If you dream of launching a startup because it will be a thrilling experience, you are not wrong but you should keep you keep your job instead. If you think launching startups (plural) is what you want to do with your life, then you might be a genuine entrepreneur, at least according to Bob Schlegelwho with his wife, Myrna, has been starting and building businesses for 40 years.
Bob Schlegel and Myrna Schlegel are natives of a small farming community in Ontario, Canada. They launched their first family business, PeopleCare Heritage Centers, and grew it to 15 facilities in the US and Canada. Later, Schlegel and a partner launched Pavestone Company, which became a leading supplier of concrete landscaping products. The Schlegels sold both businesses but are still involved in various enterprises and philanthropic endeavors.
Bob Schlegel has written a new book, Angels and Entrepreneurs: A Lifestyle Formula for Starting Your Own Business and Riding the Rollercoaster of Entrepreneurship to share what he has learned about what is really required to succeed as an entrepreneur and why good business sense is just one ingredient. We asked him to elaborate in this interview.
GD: You say there are five foundational pillars necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur. What are they?
Bob Schlegel: I like to refer to the required Energy and Enthusiasm attributes of most entrepreneurs as my PEP acronym:
Persistence – This is key for every entrepreneur. You’re going to get knocked down a lot and you have to keep getting up, make adjustments and try again and again!
Education – The more education the better – both from formal training and experiential work in your trade or profession.
Entrepreneurial Drive – You must have a drive to provide products or service, call your own shots building an enterprise and create a foundation for your family and community.
Passion – When you love what you’re doing, you’ll enjoy it so much that you’ll never “work” another day in your life.
Partnerships with a Purpose – You’ll need to build strong and mutually rewarding relationships with all your stakeholders, family, suppliers and customers. It’s not a job, it’s your life.
These five pillars add up to an exciting purpose and give you the PEP to jump out of bed every morning.
GD: How important is it for business leaders to define their values and principles? Isn’t it just enough to know how to turn a profit?
Bob Schlegel: I think it’s very important to establish your company’s vision and mission in a written statement with your team. It sets the tone and spirit of your service to customers and the way of working with each other. It’s also leads to more successful results.
GD: We generally think of entrepreneurs as people who start with an idea and build a business. Are you still an entrepreneur if you buy a business instead of starting from scratch?
Bob Schlegel: Absolutely. The only difference is timing – the business stage you’re starting from. It’s obviously easier but usually more costly to buy than to embark on a startup. When you buy you’ll usually need to make a big upfront payment, but you can hit the ground running with customers, suppliers and operating systems that you can gradually improve on. Many startups are built on a shoestring budget and can take years to build. One of my startups took 14 years to get nicely profitable, but shortly after was doubling every 2 or 3 years.
GD: Is it smarter to ignore your competition (within reason) to focus on your own business? How familiar should a business owner be with their competitors?
Bob Schlegel: Yes, of course you’ll need to focus on your own business first, but you’ll need to know what the competition is doing so you can provide something better (quality, service or price) to attract your own customers. Your business marketing team will need to be very aware of how your products or service compare to what’s available in the marketplace. You’re going to want to know everything you can about your competition. The internet has made that so much easier than in the old days.
Also, just because you’re in competition doesn’t mean you have to be enemies. It may seem like a strange concept, but your competition is a type of partner in the sense that they drive you to work harder, think smarter and stay on top of market shifts. I try to take my major competitor to lunch once a year. We face a lot of common issues and discussing them can benefit both our companies. And, you never know if your competitor might be the one who ends up buying your business when you’re ready to retire.
GD:The pandemic might be the ultimate example of what you can’t plan for but can’t avoid dealing with. What is your advice for weathering the inevitable ups and downs of starting and running a business?
Bob Schlegel: Yes, that was a brutal shock and was hard to survive when a whole global economy ground to a halt. On top of the human health scare, it affected the most important thing in every business – cash flow – which killed a lot of businesses, from big ones like Hertz to small family restaurants.
The only thing you can do is be honest with your stakeholders, banks, suppliers, etc. The rend PPP was a lifeline for many business, but also reminded us all about the risks of too much leverage or bank debt.