Starting Up: You have to be an entrepreneur at heart

Starting Up: You have to be an entrepreneur at heart


Idaho Statesman
Edition Date: 11/09/07

I’m 40 years old this
year, and I’m finally living my dream. Just a few years ago, I was a
chemical engineer at Micron with a secure income and nice house. Two
years ago, I walked away from all that and became an entrepreneur. I
have never worked so hard or had such an uncertain financial future.
One thing is certain: I finally know this is what I’m supposed to be
doing.

Thank goodness, I have a supportive wife who not only shares this dream but is also my business partner.

We
have been successful professionally and personally because from the
beginning we clearly defined each partner’s roles and responsibilities.
Most importantly, we treat each other with respect. It also helped that
my wife is from an entrepreneurial family and understood, probably
better than I, the demands of running a small business.

I think
you are either an entrepreneur in your heart or you aren’t. Even when I
worked for a construction management company, and all through my eight
years at Micron, I wasn’t satisfied. There’s such an intangible element
to wanting to be an entrepreneur that simply can’t be described.

The
beauty of our business, Lucky Bums, is that it merged several passions:
starting a business, skiing, and spending time with my kids.

Julie
and I were married eight years before our first child was born. We both
love the outdoors and snow skiing in particular. I was tired of hearing
people tell us that when we had kids, we wouldn’t be able to do all the
things we loved anymore.

Not enjoying the outdoors was never an
option. When my son was 18 months old, I put him in skis. That is what
set us on the path toward becoming entrepreneurs.

We started
Lucky Bums in 2003 during a long car ride home from a skiing trip at
Brundage near McCall while the kids slept in the back seat.

Our
kids were both preschoolers then, and there were few options for kids’
ski equipment on the market. We didn’t like the products that were
available, so I had come up with a harness I created myself, just for
our own use. The first iteration was held together with duct tape.

We
immediately started getting approached by other parents on the slopes.
Where did we get the harness? How could they get something similar?
That day in 2003, when we had refined our harness even further, we had
been approached by at least a dozen people. Driving home to Boise, we
outlined how this could be a business.

It was that simple. And
that difficult. Next came months of work, refining our design even
more, figuring out distribution channels, finding a manufacturer. We
scoured every possible source of financing to get this off the ground.
Friends and family invested. We talked to bank after bank (we did get a
small line of credit, less than one-third what we said we needed) and
piled up credit-card debt. We sold our home and moved into an apartment
for two years.

Things started to pay off. Sports Authority wanted
to sell our product. So did REI and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Today we are
the No. 1-selling product of our type. We have doubled our sales every
year.

In 2005, however, I realized I needed to take one more step
and quit my day job. Leaving the steady paycheck at Micron was a big
step, but the business required my full attention before we could get
it to the next phase of growth.

We have a long way to go still,
and none of this has been easy. Every book, magazine or business
interview advises would-be entrepreneurs to "love what you do." I
believe if your heart’s not in it, you will quit long before posting
your first "true profit."

I think I’ll end this with a few "wish I had known that then" tidbits for other wannabe entrepreneurs:


I wish I had kept my job one more year. Running out of cash happens
fast, and the longer you can go without using company cash, the better.

• Don’t spend money if you don’t have to.


Look at your revenue projections, and no matter how conservative you’ve
been, cut that number in half. Cut it in half again. If you miss the
mark, you will be in bigger trouble than you realize.

Jeff Streeter is founder of Lucky Bums. Reach him at jeff@luckybums.com.

Starting
Up is special series of columns published every Friday. The columns
grew from discussions between the Statesman and local tech and
entrepreneurial leaders and were coordinated by Julie Howard, a
specialist for the Idaho Office of Science & Technology. Reach her
at julie.howard@commerce.idaho.gov.

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