Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Creating a Blockbuster

As a kid, I was taught early on that if I wanted spending money to go out with my friends, I would need to earn it myself.  My early experiences as my own boss were of mowing lawns, raking leaves, shoveling snow and doing odd jobs around the neighborhood.  By the time I made it to college, I had developed a real desire to learn how to become a better entrepreneur.  There was just one problem:  my school, Fordham University, didn’t offer any entrepreneurship classes.

Approaching the dean of the business school, I pointed out that Harvard University offered a class in entrepreneurship, so why not Fordham?  To my surprise, that was all I had to do, because by the following semester, the dean had decided to create the class and was going to teach it herself.  I was the first to sign up, exceedingly proud of my role in helping spur the creation of that inaugural class.

The dean believed in a hands-on approach to learning, so one of her first assignments was for every student to work on starting a real business.  In those days, if you wanted to watch a movie in your dorm, you’d leave campus and walk to the small neighborhood video rental store, hoping they had a good movie in stock.  It was always disappointing to leave the comfort of your dorm room only to find out that the movie you wanted to watch was already rented.  I also racked up frequent late charges because I rarely managed to return the movies I rented on time. After all, it required another long trip off campus.

My solution to all of this, and therefore my business idea, was to launch Busy Bee Video Delivery Service.  The premise was simple:  Just give us a call and we’d buzz a video right to your dorm room, and even pick it up to return when you were finished.  As corny as it may sound, it worked.  I convinced the local video store to keep me informed when videos were rented, so that when students called me I could always tell them which of the most popular movies were in stock.  Once they confirmed what they wanted, the store would hold it for me, and I’d pick up a bunch of rentals to deliver all over campus.  For my efforts, I made a small transaction fee on each rental, received tips, and met a number of girls who seemed to appreciate my entrepreneurial spirit.

The final project for my entrepreneurship course involved writing a business plan and making a presentation in front of the class.  However, I was too busy running my delivery business to be bothered with all the academic requirements, so I did the bare minimum.  At the end of the semester, the dean decided to announce everyone’s grades.  I sat listening as student after another earned an A or a B.  Finally, she got to my name and asked me to come to the front of the room.  I thought I knew what was coming:  a high grade, along with some sort of acknowledgment for suggesting that she start the course, and probably a comment on my street smart business skills.

Not exactly.  I didn’t get an A, nor a B.  The dean said, “Scott Shickler, I want to congratulate you on earning a D in my class.  The class you asked me to start.”  My classmates laughed, and I was completely embarrassed.  But when I looked at the dean, she was smiling.  I asked if it was a joke, and she assured me that it wasn’t.

Then she looked at everyone else, and stated that if they had received an A or a B, then they probably shouldn’t go into business for themselves, but rather go to work for someone like me:  a true entrepreneur.  And then she looked over at me and said that if I wanted to be really successful in business, I should hire people who understood research and knew how to execute ideas… like my friends in the class.  Well, she made her point, although part of me wishes she’d made it by just giving me a C.

Last weekend, I celebrated my 25 year college reunion.  Wow.  Time really does fly.  But if there’s one thing time has shown me, as I look at some of the partners and colleagues I’ve been working with for decades, it’s that we all need people to help us make our dreams come true.  If you can achieve your dreams alone, you’re not dreaming big enough!

Until Next Week,

Live Your Dreams!

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