In 2000, I left my successful – but misery-inducing – career as a lawyer to start my own company based on a very simple idea: people who carry lots of gadgets need lots of pockets. SCOTTeVEST started with one prototype of a multi-pocket vest and has grown into a pocket empire with over 50 different items.
In the 15 years since then, I’ve appeared on Shark Tank, traveled the world, been covered in just about every news outlet imaginable and written a book. This Pocket Wisdom comes from and is inspired by content from that book – Pocket Man – which I co-authored with Thom O’Leary of Fixer Group.
Here are some of the unconventional things I’ve learned while leading the Pocket Revolution.
About Raising Money…
You DON’T need investors to start a business.
When I started SCOTTeVEST, I did it to be my own boss… so why would I ever sign up to get a new boss by bringing an investor on board? Make no mistake: when you have investors, you are not the one making all the decisions, which is to me the opposite of being an entrepreneur.
Explore crowdfunding, bet your life savings on yourself, remortgage your home. If you truly commit and put your own money where your mouth is, you’ll feel a lot more pride when you succeed.
I bootstrapped SCOTTeVEST with my own money, but that was not necessarily my original plan. When I figured out that I was spending 30-40% of my time looking for investment, it became clear that it was getting in the way of actually launching my business. As an entrepreneur, take your time into account before seeking funding.
Some “experts” like Mark Cuban (@mcuban) advise people to always start their business with investors, and I think he’s dead wrong. When you are building a startup, time is your most precious commodity. Dealing with investors is time consuming and takes you away from running the business. You don’t have time to focus on two businesses at the same time: your real business plus the business of keeping your investors happy.
DON’T take on any partners.
It sounds cozy to have a friend to help you build your business, but two people will never share the exact same vision. The time you spend reporting to partners could be spent running your business. If you’re going to jump through hoops, make sure they are hoops of your own design, not someone else’s. In any organization, there is always one person who is more committed than anyone else… it should be you.
The one possible exception to this rule is if your partner is your spouse. My wife is my partner (which works out very well). I also try to treat my employees as partners, but if you want to be treated as a partner you need to be as committed as a partner. That can be a tall order.
And one bonus… if you have partners, you need a lawyer to make sure all your agreements are in good order. If it’s just you, that’s a lot simpler of a process.
Do It Yourself…
Mind your own business AKA do it yourself.
If you can do a task yourself better than someone you can hire, do it yourself. Some things cannot be delegated, and other things SHOULD NOT be delegated. A CEO should – at least at a basic level – know how to do every job in his or her company. If nothing else, it will prevent you from being BS-ed by contractors.
When I first hired a web developer, I bought HTML for Dummies. I wasn’t going to learn all the ins-and-outs of coding, but I wanted to know the basics and be able to understand how complicated (or not) the project would be.
Before you delegate a task or hire a third party to do it, spend a few minutes Googling what it is you are asking them to do.
You DON’T need a formal business plan.
A day of doing is worth a week of thinking about it. The idea of crafting a mission and vision statement, and developing pages of plans should not be a new business’ first concern. You can learn more from a company by looking at their margins and discussing their marketing results than you can see in a 40 page boilerplate business plan. This isn’t 1998.
Don’t get me wrong… you DO need a plan, just don’t get hung up on the document. When I first started, I thought I needed a formal business plan, and it was pretty intimidating. I didn’t know where to start, and I spun my wheels thinking about a document that I ultimately did not need.
The content of a business plan is helpful, but the formal document is not (particularly if you aren’t seeking investors, per above). Plan, but don’t get stuck on the format.
Be your own market research.
If you are an entrepreneur and passionate about your business, you are probably creating things that you want for yourself. I am in agreement with Steve Jobs, who considered himself and those closest to him to be his best source of market research. Create products that fill a need – your need – and they will be more authentic than chasing recommendations from people without any skin in the game.
Steve Jobs told BusinessWeek, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Don’t let reading formal market research stop you from pursuing a project you are passionate about. If the project appeals to you as a consumer, your instincts are probably right.
