Entrepreneur YOU!

Where to Start in Starting Your Own Business

Posted in E Essentials by Robert Lindsay Thompson on May 14, 2011

Staring your new business

I was recently invited to teach a class on “how to start your own business” by the Imam (leader) of the local Mosque where my (newly graduated) eldest son attends. It was decided that a two hour class on a Saturday afternoon after prayers was the preferred venue. The presumed audience would have a smattering of experience. Like most folks who want to start and own their own business… they probably have some history with an MLM (multi-level marketing) company or two. Maybe worked in a front line position in retail sales.

Where do I start? I’ve been an entrepreneur for 30 years+. Most of what I’ve learned has been from the streets, the “school of hard knocks”. I’ve been a millionaire twice. Bankrupt twice. As I’ve told my daughter who is interested in starting her own business, “You can learn from me how to start a business and how to make money… but you’ll have to go somewhere else to learn how to manage it and keep it.” I’ve been interested for some time now in translating my practical experience into terms that can be helpful to the “average Joe” (or Joan). I’d like to help other would be entrepreneurs to bring their respective visions to life.

I have a contempt for academia. Going to a University to learn how to start and run a business is like reading about military science and war history to become a good fighter. Who would you want in the fox hole next to you in a fierce battle? The guy who got an “A” in his class on Military Strategy and Operations or the 10 year veteran Sergeant? That being said, what practical “take away” skills can be imparted within two hours? How can I make use of this time to create the maximum potential benefit for attendees.

It takes a village to grow a (brain) child

I came up with this: Owning your own business is like marriage. You own it… but it owns you too. It’s not like a job where you can just put in time. Think marriage, not dating. You’re going to invest your heart and soul, not just your money. Its going to take a 100%. To make it work, it’ll take passion and persistence. Like marriage; when it’s good, it can be very good. When it’s bad… it can be hell. Therefore, you must pick your potential partner very carefully. To pick the right partner, you have to know yourself. To pick well, know well.

The first place to start is a (fearless and thorough) personal inventory.  See my early posts on Using your “identity compass” to find your own “true north” in business and Personal Inventory: Your Entrepreneurial Strengths & Weaknesses. Once you have an idea of the business venture you would like to embark upon, you need to write it all down…  in not more than one page.  The process of writing it down and limiting it to one page will help you clarify and refine your vision.  Finally, distribute the result to a couple of trusted friends.  Ask for their honest feedback and support.  It takes a village.  You will need both cheerleaders and critics.  I prefer the former.


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How to Get from Point “A” to Point “B” while at the Same Time Maintain a Happy Work – Life Balance.

Posted in Personal Journey by Robert Lindsay Thompson on May 7, 2011

The process is more important than the result

As I’ve stated previously; life, relationships and entrepreneurialism progress circuitously. If we hold on to our objectives too rigidly, we are likely to be dashed to the ground when confronted by the storms of life and the dynamics of the marketplace.

Notwithstanding, we need to set our sail toward a definite, if evolving destination… utilizing compass, navigational maps and other tools at our disposal to chart our way across an uncertain sea. Progress depends upon vision, skill and hard work… as well as Luck or Kismet, according to your predilection.

So, I’ve launched yet another venture. I’m excited, inspired and hopeful. I’m burdened, dubious and insecure. I step forward into an uncertain future. There are no guarantees. I cannot stake my hope upon a particular result. If I do, I am likely to be greatly disappointed.

I do believe in “the process”. I believe that the investment of my time and energy will lead me along a path that will evolve my vision, cultivate my skills and pay dividends professionally. In the end, if the results don’t match up with my hopes, some compensatory blessings will be bestowed upon me… if I am willing to be open to them and receive them with gratitude.

It is always a challenge to maintain a happy work- life balance

However, trying to integrate this new venture, and the time and energy it requires, into my life is a challenge. It has temporarily upset a fairly happy equilibrium that has been hard won. I’m in a transitional period. Currently my work- life balance is off-kilter. This causes stress; within myself and in relationships.

I find the need to establish better boundaries. How many times I check my I-phone in a given day? Texting while I’m driving. Indulging in unrestrained mental preoccupation about my new business. I need to attend to the ongoing maintenance of life like errands and essential trivialities. Doing the laundry. Scheduling (and keeping) my dental or Acupuncture appointments. Taking time to write or call my kids or friends.

Maintaining boundaries and balance. Focusing on the process not the result. Taking time for myself, my loved ones as well as the simple pleasures of life. For me those include sunsets on the water, hikes through the trees, working crossword puzzles, going dancing, watching a favorite television series on Netflix, or doing nothing at all. Or doing nothing at all with someone in particular.

Back on the Road Again?! Embarking Upon Yet Another Entrepreneurial Adventure.

