Finding a niche

Doing research yesterday for a business venture, I stumbled upon an idea that may have some merit as an opportunity.

Taking out all the politics of immigration, in California as elsewhere, there are many people who seek employment with rudimentary skills in English if any at all. And some find opportunities to get skilled training for in-demand jobs. Assuming that people are legal residents when seeking job training or employment, what avenues are there for people, entry-level, working people to become functional in the so-called ‘native tongue’?

I witnessed people struggling with written English. While I know that many high school graduates in the United States, even college-bound Seniors, struggle with grammar and vocabulary, it is even more dire for the adult-learner who is foreign-born.

And thus, there is a demand for Teachers of English as a Second Language. And particularly teaching for jobs with a technical jargon that is difficult to grasp. The next step is to determine the investment necessary to find others with the necessary skill, certification, or degree. And then to do a costs-benefits analysis for your enterprise.

first lessons:

a business mindset

I tried and failed at business ventures three times before. With a couple years of technical training, I tried earning a second income as a small appliance and home electronics repairman. It was cheaper to buy new than repair “old”. The next venture was selling solar-heated hot water systems. People could just as easily put garden hoses on their roof (it was southern Arizona) and save the expense of a metal system up there. And then, last year, I saw how my father-in-law’s young relative was making six figures in a health-focused business. She has Amazon- and Facebook- founders-level intensity which produces her ongoing results (building over the past 8 years). I was not interested, youth-focused, or charismatic enough to do what it takes. My prior ventures were great personally, just not rewarding financially for me.

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the importance of a “niche”

This year, my wife and I found a “niche” business. A “niche” is a product or service need, that is not widely available, nor really has much awareness outside of the profession. But is necessary nonetheless. With a lot of support, name recognition, and professional experience, my wife one evening reported to me that a business opportunity was offered to her – that she wanted to do. This was due to pending retirement of the principal operators in the niche market. The business requires unimpeachable ethics, scrupulous attention to detail, military-like precision with clients and retaining or bringing on skilled employees (or contractors).

do not quit your “day job”

A mistake of many new entrepreneurs, is to launch a business enterprise with little financial resources. They then have few options when mistakes are made or customers are slow to provide payment. Then there is even more emotional and physical stress learning the “do’s” and the “don’t”s of operating a business. In just the few weeks after initially deciding to engage in this business, the guts required to seriously and diligently apply ourselves to learning,- particularly with family and job requirements always keeping you busy, is challenging.

In the United States, working for yourself, with the intent to make a profit – to separate your enterprise from what the taxman (the IRS) would label a “hobby” – requires record-keeping, talent, and effort. Depending on the venture, every business has local, state and federal tax statutes regarding individual, partnership, and incorporation to stay within the law. Similarly, there are permits, licenses, and fees with all the aforementioned, to conduct business.

With certain businesses, providing products or services, there are many regulations, certifications, and insurance to purchase and renew yearly. While trying to classify whether there were workers considered by statute as employees to consider, we need general business and professional liability insurance. And probably, workmen’s compensation insurance: California is very strict on business operations. If you are still determined, you have done homework on your competition in the niche market, and calculated the profit versus expense projections before the first customer dollar is received – there is one consideration you may miss. You may find that your business needs to be funded almost entirely from your own “primary” income for a time. One of the first “rules” I have learned is to avoid going into debt while learning the “ropes”. Do not quit your day job before it sustains you.

seeking advice from experienced mentors

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I have only just started to explore the business banking relationships we will need for our venture. We will explore and weigh options on credit, payment processing, and loans. Similarly, I have only attended one seminar run by the small business education group, SCORE, (there are chapters in most communities) taught by people with decades of experience in all aspects of business. But for the entrepreneur, anywhere you find someone to help with the pitfalls to avoid, is great. One can then make all new mistakes to learn and develop as a business person.

your “why” has to be bigger than your fear

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After a career in the military, another in private industry, and still looking for challenge (and change), our own business will prove to be well worth it. After many years of doing without asking why and making someone else’s careers and dreams possible, you also can make your dreams, as well as those of your clients, become reality. But it takes ethics, drive, humility, implementing what others can teach and eagerness to keep pressing on to the goal.

fourteen

What was your biggest accomplishment when you were a teenager?
When I was fourteen, I was responsible enough to arrive at my assigned work at 4:45 AM daily, load a hay wagon, and then feed 80 horses. And in the late afternoon, repeat it all again. I was determined to trade labor for horseback riding lessons. That was on a dude ranch in Arizona where I learned responsibility, animal psychology, ranch operations, and customer service. That was forty years ago. Every generation hears how their predecessors “walked uphill in the snow, both ways, to school and back”. In an age where many are fixated on social media, feel subject to hardship and discrimination without government mandates, and may be emotionally scarred because of others’ contrary views, it is not universal. It may only be a minority opinion.

