Here’s the first business lesson I ever learned: Andre Thonrton and I have nothing in common.
Seems pretty obvious since I’m not a legendary Indians baseball player, but it was a realization I made while attending Kent State University’s Fifth Annual Entrepreneurship Extravaganza last fall. Thornton was the keynote speaker and I thought that it might be a great way for me to learn about starting a business. Maybe he would discuss the merits of an LLC versus a C Corporation, I thought. Maybe he would shed some light on securing a trade mark or tax ID number.
This is how he got started in business. First, he’s Andre Thornton, and everyone wants to be his business partner. Secondly, he’s got cash, way more cash than I have. Thirdly, bankers love meeting legendary celebrity baseball players and loaning them even more cash.
Thornton became an entrepreneur after he bought, like eight Applebees. He was encouraging, but he was seriously out of my league. Admittedly, I was disappointed that Andre hadn’t dispensed with a tidy plan for small business success. Then after lunch, I almost bailed entirely when Kent State grossly underestimated how many cookies would-be entrepreneurs could eat, and I didn’t get even one. I stuck it out and met some interesting people in the same boat as me. Like me, they had ideas but weren’t exactly sure what to do next. One had plans for a coffee shop, another worked for a non-profit, and another had four different business cards with four different titles. None of them had any obvious plan for starting a business, but there we were sharing a table listening to Andre’s remarkable successes.
After lunch, I found the opportunity to discuss my plans for Popped! with Andre. He encouraged me to scale-up to a popcorn manufacturing operation equipped with the global logistics to support large scale distribution. Oh, boy.
The entire day was filled with speakers with as many different paths to success. The second speaker of the day advocated the necessity of collaborative partnerships and exploring venture capital opportunities. The next speaker swore off partners of any kind, and recommended only borrowing from family. Still another speaker favored scaling up from a tiny kitchen in my garage and never borrowing anything from anyone, ever.
The advantage of so many differing opinions was that it really drove home the ultimate lesson in small business — eat dessert first. Also, you have to do what’s right for you. Once you decide to embark on starting a business you must be prepared to make your own decisions based on your circumstances, and more than likely, no one will agree with you.
Over the next few weeks all my decisions will be tested as I get set to open Popped! in Acorn Alley II. Some are probably going to end up on the disabled list and others, with any luck, will succeed. From my feeble attempt at writing a business plan to my eventual launch of a global positioning satellite to track popcorn shipments overseas — I’ll share it with you here.