Posted in Personal Journey by Robert Lindsay Thompson on May 1, 2011

Taking off again... embarking on yet another Entrepreneurial Adventure

I thought I had had enough! 30 plus years of doing entrepreneurial stuff was plenty. I had planned to help others realize their entrepreneurial vision. Teach, write, coach… but never start another business. Not that being an entrepreneur has been a bad life. On the contrary, it has been an extraordinary journey. It’s just that I didn’t want to do it anymore. Anyway, be that as it may, here I go again.

However, I really want to do things differently this time around. I want to incorporate better boundaries with time and money. I’ve always been an “all or nothing” kind of guy. I’ve never done anything half-hearted or moderately. It’s been “balls to the wall”. Jump into the deep end- I’ll learn to swim on the way down). Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

So my (new) boundaries: Few or NO employees. Minimal $$ out-of-pocket. Keep things small, at least until I can start bringing in money. Keep a work – life balance. Allow time for people, relaxation as well as other interests. Sounds reasonable. I’m just finding it damn hard. I’m almost always pre-occupied with my new business. When I’m not working directly on my business, I’m thinking about my business, talking about my business, writing about my business. “It’s a small world after all.”

Another phenomenon I’ve noticed: Before I began this venture, I had plenty of other things to do, was never bored, felt relatively comfortable with myself, had a full life. Now, when I’m not working on work, I often feel restless, empty, anxious.

Another previous habit I’m trying to change, is the propensity to “super-size” a new venture. It’s always been about vision, mission, calling… changing the world. I’ve never attempted to create a relatively small, easy to do, money making business. It’s gotta be big. The bigger the better; The largest motion-picture studio in Hollywood. Revolutionary software for International Trade.

Like Icarus, I’ve reached high… almost touched the face of the sun… had my wings melt… and came crashing to the ground. Ouch! Yet, it’s hard to be convinced that a person shouldn’t fly when they have, occasionally pulled off the impossible. Most artists, prophets, inventors, entrepreneurs have dared to do things others thought ill advised and foolhardy.

Well, this time around, I’m going to do things differently. I am seeking to “right size” myself, right size my new venture. Keep both feet on the ground. Maintain work-life balance. Incorporate healthy boundaries. Not expand too fast. Take it slow and easy. Enjoy the journey. Stay in the process.

Then again, maybe it’s unrealistic to think, that after a life lived in the extremes, I can suddenly become sensible. Maybe a compromise is called for. Somewhere between crazy and sane. Not like Icarus. Not like a lap dog. Still maintain my specialness and uniqueness. Hmmm, what shall I be in this incarnation?

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The best investment strategy for Entrepreneurs (and normal folks) to take in uncertain times.

Posted in E Essentials, Personal Journey by Robert Lindsay Thompson on February 26, 2011

Where is the best place to invest your dollars?

Life is wrought with uncertainties. There are a million investment strategies out there. Which one is right? No one can accurately predict what will happen in the future. I can assure you though; things WILL get better… or they won’t.

In 1988 the Wall Street Journal began a contest that was inspired by Burton Malkiel’s book A Random Walk Down Wall Street. In the book, the Princeton Professor theorized that “a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper’s financial pages could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by experts.”

By 1998, the WSJ had run the contest 100 times, pitting Wall Street Experts against blindfolded WSJ employees randomly tossing darts at stock tables plastered against a wall. The results were interesting: The darts won 39% of the time! The pros losing almost 40% of the time to a bunch of darts certainly could be viewed as somewhat of an embarrassment for the pros. Additionally, the performance of the pros versus the Dow Jones Industrial Average was less impressive. The pros barely edged the DJIA by a margin of 51 to 49 contests. In other words, simply investing passively in the Dow, an investor would have beaten the picks of the pros in roughly half the contests (that is, without even considering transactions costs or taxes for taxable investors).

The book of Ecclesiastes states, “The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.” In another version; “but time and chance happen to them all.” Bottom line is that we are NOT in control.

Notwithstanding, you can still develop a solid investment strategy. I believe, THE very best investment you can make is in yourself.

Investing in yourself is the best investment you can make

I’ve always co-sponsored my kids investment (matching their cash contribution) toward education, international travel, pursuing a particular passion or starting up a business. I think that education and personal development pay rich dividends… not only monetarily.

I disagree with the prevailing wisdom of using OPM (other peoples money). For one thing, most savvy investors aren’t going to give you money unless you have “skin in the game”. It takes a 110% commitment to launch a business. As the saying goes, “where you treasure (money) is, there will be your heart (passion) also”. That is not to say that you have to risk everything to start a business. But a half hearted (safe) approach won’t work either.

The “passive” investments I’ve made in times past- in real estate, in other peoples businesses or in the stock market have never turned out well. I’ve learned that the best use of “seed” capital is to plant them seeds myself. >To remain engaged in the process of cultivation and harvest, versus to turn over my seed to other “farmers”. Just like it’s not a good thing to permanently delegate parenting responsibilities. It’s not the best thing to give up the stewardship of your money to someone else either.

