An Entreprenuer’s Desk

Every day I sit down at my desk I look at three things displayed next to me. One item is a framed $20 bill that has two fortune cookie fortunes on each corner. The two fortunes say “Go for it. You never know what will happen next.” and the other says “ Avoid unchallenging occupations-they will waste your great talents.” Both of these quotes define entrepreneurship and remind me why I do what I do. The $20 bill was the first sale I had when I started my entrepreneurial journey back in 2010.

The first $20

It was the most significant and meaningful $20 I have ever earned because it proved that someone was willing to pay me their hard earned money for something I created. Entrepreneurship should not just be about making money, it should be about solving problems and helping people. Entrepreneur, investor and author Guy Kawasaki, once said, “The best reason to start an organization is to make meaning — to create a product or service to make the world a better place.” This $20 showed that someone also agreed. However, just because you have a great product or service doesn’t guarantee success. There are so many other critical factors that determine a company’s success. The right people, distribution, marketing, culture are all important. However an entreprenuerial leader without grit will never be able to survive.

My journey to entrepreneurship started back in 2010 when I became disorientated in a fire. As a firefighter, disorentation is a common problem that you just “deal with”. That wasn’t acceptable to me, I knew there had to be a better way for my brother and sister firefighters to find our way through the dark. I learned about a new type of glow in the dark material that charged very fast and glowed so brightly that it could penetrate the darkness and smoke frequently found on the fire-ground. I had a few prototypes made and started to travel from fire station to fire station selling these products out of the trunk of my car.

Having that first firefighter give me that $20 showed me that he not only saw that this product could make him safer, he was even willing to pay me his hard earned dollars for it. This was so meaningful because that transaction verified that I was creating something that others valued. Eight years later, we now count over 70,000 other firefighters that have also agreed that that value is worth their hard earned money. The business has now evolved to using that similar Advanced Photoluminescent Technology®technology to make EXIT signs that never need batteries, lightbulbs or electricity. Thanks to the brands we have built (Foxfire® for the firefighters and LumAware® for our EXIT and safety products)we now have these electric free EXIT signs in use all around the world. Entities ranging from the US State Department to Fortune 500 companies to three of the five largest retailers in the United States are now customers.

That framed $20 bill is a constant reminder that all great journeys start with a first step. Never in a million years would I have dreamed that this journey would have taken me on such a wild adventure with the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Most people only see the accomplishments, honors and accolades but behind all of that is stress, anxiety, and heartache. I learned in the US Marine Corps, that nothing should ever stop you from accomplishing your mission. There is always a solution to every problem but sometimes that solution can be quite difficult. Failure is easy, success is what is hard. Looking at that $20 bill and thinking about how far we have come is the shining light that motivates me during some of those dark times.

Anna Vidal’s Infographic on the Entrepreneurial Journey

The second thing I look at is pictures of my family. My grandfather was an entrepreneur, his mother also was an entrepreneur in the 1800’s at a time before many women even worked. Both sets of my grandparents were first-generation Americans whose parents immigrated from Europe so they and their ancestors could live in the greatest country in the world and have the opportunity to chase their dreams. Entrepreneurs are dreamers and with those dreams can come significant sacrifices. Usually putting your business above everything is one of those sacrifices but if you have a dream, you owe it to both yourself and your family to chase it. As Mark Twain famously said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do”. Missed anniversaries, birthdays and school events are typical casualties encountered as an entreprenuer does things most other people never would. Someone once said that “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” In the last few years I have spent as much time in hotels and airports as I have in my own house. I have had to make personal, financial and emotional sacrafices that many people warned me against. Knowing that one day I will be able give my family a better future is what drives me on those lonely nights away from home. As I look at those pictures, I am reminded that I have an obligation to honor those who have paved the way before me and that I couldn’t do what I do without the support of my family.

Family Pictures

The third item next to my desk is a framed copy of one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite leaders; Theodore Roosevelt. The Man In The Arena speech is a quote that still gives me chills each time I read it. It talks to the true spirit of an entrepreneur. It recognizes and honors that what counts is not victory or defeat but to dare greatly. That quote honors both myself and my fellow dreamers who realized that if they have a dream, they owe it to themselves, their family and society as a whole to chase it.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt