This Is My House! Using Entrepreneur Characteristics to Improve Your Life

According to Wikepedia an Entrepreneur is a: “Type of personality who is willing to take upon himself/herself a new venture or enterprise and accepts full responsibility for the outcome.” The word comes from an Old French word entreprendre meaning “to undertake.”

There are two interesting facts about the term that seem to make women think it does not commonly describe us:

  • The term is normally capitalized – Entrepreneur – as if it is a title.
  • People typically think of a man when hearing the term; as a matter of fact many of the definitions use the words he, him andhimself and do not include any female pronouns.

Another reality is that Entrepreneurship always involves risk and many women do not give themselves credit for their courage to handle risk. This is ironic, because in certain circumstances a woman will, literally or figuratively, wade into a swamp full of alligators. If you doubt this, then do something to a member of our families. Or question our loyalty to an employer or a cause.

As a woman, getting comfortable with the Entrepreneur inside of you will help you improve all aspects of your life. Honing the Entrepreneur skills you already possess will make you more successful in anything you undertake.

Here are some of the key Entrepreneur characteristics that can enhance the various parts of your life:

Ownership – Whether it is your household, a project, a daily task, a campaign or a business, understand that it belongs to you. Treat it the way you treat anything that you own. Accept the risks, nurture it, protect it, make it look good, enjoy the positives and overcome the negatives. Ownership means you are invested in something and if you are invested you will work for success. If you do not feel that you own it, the outcome will be totally dependent on someone else.

Organized – Organization is in the eyes of the beholder. So use the methods and tools that work best for you and don’t worry if someone else tries to get you to do it their way. But it is vital that you are organized in a manner that helps you accomplish the desired end result and retain your sanity. Being organized usually involves having a plan, having appropriate information and/or tools and having a process that makes sense. For instance: if you are in charge of a silent auction, a process will maximize proceeds and minimize frustration; if you are hoping for a promotion a plan will make you proactive, which increases your chances.

Clearly Defined View of Success – Success is not the same for every person in every situation. An Entrepreneur goes into a venture with a clear definition of what success will be. If you can clearly describe what will be a successful project, day, event, assignment, negotiation, business, etc. you are more likely to attain that success and a sense of fulfillment. If you do not have a defined view of success you will not know it if hits you in the face.

Flexible & Creative – Although you have already been encouraged to be organized, be careful not to be obsessive. No matter how well you have planned and prepared, something outside your control will likely happen that will throw you off course or slow you down. Do not stubbornly stay with your plan or process if it stops working. We are often told to make lemonade when given lemons or to see obstacles as opportunities. That is not always easy. But if you incorporate flexibility and creativity into everyday life you can adapt any plan, process or situation to the current circumstances. Again, less frustration – more success.

Self Disciplined – An Entrepreneur business owner has no one else to blame, no one to make decisions, no one to save the day, no one to make sure she does her job. She can work in her pajamas, she has no boss, she is in charge. But if she has no self-discipline, she soon has no business. Self-discipline is equally important in anything you may undertake. If you are baking goodies for a bake sale you must exercise enough control not to sample too much or you will eat the profits and the evidence will show up on your thighs. When you are working on a project that has a deadline you must be disciplined enough to not wait until the last minute to complete tasks, because something unforeseen will happen.

Convincing – One of the primary philosophical characteristics of Entrepreneurs is belief – in yourself, your ideas, your business, your abilities, etc. The belief is the first step to convincing. Understanding your audience or target is the second step, because understanding means you can identify the benefits for them of participating, supporting, donating, purchasing, using, attending, etc. If you do the first two steps, then convincing will come easy. But convincing is enormously important to reaching a desired outcome.

Asks – A successful Entrepreneur asks. She may be afraid of the answer, but she realizes that she has to ask for the sale, promotion, assignment, donation, information or opportunity. This is one of those places where “no risk, no reward” applies. The response may be negative, but it is usually necessary to know that, if you are to complete something or move on to the next step. Not asking is equivalent to giving up or giving control to someone else. Remember from the original description that an Entrepreneur “accepts full responsibility for the outcome.”

Delegates & Partners – Even though the definition of Entrepreneur is “one who takes responsibility for the outcome,” it would be ridiculous to think that one person can do everything. That can be a difficult acknowledgement for women. Learning when, where and how to delegate or partner is crucial to being successful. But the knowledge is only half the story, doing is the other half. Delegating and partnering provides success on many levels. Triumphantly completing a task, project, event, etc. is one level. Another is sharing the revenue, experience, praise or recognition with someone else. And contributing to the development of an employee, collaborator, child or organization is another. More successes likely to be realized by partnering and delegating are increasing your opportunities, productivity and efficiency. And last, but certainly not least, delegating and partnering helps you use your time, energy, money and brain power wisely and prudently. Entrepreneurs know when to lead and when to follow.

Researches – Knowledge is power. Background provides understanding. Other peoples’ triumphs and mistakes teach lessons. But you cannot benefit from any of these if you do not do research. Research avoids culture faux pas, minimizes costly mistakes, provides competitive ammunition, enhances your assets, strengthens your position and reduces wasted time. How many times have you made a purchase only to find out a few days later that you could have gotten it for less at a different store or website? Have you ever been embarrassed because you made an assumption instead or doing a little reading? Ever felt under or over dressed? A true Entrepreneur prepares to be successful by doing the appropriate research.

Finishes – Making it to the end and recognizing the end are important principles for entrepreneurial living. Our definition stated that an Entrepreneur “accepts full responsibility for the outcome.” Normally, outcome is perceived as the end. However, if you do not reach the end the outcome is likely not what you really wanted. And if you have not clearly identified the outcome you may go past it, thus wasting time, energy, money and maybe reputation. Although this is an important trait, not all people classified as Entrepreneurs are good at finishing. Most of those who rarely finish were placed in the Entrepreneur category by default. These are the individuals who keep starting something new because they have short attention spans, did not think things through before they started or do not deal well with obstacles. They did not function well when working for others, so they became “Entrepreneurs” and started businesses or organizations. Chronically not finishing things is extremely unsatisfying, which may explain their wanderlust and, also, may be the reason for the failure of many businesses and organizations.

Persistent – Sometimes women are not comfortable with persistence because they are afraid they will be called pushy or other uncomplimentary terms. But persistence, and often consistency, is necessary. Everyone has their own agenda; we all have demands on our time, energy and money. So if you are to accomplish your agenda and respond to the demands on you, you must persistently ask, remind, propose, cajole, beg, follow-up and insist. Take this lesson to heart: Just because someone should, doesn’t mean they will. The entrepreneurial way is to take responsibility for the outcome and the responsibility likely includes persistent action.

So look inside and draw out your Entrepreneur characteristics. Nurture and develop them. Apply them to the things you do – big or small. And enjoy the improvement in all the areas of your life.

Doing Deals With the “Big Boys” – Ten Tips For Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs often find themselves in high-stakes negotiations with big, savvy players, with significant negotiating power (referred to herein as “Big Boys”) — whether it be a venture capital firm in connection with a financing or a private equity firm in connection with the sale of the entrepreneur’s business; the situation can indeed be daunting. Below are ten tips for entrepreneurs to help them through this process.

1. Retain a Strong Team. In dealmaking as in business, you are only as good as your team. Accordingly, the first step for the entrepreneur is to retain a strong transaction team — and the quarterback of the team should be an experienced corporate lawyer. Indeed, an experienced corporate lawyer will not only add value to the transaction, but also can help the entrepreneur build-out the team and tailor it to the particular deal (e.g., in an acquisition, a strong tax lawyer is imperative to help structure the deal or in a licensing transaction, a strong IP lawyer is often necessary, etc.). The Big Boys are generally represented by large, aggressive law firms, and the entrepreneur must ensure that his/her team is up to the task.

