What Can You Learn About Running a Business By Watching a Hockey Game?

Discussing How To Start a Small Business at Trent University

A few weeks ago, I had the great privilege of attending a class in the entrepreneurship program at Trent University, taught by Professor Cammie Jaquays.

The students in the course were given an assignment in which they were to apply the principles for starting a new business as set out by Prof. John W. Mullins in his book entitled “The New Business Roadtest” to the process that I followed in creating one of the first spas for men in the world, as chronicled in my book entitled “Don’t Let Your Dream Business Turn Into a Nightmare”.

The students were divided into six groups, each of which made a PowerPoint presentation in which they considered such questions as “What did Mr. Stransman miss?”, “Why did this business not succeed?”, “Did this venture have a chance of success?” and so forth.

It was a fascinating evening, and I learned a lot from the students, and hope that they learned something from me.
Afterwards, I received the following comment from Prof, Jaquays, for which I am very grateful and of which I am extremely proud:

“The students enjoyed the experience of having you come to the classroom, the exercise, analyzing your book and creating the feasibility study. What was most enjoyable, and what I appreciate the most, was the time and effort you took to attend the night of presentations. The students so appreciated the fact that you were there for questions and input. These students are in their 3rd and 4th year, so the ability to bring the ‘real’ world to their studies was a great experience”.

I was also very pleased to receive a note from student Nathan Hogle, who said “Your book was great. I enjoyed reading it. It was a really easy read.”

When I sat down to write my cautionary tale for entrepreneurs, I never imagined myself in front of a class of students studying entrepreneurship at the university level, but you just never know what can happen when you write something from the heart.

I hope to have many more such experiences in the future.

“What Was the Biggest Mistake You Made in Your Business?” Part 2

I had the great honour, on Tuesday of this week, of attending a class in entrepreneurship taught by Prof. Cammie Jaquays at Trent University in Peterbrough, Ontario.

Prof. Jaquays divided the students in her class into six groups, and each was assigned the task of reading my book, “Don’t Let Your Dream Business Turn into a Nightmare”, in conjunction with a book by Prof. John W. Mullins, entitled “The New Business Road Test”, and examining my entrepreneurial venture through the lens, if you will, of the “seven domains” road test for new businesses which Prof.Mullins outlines in his book.

The seven domains in Prof. Mullins’ model include two “Market domains”; market attractiveness as a whole, which is a “macro-level” evaluation of the market, and the “target segment benefits and attractiveness” of the proposed new business, which is a “micro-level” examination.

Similarly, there is a macro-level “Industry domain” - which refers to the attractiveness of the industry as a whole, and a micro-level Industry domain consideration, which is the “sustainable advantage” offered by the proposed new business in that particular industry.

In the “Team domain”, there are three areas of examination: 1) Mission, aspirations and propensity for risk 2) Connectedness up, down and across the value chain and 3) Ability to execute on Critical Success Factors.

As Prof. Mullins points out in his book, there is much that can go wrong in starting a new business venture, and almost any mistake - certainly a critical mistake - can doom the entire enterprise. Hence, the “road-test” is not a check list, and there is no “score card”. Achieving a “score” of 90 out of 100 would not be any guarantee of success, if the missing 10 points were in the “ability to execute on critical success factors”, for example.

Prof. Mullins’ book is a very informative and valuable guide for aspiring entrepreneurs who may be unaware of all of the factors that determine the success or failure of a new business -or the degree to which the odds are stacked against any new business succeeding - and the diligence with which the students in Prof. Jaquays’ class approached the assignment, and the insights which they came up with with respect to my business venture, were delightful, if not occasionally painful at the same time.

There are many mistakes which an entrepreneur can make - especially a first-time entrepreneur - and I certainly made a number of them.

But what was the biggest mistake that I made?

As Prof. Mullins states in his book, investors come in two categories - one is the “Three F’s” - friends, family and fools -and the other is professional investors.

In the case of my business venture, I would say that my investors were in the latter category, which is to say that they invested in my new business concept more out of a desire to make money, than out of a desire to help me, although there was a personal relationship with one of my two investors.

As Prof. Mullins points out, experienced investors know that most new businesses will fail. The statistics tell them that. Hence, they approach every plan for a new business with a hefty dose of scepticism.

Now, consider this: if you approach a basically skeptical investor with a business plan for a new venture which he already knows has a greater chance of failing than succeeding, how are you going to change that skepticism into an overwhelming passion and exuberance?

