Learning to Be An Entrepreneur

We needed new rugs at our Cambridge location. My company has 50 employees, 2 clinic directors, an office manager in Cambridge, and a COO. Still, with vacations, work schedules, and the fact that I was “going to be in Cambridge anyway” the task of replacing rugs fell to me.

It was supposed to be an easy job. I’d find and order the new rugs online. Click, click, done! …or maybe not. The rugs I purchased looked great in pictures, but two of them, being made of wool, would shed rolled up patches of fuzz whenever someone stepped on them. They needed to be vacuumed hourly, and obviously wouldn’t work in the long run.

Good news though, just 10 blocks down the street was a furniture store that matched our aesthetic. I parked my car 3 blocks away (as close as I could find parking) and negotiated $600 in rugs down to $400.

There are some moments that capture the essence of entrepreneurship. These are typically moments without glory, and that no one ever sees.

For me, my most recent moment was hiking up Massachusetts Avenue, at 7:30 in the evening, struggling to carry two rolled up 5×7 rugs—to my rented Hyundai no less. As an added bonus, three men park their Tesla in front of my Elantra, and step out of their car to go to dinner (I literally laughed at the juxtaposition).

I’d like to say that this was a low moment. But, really, this is a typical moment for the Entrepreneur. Most entrepreneurs I know, even if their title is CEO and have many employees under them, often find themselves completing the most pedantic of tasks as their professional counterparts are being poured the evening’s first bottle of wine.

Books will tell you to calculate how much your time is worth, and to not do any task that is below your pay grade. In theory, this is absolutely accurate, and you do this as much as you possibly can. But the demands of a growing business are ever-expanding and never ceasing. It’s not always possible to find someone to do what you need done, when you need it done. Almost every successful entrepreneur I know stays late, and still rolls up his or her sleeves.

Serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Howard Tullman, in an interview for Inc Magazine explains what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur:

“The answer is that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do all the ugly dirty work that is both an example to the other people and also essential. …I like to think I’m smart. I like to think I’m inventive and everything else, but I know that I work harder than any 3 people that I’ve ever met. And that is the differentiation.”

Can I be an Entrepreneur?

Sometimes people ask me if I think they’re cut out for entrepreneurship. The answer is always “Yes, anyone can do it,” but my question in return is whether they really want it knowing everything that it entails. To say “it’s not easy” would be an understatement: It’s hard. There’s risk. And it’s a lot of work.

There are benefits to entrepreneurship. It’s flexible. It’s creative. You’re your own boss. And, if you do well, it can be financially rewarding. That said, being an employee also has its benefits; work-life balance, being able to leave work at work, less stress, guaranteed compensation, and (for counselors) being able to focus exclusively on the craft of counseling.

A Note on Rugs

Why spend time on something as small as replacing shedding rugs? First, small things create big brand impressions. My friend Fredrick has a keen eye for this. When he visits one of my practices, he’ll point out everything a client might see is wrong, starting with a scratch on the doorknob. “That’s a low quality indicator,” he’ll say, and I’ll make a note to buy a new doorknob.

Also, shedding rugs can send a message to the clinical team that I don’t care about the business or them, or that it’s okay be sub par. Like most practices, our clinicians are in their offices seeing clients all week long. It’s not an easy job and I want to give them basically anything they want that will make them comfortable and love coming to work. New chairs? New computer? New rug? You got it.

This is the glamour-less reality of hands on entrepreneurship. As entrepreneur, you win only when everyone is happy and productive. Your challenge is to create something that benefits the customer (or client), the employee, and that works so well there’s extra to go around. That extra is your profit.