Volume 3, Issue 2 of RISBJ

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Swimming with Sharks. So many things come to mind when we hear this phrase. In a general sense, many of us think of the razor-sharp toothed creatures of the sea that we learned to fear the first time we watched Jaws. To others, we think of the aptly titled Kevin Spacey movie, where the boss from hell teaches a young character named Buddy that getting ahead in business is about earning your way to respect. More recently, we hear the phrase mentioned on the wildly popular show Shark Tank, where hopeful entrepreneurs enter the “Tank” and pitch their ideas to potential investors.

Regardless of the context of the phrase, our initial gut reaction is fear. As an entrepreneur, the first fear we must overcome is failure. The more experience and success we have as entrepreneurs, the more we learn to overcome that fear. So when we lack the experience, how do we minimize our fears to keep us from failing?

From a recent appearance on the show Shark Tank, entrepreneur Phil Black told RISBJ that he found his preparation for the show as extensive as his Navy SEALs preparation. Preparation is a key factor in minimizing our fears. When we start our business, we need to not only set realistic goals, but we need to have a way to reach them. We need to differentiate our products and services, know what demand there is for them and understand who our customers are.

Another thing that many of us fear is lack of startup funding. Earlier this month, I watched 12 young entrepreneurs compete for up to $2,500 to help fund their business. As part of the Johnson & Wales University “Sharkfest” competition, each entrepreneur pitched his/her idea to 5 judges in hopes of winning one of several valuable prizes. Watching college students and recent college graduates share their vision and passion for a new business idea is not only inspiring, but it brings me back to the early days of being a young entrepreneur and starting my own business.

Recently, someone asked me when I first decided to go into business for myself. The easy answer would have been that I was 23 when I first started a web design company, but there was more to the answer than that. After a little thought, I answered, “I was 7. I opened up a baseball card stand on my front lawn and sold cards to other collectors in the neighborhood.” Looking back, I faced the same challenges that any other startup faces. I needed funding to buy cards (thanks Mom), I needed a prime location to sell them and I needed to understand what my customers would be looking for. The one difference was that at 7 years old, I didn’t yet know what failure was like, and I wasn’t afraid to try.

Just like Phil Black entering the Shank Tank and the young entrepreneurs at “Sharkfest,” we can’t let our fears prevent us from dipping our toes into the water.

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