Becoming an entrepreneur at the age of ten, Noa Mintz, at age sixteen founded a New York City childcare agency, (vetting nannies)and was among those entrepreneurs under age 18 featured in Fortune magazine (2016). Eugenie de Silva, starting at the University of Leicester (UK) in 2015, graduated age 16, from Harvard, through distance learning, with a Masters in Liberal Arts. A pilot, Mason Andrews, completed a circumnavigation of the globe in 2018, as the youngest to do so – at age 18.

And then there is the young Dutch woman, Laura Dekker, who at 14 set off in a sailboat to circumnavigate -solo- the world in 2011. She had been born to a sailing family, and had been dreaming of sailing the world since the age of ten. She had the support of her parents, but had to fight the Dutch authorities in court to be permitted to get underway. For more than five hundred days she navigated and explored the places along her route. A film produced by National Geographic presents her video record of her travels.

film trailer at http://www.maidentrip.com

And finally, there is Jordan Romero, who at age 13, with his father, reached the summit of Mount Everest, in 2009, and by the age of 15 years, 5 months , became the youngest person to climb the Seven Summits (the highest peaks in each of the seven continents).

From circumnavigating the globe, climbing mountain peaks, graduating from a most prestigious university, or becoming a successful entrepreneur, children who attempt the difficult, and refuse to have their dreams quashed, demonstrate that if you have a dream and are determined to succeed, you can. Leave the participation trophy to others.

why a conqueror burns his boats

Many people dream about being an entrepreneur, starting their own business, working for themselves, and living the good life. Very few, however, will actually take the plunge and put everything they’ve got into being their own boss. Fabrizio Moreira

In 1519, the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes,  landed on the shores that would one day be Mexico with all his men and beached his ships.   He then gave the order to burn them.  With no turning back,  men with a strong vision, ambition and no other option will be conquerors.  And we know from history, a small group of determined men conquered the powerful Aztec empire.

I do not consider my years of military service wasted following someone else’s vision.   During those years I did learn skills,  organization and leadership that have seen me through many challenging and also rewarding experiences.  However,  ever since I was a very young man,  I have been working various businesses from a gardening service, to recycling, a television and small electrical appliance repair service,  a computer maintenance and repair service, tutoring, and at one point a handyman business.  I had brief periods of challenging times, success, failure, and then moved on.  But the true mettle of an entrepreneurial heart, is that same Cortes-like determination.   Put everything  – heart and soul- into the venture.

Honesty and integrity are by far the most important assets of an entrepreneur. Zig Ziglar

Over the years, I have looked at the network marketing business model.   If you consider that many entrepreneurs have made a success owning a franchise,  you may consider owning a McDonalds, or a Starbucks,   or perhaps even a rental-equipment company.   But the network marketing business is a franchise without the high investment costs.   Each investor, becomes responsible for his or her own success, and then mentors and encourages his or her ‘franchisee’ – or “downline”.

Like most businesses that have a successful long-established training model, product or service, there’s one strength and one weakness – the independent business owner.  While many who look for quick returns will be disappointed,  there are many successful entrepreneurs in network marketing, like entrepreneurs in other businesses and industries who share that same vision:  Never quit.  Put your heart and soul into your venture.  Provide a good product.

Finding a business that is in line with your interests and values – since the best advertising  is the entrepreneur who believes, uses, and relies on the product or service they invest in.  Customers are the fundamental part of any business who, as in any enterprise, will return time and again when value, service, and trust in that business is exceptional.    Success is measured in your willingness to learn, adapt, and grow professionally and personally.    And to know that, in general,  only a few of the hundreds or thousands that encounter your service or ‘franchise’ opportunity, will have the ‘Conquistador’ never-quit that entrepreneurs and self-made people possess to want to burn their ships and follow your example.

If you can’t admit a failure, you’re not an entrepreneur. You are not a good business person. There’s nothing brilliant about what you are doing. Mark Cuban

Entrepreneurship part 2

Continued from Thursday, 9 August

Common sense is a very important attribute to entrepreneurs.  Articles written for Entrepreneur.comReuters, the New York Times, and studies by universities all investigate the characteristics of those who start a business, develop a market, create an industry, or adapt a technology.  While many are not satisfied working for someone else’s vision, it is more difficult for innovators and skilled workers to start out on their own.  The latter may be no less motivated to succeed but the risks in starting a business, losing investment, failing, time spent making improvements or tinkering on the next venture often hold the majority back.