2. Do Your Diligence. Due diligence is often a critical component to any deal. One form of diligence that is often overlooked, however, is an investigation of the guys on the other side of the table. What’s the reputation of the Big Boy — e.g., is this a venture capital or private equity firm that treats its portfolio companies well or is this a firm that squeezes the little guy? What about the particular individuals with whom you are dealing? What are their reputations? Are they good guys with whom to partner or are they jerks? Indeed, the web is a good starting point for the entrepreneur who needs background information on a particular firm/individual. At a minimum, the entrepreneur should track down other entrepreneurs or CEO’s who have done deals with the guys on the other side of the table and make an informed judgment as to whether they are guys with whom the entrepreneur wants to do business.

3. Create a Competitive Environment. There is nothing that will give the entrepreneur more leverage in connection with any negotiation with a Big Boy than a competitive environment (or the perception of same). Indeed, every investment banker worth his salt understands this simple proposition. Accordingly, a start-up seeking a Series A round financing from a venture capital firm, for example, will clearly be more appealing if such firm learns that other venture capital firms are interested in the start-up. Not only does competition validate a firm’s thinking, but also it appeals to the human nature of the individuals involved. Indeed, everyone wants what he doesn’t have and/or what someone else wants. The entrepreneur will have strong leverage with respect to price and other material terms as competitors are played off of each other and will thus strike the best possible deal. One caveat: as discussed below, it is probably best left to a strong corporate lawyer to play this game on behalf of the entrepreneur; indeed, this strategy must be played carefully and is better-handled by someone with experience.

4. Run the Negotiations Through the Lawyers. The entrepreneur should do what he does best — i.e., build companies — and leave the negotiating to a strong corporate lawyer. Entrepreneurs are generally no match for sophisticated venture capitalists or private equity or corporate development guys who do deals for a living. Accordingly, a smart entrepreneur will stay above the fray and let his corporate lawyer run the deal. The Big Boys may try to do an end-run around the entrepreneur’s lawyer (and may even criticize the lawyer and try to turn the entrepreneur against him), but the entrepreneur should remain disciplined and avoid “side-bar” negotiations with the principal(s) on the other side. This approach is particularly important where the entrepreneur will have an ongoing relationship with the other side post-closing; the goal is thus not to poison that relationship with testy, acrimonious negotiations (i.e., let the lawyers fight it out).

5. Develop a Game Plan. Every deal is different — different players, different negotiating leverage, different risks, different timing — and it is thus critical that the entrepreneur sit down with his transaction team and strategize; in short, he must develop a game plan and then attempt to execute the plan. Indeed, doing deals is no different than any other project: the entrepreneur must think through the issues with a smart, experienced team, set reasonable milestones and then monitor the progress. Rigorous analysis throughout this process is paramount.

6. Be Careful with LOI’s. A letter of intent (an “LOI”) — sometimes referred to as a term sheet or memorandum of understanding — is often executed in connection with all types of deals. The entrepreneur must understand that, depending on the deal and the context, there are different LOI strategies and considerations that must be addressed. For example, in the acquisition context, a selling entrepreneur should try to negotiate all of the material terms of the deal in the LOI when the entrepreneur’s leverage is the strongest; on the other hand, a buying entrepreneur’s main goal with respect to the LOI is merely to lock-up the seller and prohibit it from shopping the deal for a reasonable period of time. Another major concern with respect to LOI’s is that they may be deemed enforceable by a court of law (i.e., be deemed a binding agreement) — despite express language in the LOI to the contrary. The lesson here is simple: an LOI should not be executed without the advice of competent counsel.

7. Check Your Emotions at the Door. Big Boys are masters at taking their emotions out of transactions and being extremely disciplined. Indeed, Big Boys will generally walk from a deal if they get out of their comfort zone (e.g., with respect to the risk profile, price, etc.) — regardless of how much time and money they have expended. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand (particularly those who haven’t had much deal experience), often become emotionally wedded to a particular transaction and are unable to maintain their objectivity the further along they get in the process. Too often, an entrepreneur will fall in love with a particular deal — like the first-time home buyer — which will lead to poor decision-making and risky positions. (“I don’t care if it has termites or there is a cesspool problem, I love this house” becomes “I don’t care if I must personally guarantee all of the reps and warranties without a cap on liability, I love this deal.”) It is critical that the entrepreneur understand this dynamic and address it accordingly.

