The CSUF Entrepreneurship Program bridged the gap between textbook business examples and seeing the real day-to-day human condition of a business owner and operator. It was refreshing to finally get out in the field and begin to immerse myself in the realities of what it's like to run a small business.
The consulting projects were of paramount importance to my education and provided me with a more thorough perspective of risk taking and how business owners balance their responsibilities in different ways. The program tested my comfort level in a positive way and I am truly happy to have had the experience of working with business owners, teachers, and students that all shared my passion for challenge in life. Above all else, the main things I learned as a CSUF Entrepreneurship Student is that entrepreneurs must have tremendous patience, planning, and they have to understand the true meaning of calculated risk.
My venture, filtersformycar.com, is a retail offshoot of an existing family wholesale automotive parts/supplies business I currently work for and have a stake in. We have never sold to the public, and this project would be something completely new to us. Although, this business has an existing inventory backbone I can draw from as far as products, it has been only one small piece of this intricate puzzle that is known as the “Internet.” Yes the Internet is not only a place to check status updates, share pictures of your recent meal, and remind everyone about the quirky things your dog does.
There is an infinite depth when it comes to e-commerce and choosing the right path to develop a solid and reliable website backend as well as a user friendly and visually appealing frontend. The only metaphor that I’ll choose to use under protest is to be prepared to fall deep down the “rabbit hole” of website development. This is almost an understatement considering all the variables to consider when building the right site for your product offerings.
I knew nothing about e-commerce site development and decided that this was the path I would take (In retrospect, I may have had a little too much confidence after graduating, go figure.) It was a bold and unsettling path, but I figured being computer savvy that I would somehow dissect everything to more manageable chunks that I could allow my mind to digest. Well, fast-forward 3 ½ years later, I’ve finally launched my website and have become confident about all of its inner workings and reliability. My patience was tried again, again, and again to the point that my hair was beginning to gray far faster than I expected. It doesn’t help that your girlfriend is pointing out each new “wise sage” hair on a weekly basis, but that’s why we love a women’s persistence!
I went through three developers and countless opinions about the path I was taking. There were many pro/con discussions of different web platforms and determining which one will ultimately give me the most flexibility in the future. It is difficult to commit to choosing an e-commerce platform when there is a plethora of reviews/comments all over the Internet in which people seemingly have completely different experiences. Patience is your friend, as reading people’s experiences do, in fact, help with the decision process. Never disregard an opinion/review just because you feel that it “couldn’t happen to me.” Expect that EVERYTHING will happen to you.
Web developers are like lawyers in some aspects, their time is valuable and they are anxious to begin work with little conversation. My venture started and I experimented with a few platforms for the first year. The experimentation and testing phase of my venture revealed to me the true nature of the people I hired and worked with on my website. It is important to note that just because someone makes less money per hour and is willing to talk to you, it doesn’t equate with the real value you perceive it to be. Entrepreneurs need to be able to show their planning with those they hire and watch carefully how these companies/individuals respond and move forward.
I’m not saying to reveal your company’s secret Coca-Cola recipe, but it’s important that those that work with you understand your “vision” for the project to prevent problems from occurring later down the line due to misunderstandings or false assertions. Once you detect a “rotten apple,” or in my case a “dirty filter,” you have to be able to let those companies/individuals go before they cause a festering mess later on that you have to pay someone else to fix… do you catch my drift? I eventually found a great development company that has everything I’m looking for (patience & great work task comprehension) and has been working with me for the last year to clean up and present my site in a manner that accurately reflects my needs.
Development of the site and reaching a satisfactory goal of presentation was a great first step for me. The next parts were a bit easier, but still required lots of paying attention. Planning ahead can be difficult when your first inclination is to try and think about everything at once, this irrational thinking will ruin you. I found that decent planning can and will suck the vigor out of your spirit. It is important to set forth tasks in an approachable way so that you can internalize that you have a starting point and eventually a finishing point that results in an applied resolution.
It destroys me if I feel that I have too many unresolved goals, no matter how insignificant they may seem to others. Setting forth goals in a manageable way at least helps me sleep better at night. That is, what little sleep I already get.
I still had to determine solutions for online inventory management, how to pack and prepare orders, simplifying shipment-tracking management, what features to implement moving forward (extensions and plugins), and marketing on the web. These are still all things I’m actively working on and improving on a week-to-week basis. There is still a lot of room for improvement and I view this venture always as a work in progress. I am happy to report I’ve made sales after marketing the site for a few weeks on Google products (I launched in Dec. 2012.) It’s hard to explain how happy you can feel making the first sale on a website that for a long period just seemed like an insurmountable task after building and listing over 13,000+ skus.
Finally, is the concept of calculated risk. Entrepreneurs are going to have to determine how much risk they are willing to take on when starting a new venture. This risk though, is not only something you can see, such as money. Funds can be easy to quantify when it comes to budgeting. This is not what I was initially worried about. The calculated risk is also the time and strain it can put on your relationship with your family, friends, and significant other. I can say with 100% certainty that you do have to “wear many hats” when it comes to running your own venture. And because you are delegated to all of these tasks, you will have to determine when and where you decide to risk things. Do you stay late talking to a developer about a problem? Or do you shuffle aside a meeting to make sure you make Grandma’s birthday dinner?
Although my example may seem silly, how you decide to plan your days and risk things such as attention to detail on a particular task will always compete with family life in the back of your mind. All entrepreneurs seek the right balance of work and family; the key is finding the right amount of risk that doesn’t make you feel empty inside for missing out on things that are important to others. You are going to miss on some things, that’s a fact, but pick and choose wisely what situations you put others in. You are going to want those you care about to be around and supportive when you do in fact meet your goals and taste some success is this bizarre and surprising life of ours.