Therefore, my opinion is invest in yourself first; your education, your personal development, your own business, your own enduring passions. Invest in those you love. And, if you still have money to burn, pay off your debts. Liquidating high interest loans /credit cards is usually the superior investment strategy.

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My Personal Journey into the World of World Trade

Posted in Personal Journey by Robert Lindsay Thompson on February 15, 2011

I've always felt like a citizen of no certain country, except the world at large.

I’ve always been fascinated by the world of Trade. When I was a college student, I remember culling through the latest Almanac lists detailing country import & export figures just for fun during Christmas break, while everyone else was engaged in familial celebration.

I was also a student of the scriptures, “back in the day”. The epic stories describing the historic rise and fall of this or that world power intrigued me. Many times I noticed aspects of trade would be mentioned. Typically, the prosperity of a particular kingdom was founded upon its ability to acquire and sell goods to other kingdoms. The wealth of the government, transportation providers and merchants were contingent upon successful trading.

It was a circuitous route that led me into the Trade profession. Propelled by an idealists vision to “impact the world”, I got a B.F.A. in Cinematography and an M.A. in Marketing Communications. Being somewhat of a rouge genius, I pursued the life of an entrepreneur early. Amidst the litter of a handful of discarded business start-ups, I pioneered what became the largest independent motion-picture studio in Los Angeles.

For reasons I shall leave unmentioned, I abandoned this $25 million dollar enterprise to seek my fortunes elsewhere; first as the founder /director of a small offshore emerging market investment fund during the birth of the Chinese stock markets in the early 90’s. It was the Wild, Wild East of burgeoning capitalism. I visited many of the initial 26 companies listed on the Shenzhen or Shanghai stock exchanges. “To get rich is glorious!” was creed du jour.

China is at the great dragon that has awaken.

Thereafter, I diligently studied Chinese and got involved in several import – export opportunities. I recall my first import. An entire container packed with 36 8K Diesel generators which I distributed during Y2K fiasco. Scarier than a possible Y2K disaster was wiring $36,000 to folks in Hubei that I had never met in person… then anxiously waiting 6 weeks to see if my generators would actually arrive. It was also intriguing that even a tiny U.S. start-up could negotiate an “exclusive” distribution deal with a billion-dollar Chinese multi-national.

I’ve also always been a technologist. My first job, at 10 years old earning 50 cents an hour was as a keypunch verifier for my mothers data processing business in Dallas, Texas. As the Internet became a viable medium of exposition, communication and commerce I sought ways to set up my particular fruit stand along the information highway. In the late 90’s a handful of other “rogues” and myself conducted some rather interesting (and wildly successful) experiments in the “new” area of SEO and Internet marketing.

My reoccurring need for start-up capital led me to a veteran real-estate investor /philosopher in Nashville. Our interests aligned within the arena of International Trade information and technology. Subsequently, we created the company “Trade Made Easy” spring 2000, which endeavored to offer a missing “value added” component to readily available, inexpensive but obtuse trade statistics and reports. Four years of development resulted in a revolutionary way to put together and deliver trade data.

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Pioneer Entrepreneurs. You probably won’t get rich but you might change the world.

Posted in Personal Journey by Robert Lindsay Thompson on February 7, 2011

Long before the Wright Brothers Idea "took off", Brother Leo envisioned it and "pioneered" the concept

There are many kinds of Entrepreneurs. There are the “show me the money” kind of mercenary ones. The “don’t bother me, I’m thinking” brand of tinkering inventors. Visionaries who desire to create a reality from their own dreams, make the unreal real. Zealots with their singular purpose bent on impacting the world. Craftsman, who’s skill and artistry propel them into commercial demand. Forest Gump types, who through a whimsical fate, just seem to fall into success.

I think you should know what type of entrepreneur you are or aspire to be. For many reasons. One is that you’re more likely to get what you want, if you know what it is you really want. You’re more apt to arrive successfully at your destination, if you are aware of where it is that you’re trying to go. It is important to chose the yardstick by which you will ultimately measure your own success or failure. You may impact the world but end up homeless. Would you be a success or a failure? To whom and why?

Otto Lilienthal is an unsung hero and pioneer in aeronautical engineering

You’ve heard of the Wright Brothers, right? Of course. Have you heard of Otto Lilienthal? Probably not. He was an aeronautical pioneer. He paved the way for Orville and Wilbur. They credit him as their major inspiration in pursuing manned flight period. How did things go for old Otto? “On 9 August, 1896, Lilienthal’s glider lost its lift and he fell from a height of 17 m (56 ft). He died of a broken spine the following day in Berlin, saying, “Kleine Opfer müssen gebracht werden!” (“Small sacrifices must be made!”).

