7 Lessons About Entrepreneurship I Learned from Drinking Beer

As a student at a small college in Maine, where temperatures hovered around “Is this a f*cking joke?!” during the school months, a favorite activity of my housemates and mine was drinking impressive quantities of beer. I imagine some students at colleges and universities outside of Maine, even, can relate. We all chipped in with funds from odd jobs: some tutored, others worked on campus, and I decided to make magnets for local restaurants.

In exchange for creating refrigerator magnets imprinted with the names and phone numbers of four eateries and then sliding one magnet underneath the door of every dorm room on campus, I auctioned off $1,400 worth of advertising space, half of which I received up-front. I spent $250 of the up-front money to make 2,000 magnets, spent one afternoon distributing them out of my backpack, and spent the rest of the school year lavishing my fellow students with cold kegs of bad beer, courtesy of my windfall.

Though the smallest of fries, the experience of turning a simple business idea into reality taught me a few lessons that I believe entrepreneurs can apply to almost any endeavor, no matter the size.

  1. Share your idea. Your idea is just a seed right now, and other people (friends, family, mentors) will help it germinate. Seek feedback, not fawning. Ask “What am I missing here? What could you see going wrong?” Not only does sharing your idea with other people help you work through the wrinkles, but saying it outloud transforms it into a real thing. And the momentum compounds.
  2. Use belief in your vision as a motivator to take action. How do you start? Where do you start? It’s easy to get hung up before you even lift a pencil. You have a good seed. You’ve nurtured it through sharing and tweaking. Focus on your next step, and use your vision as a guide to tell you where to step.
  3. Use the haters to fuel you to get it right. There will be haters, especially in the beginning, when you’re floundering (even you’d admit that you’re floundering — don’t take it personally). But they don’t know how badly you want this. I never had an “I’m gonna show so-and-so” kind of mindset, but I was conscious of thinking something along the lines of “If we’re gonna have this topic in our relationship, then I’m gonna dictate the arc of it. I’m in charge of whether the haters are right or not.” Don’t let ‘em be right. Instead, pour every ounce of your intelligence and heart into doing the details right. The fact that there are haters can help you minimize your odds of making careless & costly mistakes.
  4. Write a contract before doing any sales. Being sure to leave room for flexibility; this exercise forces you to clarify exactly what you are promising. It also forces you to put yourself in the shoes of your prospects and address any concerns & questions you can imagine them having. As Super Bowl champion quarterback Russell Wilson says: “The separation is in the preparation.”
  5. Your motivating reasons for pursuing your venture will greatly affect your set of possible outcomes. Although my gut told me that the community would benefit from moving the money that students spent on late-night delivery from the pockets of Papa John into the coffers of local family-owned businesses, my primary motivation was to make extra money to fund my partying. I was driven more by opportunism than by a desire to spur the local economy. If you start out trying to make money, then you’ll judge the success or failure of the project by asking yourself, “Have I made enough money?” As soon as you answer, “Yes,” then you’ll be likely to stop caring about whatever the thing is that you’re doing. The limit of your success is contained within your motivating reasons for starting.
  6. Reward the people who help you. One of my roommates had been driving me around town to take me to my sales meetings, and although he was doing this simply out of the kindness of his heart, when I finally had revenues in hand, my success actually felt sweeter by sharing my spoils with him. He was delighted, and I felt proud to have tangibly enriched his life. Besides, rewarding people who help you above and beyond what they expect is a good habit.
  7. Entrepreneur mode is a great mode to be in. It’s all about staying positive, being realistic inside a framework of Anything Is Possible, believing in yourself and in the world, making a contribution to other people, honoring the wild human spirit, being an artist within the economy-based societies we happen to inhabit. Entrepreneur mode is about creating an abundant life that frees you of financial struggle.

Whether you’re stacking Hamiltons to buy a handle of Jameson to warm you in frigid New England tundras, or raising your next fifty million bucks to scale into new markets, I hope these points stick with you…or maybe to your fridge.

The author in a chicken suit, circa 2008

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