I talked to a guy who does it regularly, and he works really hard
Last year, I oversaw the genesis of two businesses: the website you’re reading this on and a non-profit organization. I had to do all sorts of things, like register them as businesses with the government, file forms and articles, have contracts and waivers signed – the whole nine yards. All that bureaucracy can really suck the fun out of anything.
My limited experiences with burgeoning businesses left me wondering: who would want to take on all that stress? It’s often repeated that entrepreneurs can’t afford to sleep. Even during my sandbox romp as a company head, I found myself up all night making minor alterations, soliciting advice and working to “build a brand,” as silly as that sounds.
To help me understand why anyone would want to plunge into the glacial river of entrepreneurship and remain in there, sleepless, passing out handmade business cards to anyone drifting by, I spoke with habitual company starter, LinkedIn wunderkind and Western Ivey student, Adam Silverman.
Speaking in informed, honest bursts that almost seemed rehearsed, Silverman explained why some just don’t have the wherewithal to hack it in his racket:
“You need driving ambition to succeed. You need to make [entrepreneurship] your full-time endeavour. You can’t get into it to make a quick buck. I meet a lot of guys who go balls-against-the-wall trying to get everything done as quickly as possible. Those people burn out in about three weeks. They don’t realise the amount of work and energy it takes to start a company.”
So, how does that ambition manifest in Silverman? The answer is a precocious predisposition to earning capital.
“When I was in elementary school, I used to import this toy from japan, basically a board and a spinning top. I bought a few hundred of those and my grandma would drive me around from school to school so I could sell them at recess.”
After earning good returns on that, he graduated to flipping bulk iPhones and BlackBerrys to supplement future ventures.
Silverman claims you only need a few thousand dollars to start a business. With enough stowed away in his savings account, he started his first company, Silver Sells, in Grade 9. There he would liquidate any item he could get his hands on, promising to fetch the highest possible price for his clients. That worked because Silverman found a niche, and a demographic that wasn’t being catered to.
“A lot of the time when people move out to downsize, or, you know, grandma passes away, they end up with a house full of stuff,” he said. “They don’t necessarily know how to go about getting rid of it. I just saw an opportunity there.”
I’ll abridge the rest of Silverman’s journey by saying that there was hard work involved, and networking was important. Now, he’s either CMO, CEO, COO, president or owner of more than six businesses, and getting gigs like speaking on the “value of personal branding” to 1,300 of Wilfred Laurier’s BBA students at orientation. A big part of hitting those notes was persistence.
“When I first wanted to start a marketing firm, I literally went to the top ten marketing firms in Canada and tried to set up a meeting with their CEOs,” said Silverman. “It was an ordeal. What I did was, I bought a $15 Starbucks gift card for each of them, went to their assistants at their offices and said ‘Hey, you know, I’d love to meet with [your boss], just let me know when you can give this to him,’ and I wrote a handwritten letter to go with each one. I had to follow up with each secretary twice, but eventually [the CEOs] met with me.”
When prompted to close with some advice, Silverman stressed the importance of always protecting yourself with a contract. He said that he’s seen people get ripped off, underpaid and litigated against constantly.
“You’ve got to protect yourself legally,” said Silverman. “If you’re not doing that you’re asking for trouble. If you want to become an entrepreneur, do it the right way. You don’t want someone coming after you for a mistake you made early in your career. Don’t rip people off, conduct business ethically, really make sure you don’t get fucked over down the road.”
Silverman recommends that prospective start-up starters visit one of the many local entrepreneurial centres, like the Vaughn Business Enterprise Centre or the Toronto Business Development Centre, where their ideas can become fleshed out.