Building a Refined Life: My Journey Into Entrepreneurship
My generation has seen an explosion of entrepreneurial activity. Facing industry consolidation after the market crash in 2008–2009, I was forced to use my skills to control my destiny. I had to create something that would allow me to sink or swim on my own accord and help others do the same. Therefore, I enrolled in business school to give myself options to control my destiny.
During the development of Mr. Refined, a lifestyle publication, I worked as a business consultant for small- and mid-sized businesses, along with budding entrepreneurs. Financial empowerment is one of my passions and I learned from my days in wealth management that money matters can make or break someone’s ability to live well. Although I counseled others, I was not exempt from heeding my own advice, and like many people, I wanted to see immediate results. My ultimate goal of print publication was delayed due to the search for talented staff. Additionally, advertisers’ obsession with social media numbers created a constant problem of trying to attract more likes and followers without watering down content. Where was the balance between substance and simply posting trending topics for numbers sake? It is a question that I am still trying to answer. But one thing I know for sure is that it’s necessary to be able to adapt and OK with stepping outside your comfort zone.
Being adaptable is how Mr. Refined came to be in the first place. The original concept started out as an idea for a lounge/club that I developed while doing a marketing and financial plan in business school, which morphed into the lifestyle magazine that it is today. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way:
• Get everything in writing: When starting a partnership or joint venture, get everything in writing beforehand. In the beginning, I made several agreements with individuals based on a hand shake and a good faith promise to deliver. I delivered, they did not. I had to get legal assistance, but still did not recover my full losses. My attorney has been on me since then not to do anything until a written agreement is in place. I learned the hard way.
• Partner with those who share your vision: It is critical to partner with people who share your vision. The lounge project was my vision but my former partners had other ideas in mind. We started looking at properties before putting anything in writing. When things started to get rough and we started to talk about financial splits, things fell apart. We were outbid on a few properties and made some rookie mistakes during the fundraising process. It required revisiting the original plan and concept. At that point, my partners didn’t want to continue on, so I pivoted.
• There will be failures, learn from them: There will be many failures. Learn from them. Failure does not mean you stop. It means you find another way. We tried to collaborate with people who weren’t willing to produce what we needed to grow. Relying on the wrong people slowed our development as a brand. Mr. Refined is my dream and passion. I’ve wanted to quit many times, but I’d only be quitting on myself because I’ve invested too much to not see it through.
• Being a boss vs. being a leader: I pulled together a handful of people who believed in me and the Mr. Refined brand. With their tireless dedication, through the good and bad, the brand was reinvented. Time management and people management required me to prioritize and learn to listen to the advice of my inner circle. There were times when I wanted to forge ahead with certain projects, but they were the voice of reason admonishing me that it was either bad timing or not on brand. You need trusted people by your side that will tell you the truth when no one else will.
• Know when to cut ties and your losses: Several people approached me about working with the brand, however they proved to be more of a hindrance. I wasted valuable time and energy trying to develop people who were never truly invested and did not deliver in terms of their stated skill set. In the end, I had to re-do everything. Cut ties quickly and keep it professional and in writing. Regardless of whether or not it’s a paid or unpaid position, put everything in writing so that there are no misunderstandings. As an entrepreneur, your time is your most valued commodity. Be selfish and protective over it. Lost time can never be regained.