One key lesson I learned from my dad, while growing up in our family business: The value of humility. Never walk past what needs to be done, regardless of how unpleasant or tedious the task.
My dad was a caterer and prominent local merchant. I recall a fancy reception for a judge, attended by all the leaders of our community, when I was a teenager. We were short on waitstaff, and my dad — in his best suit and tie — assumed the role of clearing tables. A court employee saw this, and said to me “your father shouldn’t be doing that, it’s demeaning”. That person didn’t understand entrepreneurship. There is nothing demeaning about doing what is needed. This was a great lesson, and one my wife and I try to impart to our children.
This it is also a principle we; our team and faculty try to impart to our students. Entrepreneurship requires doing things we might not want to do. Why? Because they need to get done or the business will fail. It isn’t that complicated, but too often entrepreneurs think first about outsourcing unpleasant tasks. This is generally a mistake. We should outsource what we cannot do ourselves…not what we don’t want to do. There is a big difference.
Take delivery as an example. I’ve seen many examples of entrepreneurs outsourcing their delivery, which can easily be rationalized as a sound business decision (especially if the items being delivered are heavy and/or labor intensive). Yet, when we place a variable between our companies and our customers…we are adding risk. We are also missing what marketing professors call “touch points”. That is, an opportunity to connect with a customer and build loyalty. You want as many touch-points as possible.
Bottom line: If we want to own a business, we cannot expect others to run it. We cannot walk past what needs to be done. My family’s business lasted nearly 63 years, until my dad’s retirement for health reasons in 1996. It was started in 1933. Fewer than 1-in-10,000 businesses last over 50 years. Why did my family beat-the-odds for so long? We had good products and good service, but lots of companies that failed during those 63 years had good products and service. The need for good products and service is self-evident. I believe what differentiated us was humility. Every job and every task was viewed as important, and nobody saw what need to be done as beneath them.
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