Advice And Thoughts From A Few Rock Star Entrepreneurs

By Cheryl Hall The Dallas Morning News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Columnist Cheryl Hall poses a few simple questions to some big time entrepreneurs including Lucy Billingsley, T. Boone Pickens and H. Ross Perot

The Dallas Morning News

When it comes to entrepreneurial role models, there's no place like home. The spirit of claiming your own destiny is ingrained in Big D's DNA. It's also contagious.

One joy of my job is tapping this font of experience and sharing thoughts from those who've been there, done that, gonna do that again -- or maybe not.

I asked some wise entrepreneurs three key questions.

Ignorance can be bliss. What are you glad you didn't know when you started out?

"I am glad I didn't have a background in business. As a consequence, I didn't understand or appreciate the huge challenges to build a successful firm. If I had, I likely would not have taken the leap of faith to start my own business." -Kneeland Youngblood, founding partner, Pharos Capital Group LLC

"'A fool with a plan can beat a genius with no plan.' It was a lesson taught to me by my father after I was pinned an SAE at Oklahoma State and, effectively, became his brother since he was an SAE, too. I was dragging my feet in life and taking my time in college. That's when he sprung that line on me. Hit me so hard I almost didn't hear the last part of it: 'And, son, your mom and I are concerned we have a fool with no plan.'" -T. Boone Pickens, CEO, BP Capital

"I'm glad I didn't know the success rate of entrepreneurs when I was young. It's like walking a tight rope. Don't look down or you'll realize you're walking on nearly nothing. Just face forward." -Calvin Carter, founder and CEO, Bottle Rocket

"You can't survive with a new company in a data market where IBM has an 80 percent market share or in an electricity market where Texas Utilities has a 100 percent share in Dallas and Reliant has 100 percent in Houston. So you do it anyway with University Computing and Green Mountain Energy." -Sam Wyly, founder, University Computing Co. and Green Mountain Energy

"I'm glad I didn't know anything and was truly clueless! That made everything more interesting to learn." -Andy Beal, billionaire CEO, Beal Financial Corp.

"Being a female in business has been a great adventure. There are so many false expectations and paradigms of and about women. It's a pleasure to ignore the rules, carve your own path and surprise others along the way." -Lucy Billingsley, partner, Billingsley Co.

"I started my company, Samco Capital Markets, on April Fool's of 1988, which was an appropriate date, because who in his right mind would start a financial services company in Dallas, Texas, in middle of the Great Texas Depression? I did it because I was optimistic and didn't know better. Somehow it worked out." -Tex Gross, chairman, Commerce Street Holdings LLC

"Buying land in the 1980s in Frisco when everybody knew that was too far away and would 'never happen.' Or building a building there when there was no office demand -- except there was." -Craig Hall, CEO, Hall Financial Group

"I did not know at age 29, when I started my [civil engineering] business, that I was not experienced enough, that I hadn't saved up quite enough money, and that I should have been scared to death. I was fearless because of my youth and naiveté. Not having this burden turned out to be freeing!" -Wendy Lopez, Texas area manager, AECOM Engineering Co.

"You will learn the most important lessons from your biggest mistakes." -Carol Reed, founder, The Reeds Public Relations Corp.

"I am glad I was never taught there are limits. There are none. Hard work pays off." -Richard Fisher, senior adviser, Barclays PLC, and former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

"Luck and timing should be part of your pro forma." -Bob Kaminski, president, Kaminski Interests Inc.

What do you know now that you wish you'd known when you started out?

"The purpose of a business is to create customers. You may just know that you have the world's best dog food. But if the dogs won't eat it -- it ain't dog food." -Sam Wyly, founder, University Computing Co. and Green Mountain Energy

"If you're going to fail, fail early." -Bob Kaminski, president, Kaminski Interests Inc.

"When you're working on a transaction, time is the enemy. Delays in transactions increase exponentially the risk of failure." -Tex Gross, chairman, Commerce Street Holdings LLC

"When you are trying to raise capital, rich uncles don't invest in your startup as much as poor uncles do. I would not have wasted my time talking to rich uncles." -Abid Abedi, co-founder and chairman, iCode Inc.

"It always takes more money and more time than you originally thought! It's the 'Optimist's Curse.'" -Wendy Lopez, Texas area manager, AECOM Engineering Co.

"In our formative years, On-Target's operating strategies and financial plans were developed without the benefit of intelligent data, appropriate analysis and talented management, which caused chronic problems, none easily overcome. I was overly optimistic, if not utterly euphoric.

Rapid growth in multiple markets proved difficult to finance and overloaded our loyal, hardworking workforce. The company's resulting 'safety nets,' mission, values and commitment to employees, customers and community have served us well." -Albert Black, founder and CEO, On-Target Logistics

"There are few shortcuts to success. Be honest and work hard are the best goals. Of course, we all get lucky from time to time. But the harder we work, the luckier we get. When I started out, I always thought there must be some much better path to success that was much more important than this old advice. But as I look back, it's the most important thing to understand." -Andy Beal, billionaire CEO, Beal Financial Corp.

"The most important thing is to keep the most important thing the most important thing.' It takes years to really get this, and it's still hard to hear it because it reminds me how much time we waste focusing on the wrong things in life." -Calvin Carter, founder and CEO, Bottle Rocket

"The reputation you earn is more important than the money you earn. People will forget what you said, what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel." -Carol Reed, founder, Reeds Public Relations Corp.

"Even though I successfully bootstrapped my PR firms, I wish I had known earlier how to access and leverage capital to grow faster and be an even stronger competitor." -Cynthia Pharr Lee, founder and principal, C. Pharr & Co.

What is your best advice for budding entrepreneurs?

"Most entrepreneurs at some point in their careers go through bad times. I did not realize how tough it would be. One needs self-confidence, determination, willpower and perseverance to regroup and come out fighting. It takes everything you have inside of you to succeed once again and win." -Abid Abedi, co-founder and chairman, iCode Inc.

"Nobody knows your business, customers and how to attract those customers better than you. Everyone will give their unsolicited advice on your business model, operations, advertising and sales efforts. But none of them have the answers like you do. Trust yourself and uncover the answer to your challenge that only you know." -Alex Danza, president and CEO, Vonlane LLC

"Know who and what you are. I am a salesman pure and simple. I networked in my business activities to build our business. I spent considerable time developing relationships in London, the center of insurance, and it paid off. They trusted me and I never let down. Bottom line: We always had a better product to offer." -Charles Terrell, founder, Unimark Insurance Agency

"Having spent 15 years during the early days of my career on Wall Street, I was exposed to hundreds of IPO pitches, including private equity and venture stage investments. I'm now immersed in similar entrepreneurial environments with private clients, family offices and foundations. I find the most successful pitch embodies both the art of a prophetic story teller, with the science of a robust [data centric] business model." -Chris Maxtone-Graham, financial adviser, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management

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