A few readers have asked me to post more on my entrepreneurial experience (b.k. — before kids). I co-founded a dorm room enterprise, now called Aquent, with two friends that has grown, now nearly 30 years later, into a mid-sized company (as defined by “less than one billion in sales but larger than one hundred million”).
It does feel like a different era now that I spend most of my time blogging, but starting my company also feels like just yesterday. The foundation of our business was the new Macintosh computer and desktop publishing software (PageMaker) that we learned to publish a liberal political magazine back in 1986.
The computerized version was less costly and time-consuming than the old way of waxing up galleys into place.
One of my partners, John Chuang, now the CEO.
From there, we won the contract to typeset the Harvard Business School student newspaper and saved the earnings — a whopping $5000 — to buy a used laser printer from a Harvard Business School student who had worked for Apple. We set up a laser printing store where we rented out our computers and laser printer. It was called LaserDesigns and it was in the heart of Harvard Square.
The sign is a funny because we rented two ratty rooms down the hall from each other, but we thought big in the early days!
Our next idea was to start a temp agency staffing folks (MacTemps) who knew how to use the MacIntosh computer. It wasn’t just any computer, we messaged to clients, so don’t hire someone who thinks word processing is desktop publishing! (The horror!)
During our senior year of college we asked our parents sign their houses against a business loan that we took out. Don’t worry mom and dad! We have the Accounts Receivables to pay off the loan. Your money is never in danger; we just need working capital. And they did it. It took just one call to my mom! (Thanks mom!)
Here we are in 1987.
Five years later after expanding into Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, London (why not go European!), Chicago and Atlanta, we made the Inc. 500 List for Fastest Growing Private Company. I was 26 at the time and in my first year of business school at UCLA’s Anderson School. Those were heady times but also insane as all three of us co-founders were in business school and trying to run the business at the same time. I would do board meetings from a pay phone on the professor floor of the business school (no cell phones back then!).
MacTemps is 4th from the bottom, clocking in at #12. We were part of “The Upstarts”.
We made the Boston Business Journal’s Top 100 Largest Private Company list too.
My lessons for would-be entrepreneurs are:
- Don’t do it for the money.We think of our business as a laboratory for creative entrepreneurship. Our focus has always been on learning and improving but we also did things just because it was a cool idea that had to be tried. Extra points if everyone thinks it’s hilarious. It was never for the money.
- Go off the beaten track. Starting your own business wasn’t the cool thing to do after graduating in 1987. No one envied our career choices back then.
- Embrace failure. Fail often, and learn from your mistakes.
- The money will follow your passion; it will just take time. I would say that it takes 5 years minimum to gain traction on pretty much anything, be it a rock band or a new business.
- If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. And you will be thinking about your business 24 hours a day.
- Enjoy the ride. It’s all about the journey; not the destination. There are ups and downs and frequent moments of self-doubt and you just have to grind it out. You can’t rely on external motivation; there will be none. In this rapidly changing marketplace, success is also fleeting. Be prepared to destroy what made you successful in order to stay relevant.
My partner, CEO John Chuang, talks about the importance of creating a culture of innovation. This pep talk is due to an upcoming move for our headquarters from traditional assigned cubes to a new hotelling office space design where you have a locker and zones to work in but no assigned spot. The new zones include a library, meeting huts, a Starbucks-like cafe area, a hidden room, and a pergola area.
This is our current space which we have been in for nearly twenty years. The new space is designed by architects who also worked on Google space. Not surprisingly, change is hard and this new design and way of working will take some adjusting for everyone.
But luckily John Chuang can convince almost anyone to take a leap of faith and make the change. Here he is. Is he convincing enough?
Books for Kids with Entrepreneurial Leanings
Here we are in 2015.
Do your kids have an entrepreneurial bent? Even if they don’t, just talking about it helps open their minds to the possibilities. I know because I have one young entrepreneur who lives and breathes money, one art-y daughter who we taught the art of negotiation for her art, and my son who likes to give away his money.
What do I talk about with my kids? Follow the lead of your child. With PickyKidPix, we talk simple interest vs. compound interest, who owns the money, franchise vs. company owned stores, stocks vs bonds vs gold as investment tool.
With my daughter, we talk pricing for art: it’s what the market will bear. The art of negotiation: let the other person make the first offer.
With my son, we opened a lemonade stand.
How about you? Do you talk money with your kids? Can you add to my booklist? Thanks!
Bunny Money by Rosemary Wells
Money can just fly out the door if you’re not careful! Ruby has her hands full when she takes Max shopping! The key characteristic for an entrepreneur is DELAYED GRATIFICATION! That’s saving and reinvesting rather than cashing out and spending!! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Alexander Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst
Saving versus spending and what Alexander learns after getting a windfall. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Monster Money Book by Loreen Leedy
This picture book goes over the basics of starting a business including explaining revenue, cost of goods sold and, most importantly, profit! [non-fiction, ages 6 and up]
A Smart Girl’s Guide to Money: How to Make It, Save It, and Spend It (American Girl Series) by Nancy Holyoke
I think personal for finance is an important skill to learn young and this book is perfect for girls. [non-fiction, ages 8 and up]
Guerilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business by Jay Conrad Levinson
I ended up getting a degree in Entrepreneurial Marketing from UCLA’s Anderson School but this book taught me everything I needed to know and gave me the confidence to go out there and just try stuff. [non-fiction, ages 14 and up]
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.