My entrepreneurial journey has spanned over three decades. I’ve launched two major, ten year ventures along with two handfuls of minor ones. I’ve been a millionaire twice. Also bankrupt twice. I’ve distributed over a million dollars to various charitable causes. Generated revenues of tens of millions. Created jobs for dozens upon dozens of individuals. Now, I’m in my late 50’s. I don’t have many zeros attached to the deposits sitting in my bank accounts. I’ve joked to my oldest (business minded) daughter. “I can teach you how to create a business and make money… but you’ll have to go to someone else to learn how to manage and keep it.”

Futuristic Airplane

I’ve been a pioneer, a visionary, a zealot. I’ve spent a career crafting reality from raw imagination. My purpose has been to impact the world, to make a difference. To that end, I have been very, very successful. Notwithstanding, most of the time I have felt like Sisyphus, “compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down…” I’ve endlessly been trying to get people to “see” what I see and buy something that has never existed before… always understaffed and under capitalized… Forced to “sell” when I’d rather invent and attend to nagging details when i prefer the “big picture”. Such is life for many entrepreneurs.

In the end, have I been “successful”? I’m occasionally dubious when I review my bank statements. I can state with assurance that my inward drive has propelled me to the destination that I’ve considered most important.

Symptoms of the chronic disease of entrepreneurialism to be on the alert for.

Posted in Personal Journey by Robert Lindsay Thompson on February 3, 2011

Within your mind there are rich, undeveloped entrepreneurial ideas that require cultivation

One thing a would-be entrepreneur has no shortage of: IDEAS. In fact, it’s one of the surest signs that you may be, in fact, a “closet” entrepreneur. Additional symptoms may include (but certainly are not limited to): a reoccurring and lingering DISCONTENT despite whatever your job is or has been. A secret sense of GRANDIOSITY. You privately think you have much better ideas for new products and businesses than others that appear successful. An inherent REBELLION. You hate being given orders by anyone, particularly by those who you know are less intelligent or capable than yourself.

In the final stages of chronic closet entrepreneurialism, before you break out into a full blown episode of what may appear to be insanely irresponsible behavior as you impulsively quit your secure job, abandon your commitments and squander your nest egg… you may experience MANIC DEPRESSIVE periods; “high” on visions of starting your own business and imagined feelings of future success followed by depression to the point of immobility thinking about what will be the likely wreckage that your life will become… unemployed, homeless, bereft of sanity and companionship.

Whether you are in the early or later stages of the “disease” of entrepreneurialism, you are not crazy. You are not irresponsible. You are not somehow flawed, unable to settle into a normal job and be happy. You just have a disease. The disease of entrepreneurialism. Fortunately or unfortunately, with time, it will only become worse, never better. Ultimately, you will face a choice. Accept the growing misery that an unexpressed, unfulfilled entrepreneurial spirit brings. Or figure out a way to make it happen.

In my mid twenties, I get my first “real” professional full-time gig. The vice president of development at CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) created a new position – a sort of “special teams” thingy – just for me. I helped design seminars, produced tv spots, developed innovative market research and new “tools” to add to or improve upon their $100,000,000 fund-raising buffet. Really cool stuff.

Another (even better) opportunity came up when the Executive VP in charge Global TV Marketing) who used to be in charge of a whole freakin’ hemi-sphere for Exxon) offered me a job. I would be traveling the world (to like 50+ countries) selling ancillary rights to all their television programming (CBN owned the Family Channel). It sounded like THE perfect job. However, as a discerning and wise man, he quickly discovered in the interview process, my inherent restless entrepreneurial spirit. We ended up talking about my “vision” of producing a theatrical feature film on the book of Revelations.

He advised me thusly: You could get this job. Travel the world. Be successful. However, one day, you will look back and regret not “going for” your vision, your hearts passion. I advise you to “go for it”. Go for it with wisdom, but go for it. I took his advise. I didn’t take the job. I quit CBN. I started a company. I worked to develop my feature film. He became my chief advisor and primary investor.

So. I advise you to do the same. “Go for it.” Go for it with wisdom… considering the times and seasons of your life and the market place… but go for it, non the less.

If you don’t. As a subplot in the movie Flashdance depicts, something inside of you will die.

Grandmother: Grand Matriarch and Depression Era Entrepreneur in Detroit

Posted in Uncategorized by Robert Lindsay Thompson on January 22, 2011

Selling pies out of a wagon

Not my grandmother, but it is representational

My Grandmother was abandoned by her husband during the depression with two daughters in Detroit, Michigan.

Other than collecting scraps of rubber and metal, she got by by selling pies out of the back of a wagon to factory workers. Eventually, she bought a piece of land and literally built (brick by brick) a restaurant that catered to the nearby automotive industry on 8 mile road. It was opened 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It never closed. Eventually they even lost the key to the front door.

My Great grandmother baked, my grandmother ran things, my mother waitressed and I hung out; occasionally providing entertainment/nuisances by twisting to the tunes of Chubby Checker or asking too many questions of the adults. Although my grandmother only had an 8th grade education, she was an astute business women. She expanded the restaurant into a catering service. She handled all the big three auto makers; Ford, Chrysler & GM. Further, she invested her earnings in real estate, buying, fixing-up and renting out houses.

