A Conversation with Jeff Cornwall, Co-founder & CEO
We had the opportunity to interview Jeff Cornwall, Co-founder and CEO of The Entrepreneurial Mind, about entrepreneurship, and he shared some clutch advice that just may save:
- Your life,
- Your company, and
- Your marriage
Download and listen to the entire interview here
It's worth your 15 minutes of your time:
His advice to entrepreneurs? First, listen to what the market wants, then act. Listening to the market is not as easy as it sounds, but this blog will give you examples and inspiration do this and two other things that might save you from ruin as an entrepreneur.
He took his own first bit of advice, even after 40 years in business and entrepreneurship, and went back to the drawing board, refined the product, and launched The Entrepreneurial Mind earlier this month. Cornwall says it is "a website built to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses."
The website is a searchable database of hundreds of short videos and articles created specifically for entrepreneurs (and growing).
He was about to make a mistake—by not listening to the market—but he decided to let the market bend his ear, instead of assuming he knew what they wanted. He thought he knew what he was doing without first checking pain points. He could have failed, but he didn't. Hear the story in his own words here.
That's just the beginning. You really need to hear two other pieces of advice he offers.
Dr. Jeff Cornwall, professor of entrepreneurship at Belmont, had reason to believe he knew what he was doing. Authored of numerous books and articles, lecturer on entrepreneurship, and founder of a successful video blog, he knows a few things about Startupland, as Mikkel Svane puts it. In fact, Dr. Cornwall started his blog twelve years ago, a little before it was hot stuff to blog.
Now he’s launching his newest enterprise, which is an extension of the heart behind his video blog, The Entrepreneurial Mind. His new product offers courses for entrepreneurs at minimal cost. Perfect solution for young bucks like us at Relode.
Dr. Cornwall has 40 years of entrepreneurial background teaching or innovating. He currently holds the Jack C. Massey Chair in Entrepreneurship at Belmont University and has taught entrepreneurship there for over a decade now.
How to save your company before its too late
Cornwall has interviewed 100s of people about entrepreneurship, so as a young member of a startup myself, I asked him,
What are the top three pieces of advice you would give young entrepreneurs?
Jeff Cornwall: "First and foremost, I really caution startup entrepreneurs to not get all caught up in their own ideas. It’s a much easier path to success to find a market that has a need, than to come up with a really cool idea and then try to find a market that fits that need. Too often I see people sort of inventing things in their head so to speak, and while that can be successful and there are any number of startups that have done well at that, generally the probability of success there is much, much lower than if you find a market and try to figure out what they need.
"You know, I did it wrong with my recent startup. I did the classic thing of assuming I new what the market needed. As we were developing our digital content company, I was making assumptions based on my own perception of what I thought the market needed. Fortunately, we did some minimal viable product testing and quickly realized, market told us, we were completely wrong in our product and in our pricing and in our distribution systems. So we pretty much screwed it up all the way around. But because we listened to the customer, we were able to make adjustments and change our business model before we did any big, formal, huge launch.
"So I think that’s the first piece of advice—listen to the customer, listen to the market, they’re going to tell you what they need, and if you do that, your path to success is going to be a whole lot better."
That piece of advice could save your company. His company, The Entrepreneurial Mind, LLC, is a framework with hundreds of videos like TEDx Talks for everyday business questions.
The next two pieces of advice could save your marriage and your life. This comes from a full interview, which you can listen to here.
Save fundraising until later
JC: "The second thing I would say is don’t get wrapped up all in fund raising; don’t assume you have to raise a lot of money. Figure out your business model—what you really need—and then figure out the best way to raise that money. In the tech space, I see way too many entrepreneurs just obsessed with trying to basically force their business model into something that venture capitalists will like, and what they don’t understand is that venture capitalists are playing the odds, they’re going to fund 10 businesses in the hopes that one of them is going to work. And if that one works, that makes up for the other nine. Well, those other nine are people like you and I, who are trying to get startups going, who kind of got suckered in to taking a whole bunch of money and putting a whole bunch of jet fuel into something that may have not been a fully figured out business model. So take the time to really figure out what this business model is, and then figure out the appropriate funding. Especially in the tech space, it’s gotten a lot cheaper to do startups in the tech space.
