Jim Hirshfield, a successful entrepreneur for over thirty years, has a foundation of experience. In 1973, he founded Summit Communications, Inc., a cable company that grew to employ 130 people. He was CEO for twenty-six years until he sold the successful business he had built. Today Jim writes, consults, talks, sails, and generally has a good life. He divides his time between his homes in Washington State and Hawaii.
Tyler: Welcome, Jim. I am delighted that you are joining me today to talk about your new book "Fortune and Freedom". To begin with, I understand that you yourself are a long-time entrepreneur? Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur in the first place?
Jim: It has always been an option for me. In other words, I never felt the need for someone else to tell me what my life was going to be. I call this 'disintermediary'. We see a bank as a financial intermediary, taking deposits from some people and using that money to make loans to others. Likewise, when you work for someone else, that person acts as a middleman for your work, paying you and then selling the fruits of your labor to others. In other words, they manage to "mark" your work. As an entrepreneur, you get rid of the middleman, that is, you disintermediate yourself. I've always understood this dynamic and planned to become an entrepreneur, unless a third party pays me more for my work than I thought I could earn on my own.
Tyler: Did you find it scary to own your own business and rely on yourself instead of a paycheck from an employer, and how did you overcome that fear?
Jim: In my thirties, I was working as a senior manager for a big bank, having recently sold my first company. My wife commented on how nice it was to have the security of working for a big company. My reaction was different. I felt I had a lot less security than running my own business. Large organizations have a culture and a political structure that only senior officers can affect. In the end it turned out to be a lot harder to do the right things for the big business than it was for my own small business. So in answer to your question, I guess I never had this fear to overcome. I spent a lot of nights worrying about my business issues so maybe this is where I got a little scared as an entrepreneur. My approach to this fear was to work harder than ever to make a good decision when faced with a big problem.
Tyler: What do you think is the most difficult challenge to overcome as an entrepreneur?
Jim: In the beginning, make the payroll every payday. This is implicit in the "entrepreneurial market" discussed in the book, the fact that you can profit from the work of your employees as long as you stick to your end of the bargain. The most important part of it is to make the payroll flawless.
Tyler: Does that include paying yourself?
Jim: Pay yourself last, after you've satisfied the deal you've made with your employees. If there isn't enough money, you don't get paid!
Tyler: What are the differences in entrepreneurship for people who want to be independent only for themselves versus those who want to start businesses with many employees?
Jim: Your question raises an important question. If you sell your workforce and look for the opportunity to keep everything rather than giving it to your employer – that is, disintermediating yourself – you are not creating of value beyond the money you earn every day. If you are a big movie star this is a good approach because you probably get paid tons of money. For most of us, however, such an approach carries more risk than creating a business entity with other employees. The risk lies both in what happens to your family and disability life plan, and in the increased difficulty you will have to create value over time.
Of course, a lot of people go this route and have a good life. I would say, however, that the risk of failure – defined as the inability to execute your life plan – is higher in this route. This is just a risk factor, of course. As comedian David Frye said, unemployment level only matters if you don't have a job.
Tyler: What do you think is the biggest reward of being an entrepreneur?
Jim: Freedom. Yes, you have customers, employees, banks, and others who have an interest in your business. As an entrepreneur, you can respond to these stakeholders in a way that works for you and them, and gives you much more freedom in business and life than if you work for someone else.
Tyler: Jim, what made you write "Fortune and Freedom"?
Jim: It's fun to answer that question. For decades, I have been answering calls from friends, children of friends, friends of our children, and lately grandchildren of friends. Those calls were something like, "Can I buy you a lunch and run a business idea by you?" Thinking of all these visits, it seemed that whatever issue was discussed, my answer always presented a narrow range of things to consider. So I asked myself, "What if I wrote these things, these 'keys to success', in a book? Then when someone called me to choose my brain, I would ask them to read my book before we got together. You know what "I did this with a draft of my book a year ago, sending it to a grandson who then sent me a cute letter, saying we didn't. We didn't need to get together anymore, and he and his wife were significantly reshaping their life plan. The book worked!
Tyler: Jim, there are many books out there on how to make a million dollars, how to start your own business, how to achieve your dreams. What sets "Fortune and Freedom" apart from these other books?
Jim: This book isn't about winning a million dollars. It's about knowing how to lead a good life and enjoy the freedom that can come from being an entrepreneur. Of course you should be making some money, but that's not the first goal here.
Tyler: In the foreword to the book, William Sahlman, Dean of Harvard Business School, says, "This book is written for the entrepreneur as a person, rather than for the entrepreneurial business. being created." Can you explain in more detail what it means?