You might transform that skepticism into a grudging level of cautious optimism, but that is about it.

You are just not going to get your investors to feel as passionate and committed to your idea as you are, in my opinion, and, certainly, in my experience.

And so what happens when investors put up money for a business venture for which they do not have the same level of passion and commitment as the “visionary entrepeneur” whose idea it was to create the business - in other words, you?

“It is all too common for venture capital investors who like an opportunity to tire of the team they back and bring in a new one at the first sign of trouble.”

So writes Prof. Mullins.

And that is exactly what happened to me with The Men’s PowerSpa.

My investors, who never really believed in the concept of the business in the first place, eventually got tired of me and replaced me with - themselves.

Have a look at the website at http://www.themenspowerspa.com/ to see how they are doing.

It is March 12, and they are still promoting Valentine’s Day.

So, what was the biggest mistake I made in my business?

If you read my book and Prof. Mullins’ book, you may come up with your own answer.

But, as you can see, I have come up with mine.

What Was The Biggest Mistake That You Made in Your Business?

I was recently asked by a university professor who is using my book “Don’t Let Your Dream Business Turn Into a Nightmare” in her course in entrepreneurship, what the biggest mistake was that I made in my business.

As those of you who have read my blog are aware, my book is an account of my experience as the founder of one of the first spas in the world for men, called The Men’s PowerSpa

So what are some of the possible answers to the professor’s question

One could say that the biggest mistake that I made was in starting a business that I had no previous experience running.

Or, in hiring a “business consultant” to write the business plan for men, rather than writing it myself.

One could argue that the biggest mistake I made was underestimating the amount of time and money that were needed to build the business into profitability.

Or, that I hired too many staff members in the beginning, or the wrong people.

It may be that my biggest mistake was in my choice of location.

It could be that my prices were too high, or not high enough.

As you can see, there are a number of answers that I could have given to the professor who asked me what the biggest mistake was that I made in my business.

But, so far, I have not mentioned the answer that I gave her.

What was the biggest mistake that I made in my business?

Having investors who did not accept that making mistakes is part of the learning process, especially if the business that you are launching is based upon a novel concept, as mine was.

In my view, and in my experience, no matter how hard you try to avoid them, mistakes will happen in business.

It is part of the process.

And the biggest mistake is to regard them as mistakes and to point fingers.

Accept them, correct them, overcome them, learn from them and move on.

If you cannot do that in your business, I do not believe that you have any chance of succeeding.

If You Think My Book is Too "Negative", Buy Two Copies

At the end of Woody Allen’s classic “Standup Comic” album, one of the few, if not only recordings of his live standup act of the 1960′s, he says to the audience “I’d really like to leave you with a positive statement, but I can’t. Would you accept two negative statements?”

I was thinking about this yesterday when not one but two people told me that the title of my book “Don’t Let Your Dream Business Turn Into a Nightmare” is too negative. “People don’t want to read a negative book”, I was told, not once but twice on the same day. “You need a more positive title.”

Okay - let me make this perfectly clear. My book, “Don’t Let Your Dream Business Turn Into a Nightmare” tells the story of how I created one of the first spas for men in the world - my dream business - and how that dream business turned into a nightmare for me.

I don’t think the book is negative at all. What I think it is, is truthful. Which is not to say that the book presents the truth. It doesn’t. I don’t know how any book can claim to present the truth, as there are always numerous sides to any story. But my book presents - to the best of my ability within reasonable parameters, that is, a 126-page account - my truth. And my truth just happens to be that founding one of the first spas in the world for men was a very painful and damaging experience for me. If you want to know why - and feel that by reading my book, you might just avoid making some of the mistakes that I made - then I urge you to buy a copy. And read it.

Helping people avoid making painful and expensive mistakes is not a negative enterprise in my view. I actually believe that it can be a very positive one. And I can assure you of this: I wrote my book myself. I did not have an agent, an editor or a publisher. I told my truth exactly the way I wanted to tell it because it is my truth and it belongs to me. I knew that the first thing that any publisher or agent who came along would do is change the title to something more “positive” - like what? “Your Dream Business Doesn’t Have to Turn Into a Nightmare Just Because Mine Did”.Wow, that is an improvement!

If you have a really good idea for a business - your dream business - and you think that you are going to launch it with someone else’s money - then you might just learn a thing or two from my book. I wish I had read it before I started my dream business with someone else’s money.

And, if you think that the title of my book - or the book itself - is too negative, then follow Woddy Allen’s lead, and buy two copies.