8. Don’t Blink First. There comes a point in time in just about every deal where both sides have dug into certain positions and the question becomes which side will blink first; e.g., in a venture capital financing, perhaps the issue is control of the board or, in an acquisition, perhaps the issue is carve-outs to the cap on liability. Whatever the issue, the lesson for the entrepreneur is clear (albeit difficult to execute): in order to maintain negotiating leverage and credibility, the entrepreneur should try not to blink first. Indeed, if the entrepreneur has flatly stated that “this issue is a dealbreaker”, but then blinks and nevertheless agrees to go forward with the transaction despite not getting what he asked for, he will have completely undermined his credibility and will have his clock cleaned with respect to any other significant issues. Like poker, if your bluff gets called, it will be difficult to bluff again. Which brings us back to the important tip in #4 above: run the negotiations through an experienced corporate lawyer who does this stuff for a living.

9. Watch-out for the “Good-Cop, Bad-Cop” Routine. Big Boys employ all kinds of negotiating games, and one of their favorites is the “good-cop, bad-cop” routine. The Big Boy, of course, plays the good cop and is smooth, friendly and agreeable and makes the entrepreneur feel like all of his important issues are being taken care of. But then the documents arrive — chock full of bells and whistles and boilerplate provisions designed to protect the Big Boy and often with significant gaps on the deal points. When the Big Boy is questioned as to what’s going on here, the answer, of course, is “it’s my lawyer’s fault” (i.e., the “bad cop”). This game will continue throughout the negotiating process as the Big Boy charms the entrepreneur while his lawyers pound away on every significant issue.

10. Hire an Aggressive Corporate Lawyer to Watch Your Back. As a corporate lawyer at two major New York law firms, I have learned first-hand the importance of watching my clients’ back. Indeed, I have worked on billion-dollar deals where, prior to signing, emotions run high (as discussed above), and a few of the significant risks are minimized or pushed-aside by investment bankers and/or business guys in order to get the deals done. My job, probably more important than anything, is to sober the entrepreneur and lay-out all of the significant legal risks — and then push hard to negotiate appropriate protections. If the deal sours and lawsuits are filed, well-drafted documents become like an insurance policy to the entrepreneur — and what entrepreneur doesn’t have insurance?

How Entrepreneurs Can Benefit From Free Advice

One of the most challenging things about being an entrepreneur is getting the advice you need to move forward. The Internet is full of suggestions, but unless you already know how to separate the wheat from the chaff, you have about as much chance of finding what you need as what will lead you astray. But, that’s no reason to be disheartened, because with a little creative thinking, you can get some of what you need for free.

How can you separate the two? Here are a few suggestions.

1. You need to have very clear ideas about what you’re looking for.

The more vague your questions are, the more abstruse any information will seem to you. If you’re unsure of what you want to discover, then put your uncertainties into the form of questions. Make them as specific as you possibly can. The more precise you make them, the more closely they’ll come to help you solve your problem.

2. Recognize that the best information is not necessarily sold.

It may, and often is; but of itself, whether you pay for information or not is no guarantee that you will get either what you need or that it will be accurate. That means that it could be irrelevant, inaccurate, or both.

3. Consider the source.

It may seem counterintuitive, but many entrepreneurs will gladly talk to you about your business and what you should do next if you’ll just ask them.

On of the most annoying things I recall encountering when I was living the UK was that almost without fail, whenever I ask a question of a “professional” that required his or her expertise, the first words out of his or her mouth were something like, “Who’s going to pay for it?”

I’ve since come to realize that you must give before you can get. That’s not to say that you never sell; but only, that none of us can achieve the business success we desire without the help of others. And those who think they can just take from others without giving anything themselves will eventually find that they come up short.

If the person you talk to is generous with his or her expertise, then you can be reasonably sure that that person is passing along valuable information. It’s only those who cling to what they know for a price who possess very little of value.