"Less than one percent of deals in the U.S. Are funded by angels or venture capitalists, and people get obsessed with trying to figure out how to raise that kind of money. A lot of times they don’t even need it.
"I was talking with a startup that just needed some money for working capital. All they need was some working capital money: they had a timing issue of growing very rapidly and delayed payments and the cash crunch that that creates. You see that a lot in healthcare and other markets and these guys were facing that. They were chasing after angel investment money, and I said, 'That’s not what angels are good for.' They’re not looking to putting a working saddle to help stabilize your steady growth; they’re putting money in because they want to give it jet fuel to make it grow fast. If all you need is working capital, there’s a lot of other ways to do that. The cool thing about the open world we have on the internet is that we have all these financial lending broker companies that have access to dozens of different kinds of firms, debt programs, and unique SBA programs and different kinds of asset lending companies. They can really scour the entire country and find lenders that fit your business model ,your stage of existence, and your needs and get you a much, much cheaper and more appropriate kind of funding.
"So really understand what your funding is and understand the best place to get that funding. Don’t just automatically fall into this I gotta raise some angel money and venture capital money—it’s a path that a very small number of firms need to follow."
Marriage advice for entrepreneurs
JC: "The third thing I would tell you—since you’re only giving me three—is never forget about the fact that it’s up to you to create a balanced life. A lot of us go into entrepreneurship because we want freedom. I just tweeted this this morning, because I’ve had three alums this week that have all faced this issue. And yet we get so excited about opportunity and we chase the opportunity. But sometimes that opportunity can be damn near infinite; you can just grow as fast as you can possibly think about growing in certain markets right now. While that may be good from a business perspective, it’s not good from a personal perspective: it’s not good for your health, it’s not good for your family, it’s not good for your happiness—and those things matter! No one is going to pay attention to those things except for you.
"So I think it’s really important early on to get grounded in what it is you want out of life beyond just money. Money is important—I like money and most entrepreneurs I know like money. You know what else is important? Is it travel? Is it being engaged in the community and your church? Is it that you’ve got a family and you want to be able to spend time with them? If you don’t engineer those things into your business, they’re not going to happen. If you don’t make them priorities in your business, they’re not going to happen.
"In my opinion, no business I’ve ever started was worth putting my relationships and my family and close associations in jeopardy because of those businesses, yet I see that happen every day. There’s a pretty significant divorce rate among entrepreneurs and a lot of that comes because they don’t know how to put boundaries around the work part of their life to make sure they engineer in the time you really need to be a spouse, to be a parent, to be a friend, to be active in whatever they want to be active in."
Cornwall’s concluding thoughts
JC: "Those are the three things: the market’s going to tell you where to go, think really hard and careful about the money you need and where it should come from and don’t raise any more than you absolutely need to and understand the consequences of that money, and don’t loose sight of what’s important in life."
"Sometimes I feel like Forrest Gump—he was thrown into all these historical situations and these incredible people. One time I found myself in the room with Paula Failio (??), who was the founder of Kinkos, and that’s an incredible story. He started that business in college with a hundred square feet space where he was selling pencils and notebooks, and he happened to have a copier in the back. Just kind of on a whim he put a copier in the back. And he grew it into a multinational company with thousands of employees in thousands of locations and he sold it to FedEx and it was a huge exit.
"Someone in the room asked him. Of all those things—you know he was a young guy in college, growing his business, growing multinational—he asked him, 'What was your biggest success out of all this?'
"He didn’t even blink. He said, 'Success in life is kids who want to hang out with you when they’re grown up.'
"I just love that, and he lived that. He went on to explain that he made sure to remember how important that was to him and never let his business get in the way of that objective."
My reflection on Corwall's advice
So whether you’re young, old, new, experienced, cocky, type-A, serial, highly caffeinated, or just a high-strung as an entrepreneur, listen to Dr. Cornwall’s advice—for your company’s sake, for your spouse’s sake, and for your sake. It just might save you, your family, and your company. You might not “get there” as quickly, but if your idea is a winner, you’ll get there in one piece. Not everyone is that fortunate.
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