Shark Tips For Second Career Entrepreneurs

“The best advice I would give to somebody is, don’t ever start a business that you are not incredibly and deeply passionate about,” said Robert Herjavec, one of the “sharks” on ABC’s hit TV show, Shark Tank. “It is hell, and you will spend more hours with your business than you will with your family and friends. You will have horrible days that will make you want to quit and question everything you have ever learned. Along that journey, if you don’t absolutely love what you do there is no way you will survive.”

Many people who are looking at starting a business as a second career are intrigued that, if it works out, they can create a new source of income in addition to the retirement income sources they’ve worked on for years. True entrepreneurs, however, don’t start businesses to produce money. What?

“The biggest mistake I see people do is they start a business to make money,” said Herjavec. “The problem with that is on those cold days, money doesn’t keep you warm at night. For me, it is impossible to expend the effort required to start a great business because you want to make more money.”

Passion is what is critical to successful entrepreneurship. Some would even label it fanaticism. When one is in the midst of a dogged pursuit of what is primal, success looms in the not too distant future. It is as though a deep seated conviction drives one to pursue what is the convergence of talent, inspiration, and motivation. Not everyone, though, even considers that starting a business is a possibility. Some were just not raised to think entrepreneurially.

“When I was younger, I didn’t know that people could start a business, and I always say now that if I knew what I know now, I would have dreamed bigger,” said , CEO of Canadian-based information technology company The Herjavec Group. “I don’t have an MBA, or a business degree, and I wasn’t very good at accounting. I remember when I wanted to start a business; everybody said to me, ‘you can’t do it.’ Fundamentally, I owe my success in business to the fact that I really love what I do.”

“It was really interesting because, where I came from, we lived on a farm and my grandmother raised me and everybody lived like us,” said Herjavec. “Then, we came to North America and it was my first impression of not being well off. I realized that compared to everybody else, we were really poor.”

To make a living, Herjavec began working as a newspaper deliveryman and waiter in the early 1990s.  He was able to make ends meet and learn important business lessons at the same time.  The biggest, perhaps of all, was noticing what was on the mind of his customers.

“The most important relationship in business is the one between you and your customers. All my experience is customer-related. When I was delivering newspapers, you used to have to collect the money,” Herjavec said. “When I was a waiter, it was all about maximizing a tip and ensuring enough turnover. All these odd jobs always related in different ways to customers.” 

Knowing what customers want and creating a strategy to meet their needs is critical path stuff. What else is desirable in terms of an entrepreneur’s worldview? Flexibility and good analytical skills rate highly for Herjavec.

“People ask me if there is a quality or characteristic for entrepreneurs, are they born or made?” he says. “The one characteristic that I find in most people who start a business is, they are very comfortable and adaptable to change. I always say my greatest skill is if you throw me in the middle of the forest, I’ll figure out the game.”

Finally, it is crucial that a business founder have a distinct competitive advantage. Whether taking on the 100 ton gorilla (market leader) or a local competitor, it is key to know how you are differentiated from the others. One of the best ways to stake your claim is through unique knowledge or processes.

“The other thing I notice is that lots of other entrepreneurs make the mistake of changing fields all the time and start businesses where their knowledge level isn’t very high,” said Herjavec. “I always say to my kids, become an expert at something and become such an expert at it that you can walk into a room and people will pay you for your knowledge.”

In summary, here are lessons we can learn from Robert Herjavec, aka the Shark:

  • Be extaordinarily passionate
  • Start a business because you believe you were meant to, not for income only
  • Know what the customer wants and deliver
  • Be flexible 
  • Hone your analytical skills
  • Be a lifelong learner and master of a unique subject matter
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