Although she ultimately sold her restaurant, she continued catering to a choice clientele well into her 80’s. She kept her mind sharp by working crossword puzzles. She was the grand matriarch our family and a profound example of entrepreneurship. First born out of a necessity to survive and provide for her loved ones, her determination, iron will, and resourcefulness forged a business that was able to thrive during hard times.

I grew up in Motown in the 50's

Again, not my grandmothers restaurant, but representational

Perhaps what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur is different in the information age, than it was during the industrial age. Maybe the capacity to innovate, adapt quickly, be tech savvy, stay “connected” are the most important things now. But I wonder.

I meet many people who seem to think that just because they have a “good idea” that that somehow automatically entitles them to entrepreneurial success! After I built a $25 million dollar motion picture studio and pioneered an entire region north of L.A. for the entertainment industry, I would meet (or hear about) many people who would boast, “I thought of that!” As if the credit for my venture, wrought by an incredible amount of hard work and risk, should somehow be accrued to them.

It’s a long, long way from idea… or even talent… to entrepreneurial success. Even in the information age, i would pick tenacity before talent, a hard worker over a narcissistic “genius”, a street smart veteran over an MBA educated neophyte any day. Although, maybe, some people are just plain lucky. Even so, I’ll go with Thomas Jefferson who said, “the harder I work, the luckier i get.”

My First Tech Job as a Keypunch Card Verifier at 10 years old

Posted in Personal Journey by Robert Lindsay Thompson on January 22, 2011

My mother was a computer programmer and key punch operator back in early days of technology. I was her side kick and first employee of the tech service bureau she opened up in Dallas, Texas back in the early 60’s. I got 5 – 10 cents an hour for verifying punch cards or scanning printed reports for errors. I was 10. It was my very first job in technology. It was also my first experience shadowing an entrepreneur.

Verifying was the procedure, after the keypunch operator completed “punching” out the required data on an 80 column card, that replicated the strokes in another machine. If there was an error, a big red light would blink, requiring further verification of the data. The redundancy was necessary step to insure accuracy. All told a very tedious process. The residue from the punches were called “chits”, which were fun to play with but impossible to get out of the rug. They made great confetti though.

Key punch card

We had 3 key punch machines and 2 verifiers arranged in the living room of our 2 bedroom apartment. She also operated a tech school on the side, training wanna be key punch operators. Interestingly, she trained and placed the very first African American tech woman ever in that city. Although the money flowed freely for a year or two, eventually things imploded and we were forced to move back to Detroit.

Things have a way of working out though. She got a job as a computer programer at Ford Motors working the midnight shift. She pretty much had the place to herself. I accompanied her upon many an occasion to play video games the Ford programers developed during their free moments. Just me in the dark at an ancient keyboard in front of a huge cathode ray tube screen. This was long before the first video game “Pong” hit the streets.

At that time, advanced memory repositories occupied several ice-cold floors where huge disc platters and tape drives crunched the data. Now I can carry all that information on a thumb drive or two. Incredible, astronomical advancements, yet the essential principals remain the same. The human brain is still the most awesome technological and entrepreneurial tool in the universe.

The human brain remains the most amazing technological and entrepreneurial resource in the universe

Discovering the right timing for your entrepreneurial enterprise.

Posted in E Essentials by Robert Lindsay Thompson on January 19, 2011

There is a time and a season for every purpose.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve always felt that my vision is 99% accurate. I “see” something in my minds eye that needs to be created or done but has yet to be evidenced. I get a picture of it. The picture or vision of it becomes more distinct as I travel towards it. Brick by brick, I construct the enterprise, product, marketing piece, creative project, personal adventure that I have envisioned. I am and have been a man of vision. My life (personal and vocational) has been all about seeing and creating things that have never existed before… and helping others do the same.

However, my sense of “timing” has never been as acute. In fact, sometimes, it has really sucked. In the late 80’s /early 90’s I was able to achieve what few were able to do, which was to lose a lot of money in the southern California real estate market. I seemed to have an uncanny sense of buying at the top of the market, and selling at the low point. During the raging China Bull market of the 90’s, I was able to lose a small fortune chasing newly minted China “B” shares, offshore managed China funds and other “leveraged” financial products focused on it and other, small emerging markets.

True, I’ve been a pioneer. I once built what became the largest independent motion-picture studio complex in a bedroom community 30 miles from Hollywood. It become the first of literally hundreds of entertainment related companies that now proliferate the region. The first years were arduous and painful. I had an idea that was “before it’s time”. I didn’t “catch a wave”, I created a wave. I’m sure that many of the companies that have ridden that wave since have profited much more than I ever did.

