3 Lessons from Running a Business Over College Break
In 24 hours, I leave to study abroad in Varanasi, India — 4 months of what will likely be an intense, eye opening experience.
But for the last 12 months, I prepared and dived in to sales, marketing, and recruiting for Cutco Cutlery, a company still manufacturing in America. Since 1949, Cutco produces kitchen products, with some American workers who’ve been at the factory for over 40 years. And this summer, I ran a branch office in downtown Chicago with Cutco’s sibling company, Vector Marketing. I advertised, recruited, trained and developed a team of sales representatives.
With a few days left of the summer sales campaign, my branch office will finish in the top 10% amongst branch offices, with well over 6 figures in revenue.
Before I leave tomorrow, I wanted to share a few thoughts and how this incredible experience impacted me. And what young entrepreneurs might learn from my experience.
1. Commitment might be all that matters.
December 15th of 2017 — the Chicago division manager, my boss, set a deadline for my ‘letter of commitment.’ There was a lot I felt I wanted to share. I wrote draft after draft, unsure of how to best communicate why the opportunity was important to me. Finally, I ran out of time and mailed off one of the drafts, one that was short and concise.
Until recently, I didn’t realize the significance of that letter.
It’s not what I wrote that was important and the reasons why I wanted to run a business, what mattered was that I commited. Motivations and reasons to pursue something will ebb and flow, change and shapeshift into other forms.
And — Motivation does not lead to working 14 hour days, let alone sustaining it day after day. Motivation does not consistently help one lead. Motivation does not power one through all the things that one does not want to do.
I had never run interviews, trainings, 1 on 1 coaching sessions, or team meetings up until I opened my office, all the basic functions of a manager. But in the long run, that wasn’t important. What made the difference was I committed to learning on the fly and being effective despite often being uncomfortable, uncertain, and worn out.
Motivation does not matter, commitment does.
2. It’s ok to pivot your focus to succeed on your terms.
Towards the end of June, I was not happy with the direction of my business. In June, my second month of being open, my office did less in sales than it had in May, despite recruiting being at a seasonal high. Frustrated and disappointed as my offices’ sales goals became less and less attainable, I chose to pivot. I decided to slow my recruiting and go out to sell along with my team.
In the following 3 weeks, the company’s biggest competition of the year, my office proceeded to do more than we had in the previous 9 weeks. With the smallest branch team, mine was in the top 4 out of over 50. And at our region conference, in front of 500+ people, I understood the impact of my decision.
Most managers were worn before the competition even started, and I was one of them, but my choice to go out and connect with customers re-energized me, and in turn, bettered my team. I regained control of my experience and redefined what a successful summer meant to me.
By pivoting, I achieved a new vision and those around were better because of my decision.
3. The #1 myth — You don’t have to be the founder.
Why do I write this? Because being the #1 is hard.
If you are the most accountable person in your organization, then you are ultimately the only accountable person. And at 20 years old, I wasn’t ready for that reality — dealing with frustrating employees, hiring (and firing), paycheck issues, and being uncertain, all while leading dozens of people at a time. It takes practice and leadership development over years and decades to ultimately build a great team.
Why else do I write this? Because it’s impractical.
Steve Ballmer, a partner in Microsoft, didn’t start the company. He’s one of the richest dudes in the world, CNBC says he’s worth $40 billion, and he did not start Microsoft.
Great schools, companies, and countries need lots of people to impact their environments. And truth is, their leaders all answer to someone. CEO’s answer to shareholders, coaches answer to their players, and the President answers to the people (well, at least most of them do). The #1 in all organizations cannot ‘be the boss’ and ignore their people, they must be hyper-receptive to their teams, and make decisions that factor in everyone else, investors, employees, customers.
The opportunity to run a business this summer was challenging and rewarding. I wish more people understood the potential with Vector that I experienced. Easy things are not worth it, and things that are worth it are not easy. Vector was worth it.