Years ago, when I went to work for a small business, I asked the small group who formed that technology business how and why they started.   It was a product that they were all experts supporting, and improving,  and when the corporation decided there was not enough profit to continue supporting it, these engineers stepped up.  The military customers were still actively deploying these systems so, as entrepreneurs, the men formed a company, bought the contract,  and networked with the stakeholders.  It lead to additional work.

Seeing a market where there was none, and understanding human nature,  an entrepreneur is a visionary.   As I enter my sixtieth year,  I have seen several ideas grabbed by entrepreneurs become world- changing products like the personal computer ( I had interviewed with IBM in 1986 but decided the Navy was more promising than a “personal” computer).  Netflix is a huge company today, with an internet distribution network,  it’s own productions, and ever-growing valuation.    I decided to forego investment in Netflix when it was a buck or two in the early 2000s – because I thought the DVD market would dry up.

Another entrepreneur is Kevin Plank, CEO of UnderArmour.   Creating a line of athletic clothing that wicks away moisture,  his products have been worn by soldiers, sailors, NFL players, college athletes, and even retired Senior Chiefs.   Wearing a UnderArmour shirt with the “I served”, it not only is functional when I am working out but is a statement.   After working for an entrepreneur for more than twelve years, I see a lot of value in his vision of the company as an internet services company (satellite) that services seamless connectivity on commercial, business and military aircraft, as well as secure networking systems.

I need to get more serious about my other ventures, particularly marketing.  Common sense. Vision.  Understanding people.  Maybe I should revisit that Tony Robbins interview.

 

 

Entrepreneurship part 1 of 2

I had a great conversation Wednesday evening at my “rest stop” on the way home from work.  With my evening commute often taking an hour and a half or more, sometimes I meet my wife for her dinner break at a Japanese-style poki place nearby.   I enjoy the sushi poki bowls at the one place, but the clientele’s average age is about a third of mine.  I know more people at the Starbucks across their parking lot than at Poki.  Now that I am more earnest about healthy living, my other haunt, a cigar lounge, also near her work, is someplace I only stop in once or twice a month. The cigar place is a comfortable spot, like the fictional Cheers lounge in the 1990s TV show of the same name.  But with banter over cigars in place of alcohol.    I get recharged with some great conversation, which in turn generates ideas for blog posts.

Entrepreneurs, engineers, teachers, male nurses, mechanics and delivery drivers frequent Liberty Tobacco.  Retired military men talk sports and politics. Some talk classic cars and motorcycles.  One of my acquaintances is a Ferrari delivery driver.  Another is an engineer who travels around the country to install or repair equipment at some large manufacturing companies.  Tonight I chatted with a Navy veteran turned software engineer.  We talked engineering and designing the apps that he puts on the cycling machines found in high-end gyms and rehabilitation studios – the ones that feature pelotons, scenic rides, or other distractions for indoor training.   We talked about Amazon web services and designing web applications.  One of the new tools I heard about tonight is called TERAFORM which to most bloggers in my WordPress community is likely an uninteresting topic.  But to engineers and web designer geeks  – and me tonight, an opportunity to talk about one’s passion.

For couple months now, I have been dealing with a complex engineering issue at work.  But this week I have had the opportunity to work with a brilliant peer.  He is analyzing by means of a methodical series of software images he redesigned,  clues to a particularly irritating unknown failure in a device I have been troubleshooting.  Until I started working with him, we knew “when” it stopped working, but did not know the “why”.   Even an old Senior Chief is open to learning something.

After working forty years,  I realize that there are two types of people and two types of challenges I enjoy.   Entrepreneurs, like Virgin company’s  Richard Branson; my employer, Viasat CEO, Mark Dankberg; or my former college Russian professor who started an immersion language and travel program 40 years ago.    And the second type are technical experts, be they engineers, mechanics or horticulturists.   To my shame,  my onetime boss, a construction foreman- I was in my early twenties – retorted to my arrogant comment about my apparent lack of skill, that he never met many geniuses but he would always take a “dumba%% with common sense” in his line of work.

To be successful as an entrepreneur,  a person requires initiative,  unyielding determination and great insight into human nature.  An interview I watched online featured Tony Robbins who is an expert in human nature.  He has coached people to reach inside themselves and conquer their shortcomings for nearly forty years.  Understanding what is important to one’s client, customer or consumer, and how to satisfy their particular problem or need is key to becoming successful.  Innovators may develop a revolutionary product or service.  But it is the entrepreneurs who change the world by solving a problem for people with that innovation.

(To be continued)

If you should happen to be in the San Diego region or know someone who is, particularly a Active Duty or former service member considering a home purchase, I can highly recommend Doug Diemer as a loan officer. He treated me very well, made the process of a VA refinance loan easy and has followed up with me quarterly. There is a lot of noise in the mortgage refinancing industry. And it helps to have someone to recommend.

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