In my last business, I put together complex data depicting international trade and traders in a way that had never been done before. The software that I, and my small team innovated, over years of constant development, far exceeded that of any competitor – despite them having 10,000 times the money and 100 times the staff. However, being first and best doesn’t necessarily translate into commercial success and retained wealth.

In the last case, a very prestigious venture capital group, had agreed to bring $20 million in capital and another $20 million in sales /joint ventures. The plan was to go public within 3-5 years. A deal was drafted in the fall of 2008. Literally days before we signed the final documents, along comes the global meltdown that devastated world financial markets as well as our plans. 18 months later, in the wake of vastly diminished sales and bleak economic conditions, the company was sold for a fraction of it’s 2008 valuation. Timing.

So, what’s the lesson learned? For me it is: Without “vision” you will never create anything. However, without “timing”, you won’t make much money.

The question becomes; how does someone know the proper time or season to launch a business, to strike out on their own?
To expand their business, to even when to lay people off? As the Kenny Rogers song states, “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run?”

Obviously, I don’t have THE answer for every entrepreneur that will fit every business case. Notwithstanding, i think it is important to at least consider the times and seasons… that contextualize your business, of your product /service, of your market… as well as the changing times and seasons that influence your personal life and heart… before making significant (potentially life /business changing) decisions.

As one author puts it, “no one knows the times or seasons; time and chance happen to all.” On the other hand, it is good to check the weather forecast, before launching your boat.

Using your “identity compass” to find your own “true north” in business.

Posted in E Essentials by Robert Lindsay Thompson on January 15, 2011

So you want to be an entrepreneur? Well, the first thing, other then learning how to spell the freakin’ word correctly, which takes some rehearsal, is figure out where you’re at and where you wanna go. This may seem obvious to some, but really, it us usually overlooked. Imagine you wake up in the middle of an unfamiliar wilderness. First thing you’d do is take stock of your resources (see post, “personal inventory”). The very next thing you’d need to do is figure out where you are… and where you wanna go. Helpful tools at this point are a map and a compass.

Utilizing visible reference points, you need to establish your current location. Not where you wish you were… or even where you desperately need to be. Your current location is not where you will ultimately be – given motivation, persistence and some help along the way. But it is the place you begin. You cannot begin your entrepreneurial journey, from any other place than from the place you actually ARE. IF you had money, IF you had a partner, IF you had certain skills, IF things were neatly arranged differently in your life… THEN you would be in a better place to begin. However, IF you wait for such thing, THEN, most likely, you will never begin. As the proverb says, “a journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step”.

What’s are the best first steps to take? Where is the best initial destination to head to? At this point (after establishing your initial location – metaphorically speaking) you are best served by paying close attention to your compass. The terrain may be too mountainous, the ultimate destination too obscure, the path ahead too undefined to get a ready fix on a clearly seen objective with sure, straight route to it. NO, wilderness trekking is rarely quite that easy. The unbeaten path of each individuals unique entrepreneurial adventure, is after-all, unbeaten.

No, you must set your compass to your own “true north” and follow it to the best of your ability, with all your heart; tenaciously, defiantly, sometimes insanely. No half measures will do. Be warned, the route is circuitous and thorny. The entrepreneurial journey is, before everything else, a journey of the heart. Your “true north” is anchored in your “essential” identity. Who you are intrinsically. What makes you tick. What you aspire to be and do and why. It is your “spiritual” core, your truest self. Your internal guru or sensei. Your best guess, an intuition of the most right way, your “gut” feeling. Learn to trust it. Learn to depend upon it. Try not to betray it.

Other peoples “magnetic” personality will sometimes cause your own compass to flutter. Particularly when you face tough decisions and you feel insecure. Of course, getting feedback and (small doses of) advise is wise. Ultimately, you must refer back to your own “identity” compass, though your path may diverge from theirs. Be true to your compass. Be faithful to your own unique path. Trust yourself to the process. This is the very best way to begin.

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Entrepreneur Material? My own quirky background is a strange alchemy.

Posted in Personal Journey by Robert Lindsay Thompson on January 11, 2011

Entrepreneurs are made of a strange brew most times

I distributed this list of questions to a class of 2 dozen students I was (guest) teaching at my daughters high school entrepreneur class. I hung $100 in twenties on the board and told them I would award it to anyone who could correctly guess the number of true answers.

I ended up keeping my $100, but did lead to an effervescent discussion on the nature of entrepreneurship.

Q: How many of these statements do you think are true?

