20 Apr Lessons in Entrepreneurship
It is mid-April and Warren Design & Build is near reaching our 2 year anniversary. In this post, I am trying to share what it’s like to have gone through this start-up phase. I bought the assets of another company and with that I had a couple of the people from that business join me. The first year was a big learning curve. The learning curves included: starting a new business in a new industry in Warren Ohio, where I had very little in the way of contacts. We only had one customer to start in the form of Delphi. But, post 2008 automotive crash, they in no way resembled the old Delphi and consequently that business was not enough to make the model work. So, Lesson One— it is hard, but not impossible to start a business in a market that you do not know well. I bet on people that were in the business previously to know the business.
The people involved in the business at the start had good intentions, but really did not understand their own business model and had a strategy of hoping that Delphi would pick up. These same people did not have the skill set to gather new growth and adapt. Some of the early hires definitely thought they knew more than they actually did. Lesson Two— from my favorite business book, Good to Great, by Jim Collins. “Get the right people on the bus”
As in all businesses, sales growth can correct a lot of problems. I found a large customer that I thought would be a good partner and support lots of growth. We went all in on this customer. It did not work out. We lost our biggest customer that we had invested a ton in. They took the technology that we developed moved it in-house, hired one of our people and left us empty and we survived. Lesson Three— diversify the customer base to reduce risk. We have been fortunate in customer growth going from zero customers to approximately 30 in less than two years, but it will be even better when we get to 40 in 3-4 months.
In addition to getting the right customers, you need to have the right prices. Our business is project based and everyone wants a deal. The reality is that if you do not make money on projects, you cannot be there for the next one. Price is easy to argue about, but when you get what you want with no headaches, you do not really worry so much about the price. Lesson Four— Price your product appropriately. Do not be embarrassed to make money on your efforts.
I mentioned earlier that our customer base had been diversified. In fact, the move from one major customer to 15-20 smaller customers is what allowed us to survive. But….you cannot get 15-20 customers unless you sell. We have been selling like crazy and now we have an active customer base of 30 different customers. Lesson five— Selling can correct almost any problem. If you can sell, you will never go hungry.
After we got a good customer base, we needed to produce continued good products. We have been emphatic that even if we lose money on a project, we make sure we get the job done to the customer’s satisfaction. We have made some serious mistakes on pricing that lost money on big projects, but I believe we have always delivered a top notch project, even when it cost us money. This is what keeps customers coming back. Lesson six— Keep your customers happy! Lesson Six.1— But, if a customer is taking advantage of the situation, see lesson 4.
So now we are in a good cycle. We have regular customers. The list is growing and the repeat customers are returning. We are starting to diversify and are looking for products to make in addition to our current project based business. We have some ideas and hopefully, I will be able to tell you about them in the next couple of months.
I keep reading that having a blog drives customers and the customer base. I hope that if you are reading this, you will consider Warren Design & Build for one of your next projects. If you have any questions, please call me or email me. Adam Sarson…. firstname.lastname@example.org