very fluid environment and some will present more re-education than others, I’m sure. What I can promise is that as I ‘help’ these students to become heroes for their own businesses in the dog-eat-dog world of startups and entrepreneurship, I’ll be working my hardest to find learning lessons the students teach me and then sharing them with you.
Lesson 1: The Execution Phase is not for the Weary
I arrived Tuesday (4/13/16) night not really completely sure what to expect. A week earlier, I had just finished seeing the students for the first time, the night of what they had been preparing the last 20 weeks for, the investor funding pitch. The investor pitch was where they took a well-tested and thought out business plan and asked investors for real money to continue their ride in entrepreneurship. During those pitches, the student owners were well spoken, composed, and disciplined. I knew however, that they had been built and trained like that on purpose. After all, failing to plan is planning to fail. But, as has been the essence of my business life, plans and ideas are the easy part, it’s how you actually execute and refine those plans in the heat of battle that will determine your fate.
Snap back to last night…the well-oiled machines I had watched from a week before dragged into class like beaten dogs. Perhaps it was the mental exhaustion from the previous week’s pitch, but these are teens and tweens, their energy should be running circles around me, someone twice or even three times their age, right?
I did my best to get them ready for the excitement they were about to experience and the rigors, endure. The thrill of the hunt. Knowing your life (your businesses’, at least) is on the line every day. Understanding that one wrong step could result in a free fall back to start. Most of all though, the magic (and there really is no other way to describe it), of watching something that YOU created come to life. You get to be Geppetto to your businesses’ Pinocchio, as all sorts of various Gemini Cricket’s, Lampwick’s, Monstro’s, and of course, Stromboli’s of the world try to impact the life of your new ‘real boy’.
They weren’t biting though…and I was really trying. Ultimately, after a very slow start, a few more adventurous of the owners started warming and opening up to the concepts, it just took time for them to comprehend that the days of slow and steady book learning and I dotting and t crossing planning sessions were over. We were in the realm of doing or not-doing, where life tends to be much less forgiving than our education. Eventually, as everyone started seeing concepts that were familiar and that they would encounter on a more regular basis, I could see the wheels begin turning.
Toward the end of our first session (only about 3 hours of me doing my best Mickey to their Rocky impression) as everyone was starting to turn back into the confident, energetic, and amazing students I had been exposed to a week ago, I jokingly asked if they had skipped breakfast, forgotten their Red Bull, or whether they were sick. Everyone smirked, but oddly, just about everyone chimed in at least one or two reasons for it…an early day at school, the comedown from the previous week’s presentation, up late studying for a test the following day, after school sports activities, and more.
I did my best to roll my eyes and give them the ‘you’re killing me & shaking my head’ reactions they would recognize, but the underlying lesson slapped me in the face. When it comes to executing, there will always be 1000 reasons why you ‘can’t’ do something and most of them will be legitimate excuses…. The issue with excuses though, is that they end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Slow starts can easily turn into catching up middles and ultimately falling flat finishes. As sure as life, death, and taxes are givens, life will present obstacles. It’s 100% our responsibility to determine whether to react to those obstacles with ‘reasons’ or with ‘grit’ and ‘execution.’
If the mental and physical wear and tear of life can drain these vibrant, energetic, youthful, AMAZING, students, imagine what it can do to the rest of us!
Even though I like to believe that I come to battle every day fully ready, I realize that I don’t. There are days where I find a reason to only give it 50%…late night traveling, family issues, money issues, teammate issues, product issues, whatever, it happens to even those of us who thrive in the heat of battle. If that happens to the luckiest among us, what happens to the rest of ‘us’? I can only imagine if I had a boss, coworker, or company culture that contributed as well. I need to remind myself each moment of every day that my best years are upon me and I need to insure I cannot take a play off or have a slow day. I need to remember that while I’m staying down, even for a few extra moments, my opportunity becomes more difficult to accomplish. While remembering that in itself will not insure success, it will give me, and my teammates around me, the ability to take my best shot.
As the African Proverb states: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you had better be running.”
Lesson 2: Where Once I was Blind, Now I Can See
One of the most beautiful things about being around kids, and 100% why I signed up to be part of this program, is that through their eyes, the world has infinite possibility. The only thing they are inhibited by is their own imagination. Over the past 20 weeks, these students have used that wonderful outlook, free of reasons why something ‘can’t’ be done, to create something that they love and they are passionate about. The future IT leaders have created super computer gaming machines, the engineers, trebuchet learning and assembly blocks, the teachers and administrators, DIY science kits and web platforms that partner colleges, students, parents, and guidance counsellors, the all-around go getters, new and innovative storage solutions, imaging distribution models, culinary improvements, merchandising expansions, consumer product innovations, and online purchasing platforms, and of course, the cultural visionaries have created quirky ideas for inanimate pet trends that double as fundraisers for building homes for those in need and websites that promote and strengthen self-perception and beauty through an understanding of self and fashion.
These are not random ‘dreams’. These are visions, ‘seen’ and created by each of the students, using their own imagination and passion, and vetted by some of the best logical business minds that I know. Are there competitors to their ideas? Of course…isn’t there always a Pepsi to Coke, or a Walmart to Target? Will there be tough times ahead? Is there ever not? The days where I experience little to no resistance or obstacles scare me the most as I wonder if I’ve done enough to enact challenge. Will some of these kids have business and life knock them on their butt? Will there be some tears? Probably, but I need to remember that those lessons we learn shape who we are and who we are meant to be. Trying something new, and winning to some degree, even if just a baby step, leads to more steps, more wins, and more new experiences and ideas.
Let me make clear that I’m by no way, shape, or form advocating simply nodding our heads up and down to set anyone up for failure. Quite the opposite. I’m realizing, and I need to continue to realize that if 13, 15, and 17 year olds can build a business from only their vision and passion, put that business through the ringer of reality, and have it come out the other side molded into a viable concept and business for THEIR success, why can’t we do the same? If not with new businesses, because that’s not for everyone, how about just improvements in our daily lives in our jobs and with our families? I need to remember what they’re teaching me.
I’m sure many of you out there experience this daily with your interactions around youths and how they learn, grow, play, and see the world. Their experiences, positive and negative will impact how they live the rest of their lives. If you’ve got any tips for me, I’d love to hear them so I can be more aware of growth opportunities as I encounter them. Please, let me know!!
About Brian Pitzer
Chief Evolution Officer, sales and marketing junkie, family man, and all around heckuva good guy. Daily, Brian is the head of Evolve (www.evolvegrowth.com) a sales execution agency that believes value comes not from ideas, but form ‘doing’. Brian shares his insights on evolving your sales, your company, and (a dash of) yourself. The results are 2 parts unique, 1 part sarcasm, 1 part edgy, and a dash of normalcy. Motto: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” – Walt Disney. Email Brian at: firstname.lastname@example.org