1. I am currently 49 years old, married with 5 children
2. I’ve given away over $1,000,000 in cash
3. I’m a high school drop out
4. I’ve survived 2 major urban riots, 3 earthquakes, 2 tornados and 2 armed assaults.
5. I’ve been in and out of 12 maximum-security prisons, numerous treatment centers, rescue missions and a psyche hospital
6. I’ve been investigated by the FBI and held as the prime suspect in a murder case
7. I’ve gone Bankrupt twice
8. I was a homeless, a panhandler, a hobo riding the rails, ate food out of garbage cans and once slept in a cardboard box
9. I once carried around a briefcase stuffed with $200,000 in small bills for several weeks armed with a loaded 9mm.
10. Like Captain Cook, I’ve ventured to the actual “treasure island” in order to bury a $1/2 million treasure.
11. I founded a company that had clients in 95 countries and touched 1 million companies
12. I’ve studied seven forms of martial arts, my body is branded with a Samari symbol and I’ve studied Chinese for five years
13. I was in a drug rehab program for almost three years
14. I once tried to sell guns to the infamous Black Panthers in inner city Detroit, back in 1969.
15. I have been shot at twice, chased with a butcher knife and had my convertible fire bombed
16. I established the largest motion picture studio in Hollywood
17. I’ve produced three features films, written a novel and published a book.
18. I filmed a documentary in the worst death row in the U.S. featuring some of its most notorious inmates
19. I started and ran a kids toy store in Tennessee
20. I helped raise $100,000,000 for a right wing evangelical TV preacher who once ran for president
21. I sold hundreds of thousands of dollars of survivalist supplies to religious cult groups
22. I co-founded a committee promoting global peace within an organization that has been nominated for the Noble peace prize 8 times and won a prestigious international award.
23. I helped produce over 100 movies, TV shows and commercials including Terminator 2 and Star Trek 4
24. I have created websites that have generated over $1,000,000
25. I have been serenaded by a man who once ripped out the heart of a Christian “do-gooder” with his bare hands
26. I once swam with a school of hungry 8 to 12 foot sharks, coming within inches of being eaten
27. I’ve shot machine guns and automatic weapons with an FBI anti-terrorist strike team
28. I’ve been personally assailed by the LAPD and swat team
29. I was involved in a high-speed chase with an armed bank robber
30. I saved the life of a 12-year-old crack addict-prostitute with the help of his friend “Vampire”
31. I once sold myself for $500 to a politician in the mid-west
32. I have birthed over a dozen companies in many industries
33. I’ve created a $25,000,000 company in 5 years from only $22 in start-up capital
34. I inadvertently made a multi-million dollar deal with a guy with mob “connections” and thereafter had to go into hiding for years
35. I once ran an offshore investment firm that performed several million dollars worth of trades in China and Asia
36. I once possessed two numbered Swiss bank accounts in two different continents
37. I created a Y2K grain distribution business which generated almost $1 million dollars in only 8 months in 1999.
38. I once started a multi million-dollar business with just credit cards
39. I’ve have fed 50,000 homeless people in Los Angeles
40. I once stashed $400,000 in gold and platinum coins in my refrigerator
41. My personal friend was the man who actually built and ran the World Trade Center (Twin towers) in NY
42. Jack Nicholson once stayed with me for a couple months one summer
43. I’ve hosted Monkees, Zombies, spiders, cockroaches, blobs, aliens, and androids
44. I studied Kong fu in China town with the champion from Shanghai
45. I once held the actual starship Enterprise in my hands
46. I built a motion picture sound stage that was large enough to lay the entire empire state building down within – end-to-end.
47. I was a millionaire by the time I was 35.
48. I’ve hitchhiked across Canada twice and the U.S. several times
49. I’ve made over $30,000 from Web names I’ve thought up
50. I’ve lived in 3 foster homes, beginning at 14 years old
51. I’ve been knocked around by the guy who trained the real “Rocky”

A: Check in next week for the answer. Also, I’ll fill you in on what 1 thing I think ALL entrepreneurs have in common. I think it will surprise you. It surprised them.

Decision Matrix: A mathematical model to maximize profitability

Posted in Uncategorized by Robert Lindsay Thompson on January 5, 2011

Simple Mathematical Matrix for Evaluating Opportunity

I recently created a simple mathematical matrix for evaluating which money making opportunities would be the best to invest my time, talents and energy into in 2011.  I am a strong believer that intuition, passion and purpose should be the ultimate guiding forces.  However, there is a place for analytical tools as well.  I will assume you, the reader, has a basic working knowledge of Ms Excel.

For those who are interested, you can access and copy this spreadsheet at Google docs: Decision Matrix.  If you have any questions or problems, just let me know.

First of all, I listed 7 or 8 money making options under each of two general categories.  1. Current business  2. Prospective business(es).   Then beside each of the 16 options I listed my decision criteria:

  • a. Upside (high case) $$.
  • b. Downside (low case) $$.
  • c. Overall Odds ( likelihood of success; ie generating $$, expressed as a percentage).
  • d. Interest.  (personal passion index from 1-10)
  • e. Formula: derived from averaging upside and downside (a+b/2), times overall odds (*c), multiplied by my interest level (divided by the dollar range – number of zeros; thus d/10000 because of 5-6 figure potential was the $$ range of my prospects +1

Therefore the overall formula is expressed thus in Ms Excel: =(C4+D4/2)*E4*(F4/10000)+1. The formula creates a value expressed in 1.xx that will help you evaluate the best money making opportunities available to you from the options you list.  Further calculations can help you estimate the range of money you are likely to generate.