Jim: Dean Sahlman has a wonderfully keen sense of what works in business, as well as the ability to communicate his message succinctly.
Most books on business entrepreneurship deal with specific aspects of running a business. If you are wondering why your marriage failed, you need to go to another section of the bookstore. “Fortune & Freedom” is written on the premise that you cannot separate the business aspects of your life from the rest of your life. It is important to be successful in your entrepreneurial business, and it is also important to successfully run the other parts of your life.
Running a business takes more time than you have to. The same goes for participating in your wedding, raising children, doing community service, etc. How you balance these excessive demands on your one scarce asset, time, is at the heart of Fortune & Freedom. This value underpins the keys to success that the book presents.
Tyler: Jim, can you give us some insight into how that kind of work-family balance can be found?
Jim: In my approach, you have to decide that it's important to achieve that balance, and then program yourself relentlessly to give time to every effort that you think is important. Time is the scarce asset, and time is what any business needs to be successful. Don't let others determine how you use your time.
Tyler: I understand you are using examples in your own career book. Would you like to give us one?
Jim: This story opens the chapter on the importance of developing leadership skills:
I was skiing with a group of old people when one of the guys took off and hit a trail. No one followed him. We only got together at lunchtime, when we found him waiting for us at the agreed meeting place. "Why didn't you follow me?" he said. For a moment there was silence. Then, from another of the old folks: "If you're not a leader, don't lead."
The chapter then discusses the importance of developing leadership skills and some ways of doing it.
Tyler: Do you think it's more difficult today than when you founded Summit Communications to be an entrepreneur?
Jim: In my early twenties, I remember discussing successful business people with my friends. Many of the comments were like "well he was lucky to be there when the going was easier". In other words, when we look at people's success, the road is always more visible than when we look into the unknown. In answer to your question, no, I don't think it is harder to become a successful entrepreneur today. The world has changed, the opportunities are different, but the ability to be successful is still there. And the keys to success are always the same. This is why I wrote "Fortune and Freedom: The Keys to Entrepreneurial Success".
Tyler: What do you think is the biggest difference for entrepreneurs today compared to thirty years ago?
Jim: Here are three. Obviously, the opportunities are different. With globalization, many markets are much bigger than we ever imagined. And the technical tools available to the entrepreneur, such as computers and blackberries, are much better.
Tyler: Jim, what do you think has been the greatest learning experience for you on your way to becoming an entrepreneur?
Jim: I first thought about becoming an entrepreneur in a class in my MBA program at Harvard Business School. We had read a business "case" of a man who had bought a small business ten years earlier. He came to class in a three-piece suit with his Phi Beta Kappa key on his vest and answered our questions about the case. Even though this guy was probably a lot smarter than me, he had made a lot of fundamental mistakes. You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see them. Ten years after starting his business he was still living day to day and his prospects were not bright. He was happy, however, because he was an entrepreneur. I felt I could become a more successful entrepreneur. At the end of the game, I might have more than the title “entrepreneur”. I could have the freedom that a successful entrepreneur should have, and with it a successful life personally and financially.
Tyler: I guess your readers are people who want to be entrepreneurs themselves. What do you hope they'll come away from after reading "Fortune and Freedom"?
Jim: Everyone who reads this book comes out with a different contribution. It & # 39; s like a weekend ski clinic, where you don & # 39; t expect to go from zero to expert. Instead, you hope to take away a couple of things that really speak to you about the issues you're facing. This is why we keep coming back to these ski clinics and why people will come back to this book. As we move through life, different times and places present different issues. "Fortune and Freedom" offers help along the way, a light in what sometimes seems like a place of darkness. Essentially, readers should find one or two approaches to the big issues that confuse them at their particular stage of life.
Tyler: Thanks for joining me today, Jim. Before you go, are you going to tell our readers a bit about your website and what additional information they can find there?
Jim: http://www.fortuneandfreedomthebook.com is our website, and it will be up and running soon. On the site you can see me and my biography. You can consult the table of contents and read excerpts from the book to get a better idea of the messages it contains. You will be able to purchase the book itself, or purchase by chapters that are instantly downloaded as a pdf or, coming soon, purchase chapters as podcasts. If you want to know what I'm thinking right now, there is a blog. You will be able to join our members' forum and ask your own personal questions related to your business and myself as well as other forum members.
Tyler: Thanks for being here, Jim. I wish you the best of luck in your future and hope that many people enjoy reading "Fortune and Freedom".
Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views was pleased to be joined by Jim Hirshfield, author of "Fortune and Freedom: The Entrepreneur & # 39; s Guide to Success", Millennium Ventures Press (2008), ISBN 9780979812705.