Good things DON’T come to those who wait.
Immediacy is more important than overthinking, and certainly more important than waiting. An immediate reply is better than a perfect reply, and a good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed tomorrow. Procrastination is the first step toward failure.
If something is a good idea tomorrow, then it’s a good idea today… and it’ll be done a full day sooner. Patience is not my virtue.
When the iPad was first announced, we had a graphic that said “the first clothing line with a pocket for the iPad” live on our site within an hour. It required some planning and forethought, but when we knew that the iPad would fit in our pockets, we didn’t hesitate. Timing can be more important than perfection.
I even moved quickly when I first started SCOTTeVEST. I was told it would take a year to get an apparel garment made overseas, but through clear communication and setting expectations, I did it in 3 months.
To twist my favorite Ferris Bueller quote a little, “Life moves pretty fast. If you stop around and look too long, you’ll miss the opportunities.”
You CAN be profitable from Day 1.
You are better off being smaller, more streamlined and more profitable than relying on more and more investment to stay afloat with the hope of being profitable “some day.” That “some day” may never come, and let me make something clear: you DON’T really have a business until it is profitable.
If you focus on being profitable with each transaction, you will be setting yourself up to not only succeed over time, but to be highly motivated to continue working as hard as necessary.
If you are starting a new business, you have two options: you can build a real business today, or one in the future. When you are profitable is the difference between those two options.
Profitability is what helps you not need investors. I self-funded SCOTTeVEST until we were cash-flowing. Setting up pre-orders for our product (way back in 2000-2001, before Kickstarter) made a huge difference. If you capitalize your startup expenses over time, you can definitely see profits sooner than later, unlike some other companies that have been around for 10+ years and never shown a profit.
Bite off more than you can chew.
If you are super cautious, you’ll never cover enough ground to be productive. Anyone can work one job or project at a time, but if you are an entrepreneur, you need to wear all the hats. Work harder. Work faster. Manage more than one project at a time. Get two days of work done in every day, and you’ll hit your goal twice as fast. Bite off more than you can chew and do whatever work you need to complete it.
A lot of tasks seem like they “should” take a long time to complete, but if you are willing to cut the right corners, you can get them done faster. “Should” is a dangerous word, and it can slow your productivity down.
A person should not be able to send 300 purposeful emails in a day, but that’s sort of a low volume for me. Stop thinking about how long something “should” take to do, and see how fast it CAN be done.
Find repeatable tricks to create snap judgments.
When you get “in the flow” during your work day, you want as few things to break your momentum as possible. Over the years, I have received thousands of requests for product samples, and if I hemmed and hawed over each one, I would get nothing done.
I’ve learned to evaluate opportunities quickly by looking at page rank, likes, followers and using Google to see if they are legit. The line is clear, and if the opportunity falls below the line, I don’t give it a second thought.
We also use templates and canned answers in my business. If the same task needs to be done 3 or more times, we automate or shortcut it in some way. You can always use templates and canned answers, but you still need to personalize them. It cuts 100% effort down to 10% effort, and keeps things flowing.
DON’T look before you leap AKA just do it.
You may think about something for so long that you never get around to leaping, or you psych yourself out unnecessarily. I don’t advocate leaping blindly, but don’t look so long that you forget to leap.
It took me 8 years of being miserable as a lawyer and looking before I finally leapt. Those 8 years did not get me any closer to the freedom that I sought – and found – as an entrepreneur.
Don’t let “looking before you leap” become an excuse that keeps you from ever leaping.
For even more stories about my approach to business, check out my top-rated book, Pocket Man.
If you want to learn more or just enjoy my “reality show” life, follow me on Facebook.
ABOUT SCOTT JORDAN and SCOTTeVEST
Scott Jordan is the CEO and Founder of SCOTTeVEST, which creates multi-pocket clothing designed to carry electronics. He is the author of Pocket Man: The Unauthorized Autobiography of a Passionate, Personal Promoter.
Read a sample of Scott’s book for more about his experience on Shark Tank and the pocket empire he has built.