To do this, first I summed the list 16 prospects thusly: sum column “a” (upside), sum column “b” (downside) and average column “c” (odds).  Averaging the upside total (a) and the downside total (b) multiplied by the average odds will give you an idea of the range of money you will generate IF you were to pursue ALL your listed options.  However, this is unlikely.  However this creates a good baseline for comparison.

Then choose the best couple of options from your list (remember the 80/20 rule).  Of my 16, i chose 4.  Then run the same calculations on these choices: upside (a), downside (b) times average odds (c).  What I discovered is that – because the potential $$ and odds were higher on my 4 choices then the 16… the resultant total potential $$ was higher on the 4, then it was on the 16!  I would have a greater shot at making money investing my time, talents and energy in 4 things than I would at 16!

In addition, I came up with a reasonable estimate of the $$ i am likely to generate given the pursuit of my chosen options.  It also gave me a list of options I may want to invest myself in that may not bring the highest earning potential, but are things I can do “on the side” that i have a high interest in/passion for.  Keeping in mind that i can’t depend upon them as a main stay of my income.  Hope this helps.

Dancing with the Devil: How to get ahead by going with the flow

Posted in Personal Journey by Robert Lindsay Thompson on January 1, 2011

When I was starting up my motion picture studio in California; cash strapped and hustling hard, the local fire marshal showed up one day and announced that he was intending to “shut me down” and put me out of business. Unbeknownst to me, the fire sprinkler system was inadequate for my intended purpose of using the building for a motion-picture sound stage. To replace the entire sprinkler system would take hundreds of thousands of dollars that i didn’t have… cause me to cancel the much needed contract with “Night of the Living Dead, Part 2”, and indeed, put me out of business.

Of course I was enraged. I intended to fight. After many sleepless nights, conversations with friends / business associates and desperate prayer… the image of dancing with the fire marshall, not fighting him came to mind. For those who are versed in the martial arts, the engagement was to look like Tai Chi “push hands” not a Tai Kwon Do break boards session.

My persistent gentle engagement with the fire marshall led me to a engineering firm that simply replaced the feeder pipe to the system… ran some fancy calculations, charged me a couple thousand dollars… and provided documentation for me to pass the fire code as a motion picture studio.

In business and in life, meeting force with force, is ultimately exhausting, futile and damaging… especially as one gets older! Finding ways to productively engage while remaining resolute is a much needed but rarely acquired art.

I explored this theme further on my personal blog at: ZenToast

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Personal Inventory: Your Entrepreneurial Strengths & Weaknesses

Posted in Personal Journey by Robert Lindsay Thompson on December 31, 2010
Personal Inventory

Digging up (overlooked) personal assets

Every business needs assets.  They are the building blocks in creating and running a business.  Taking a hard, realistic look at the assets (tangible & intangible) that you have at your disposal is a good way to start.  Write them down and review them with a trusted friend or colleague.

These are the ones I have come up with for myself for making money in 2011.

1. 4.25 acres in Detroit, Michigan (minus property taxes owed)

2. Remaining technology assets i still possess after the sale of my company in 2010 (minus debts)

3. 13 software licenses (each with 3 applications) retained from business sale

4. Potential “earn-out”, based upon sales of the software applications I sold.

5. Connections (my network) i built over the last 10 years (within the scope of my agreed upon “non-compete”)

6. 100 + domain names I own and can attempt to market and sell.  (i have made about $30,000 -$40,000 over the last 10 years)

7. Miscellaneous possessions including a boat and two vehicles (minus repairs needed)

8. Cash in the bank, including savings and annuities

9. My business experiences acquired over the last 30 years

10. Skills (technical, artistic, etc.) practiced over time

11. My intelligence and creativity

12. Long-term relationships


Imagination: one of the most important tools that an entrepreneur can possess

Posted in E Essentials by Robert Lindsay Thompson on December 30, 2010

Imagination is more important than knowledge

Imagination is one of the most important tools /talents that an entrepreneur can possess.  Imagination is the ability to see realities that may not exist (yet).  It is said that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.  Without imagination, the entrepreneur is blind to opportunities and possibilities.  Jesus commended the “faith of a child”.  Indeed, as children, most of us spent many hours in private revelry and make believe.  We must cultivate the capacity to dream, expand our ability to envision things beyond what presently exists.  One method is PLAY.

Your task is to recall one of your favorite childhood games and reenact it.  Yes, go ahead and be silly.  I give you permission.  In fact, it is a requirement.  Again, to quote one of my favorite world changers, “unless you have the faith of a child, you will not enter /see the kingdom of heaven”.  Without imagination, you may not get very far along your entrepreneur journey.


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