Posted by kari.petroschmidt
Image by Nikita Brown
If you ask my good friend and fellow entrepreneur, Jack Yan, what he does, he has difficulty giving a straight answer – perhaps because he does so many things. Jack will tell you that his answer depends upon the audience.
“If it’s a marketing audience, I say I’m a brand consultant and a think-tank Director. If it’s people in Graphic Design, I tell them I designed typefaces. To others I say I’m a Magazine Publisher. But then I do work in Academia, I’ve authored and co-authored books, I work as a Business Mentor, I ran for Mayor in 2010, and I serve on a few boards, but that’s the New Zealand story! Four million people and you do everything!”
I met Jack years ago when we were both very politically active as bloggers in the same blogging platform community. We bonded over 80’s American and British television as well as our compatible political views. Although we were both living in Wellington at the time, we didn’t meet until a few years after we’d been commenting on each other’s blogs ad nauseum. One of the first things I found out about Jack was that he designed fonts. I was intrigued because I’m one of those people who actually care which font my email is in and will change it several times a year when I temporarily tire of one. It seems that Jack found that he had an entrepreneurial bent from early on through doing work within his family. Also, in the 80’s is when he found that he had a talent for lettering.
“My godmother’s work needed some hand-lettering done and I was the only person around in mid-December 1987, back in the days when New Zealanders all disappeared from work earlier in the month. That was my first job. By that point, too, my father was self-employed again so I got more of a taste of it from him. I also did his monthly statements for him, so I knew a little about accounts.”
I have discussed at some length in these posts about why I decided to start Throw Like a Girl. One of the reasons Jack cites for becoming an entrepreneur is because he figures that he’s just too difficult a person to work for someone else. I had to laugh at that. Many people have a persona that they put on in life and another they put on for work – and they may be vastly different. I suspect that many other entrepreneurs begun because they felt this way as well. “I like the feeling of doing something new and entrepreneurship allows me to do that. Working for someone else doesn’t. My business appeals to me because I love what I do. I never find it to be “work”, i.e. burdensome”.
One of the pieces of advice we have heard over and over so far about starting up a business is that you can get so excited and then overextend yourself by trying to expand too fast. Starting small is just fine and it is to your advantage to let your business grow naturally and organically. This gives you time to grow with it and your learning curve doesn’t seem so…curvy. Jack related to this experience, when I asked him whether he faced difficulties in starting up. “Not really when starting up. That was the easy part because it was so small then. The difficult parts were when we got swayed a bit from our strategy in trying to grow too quickly. But we brought things back under control, got wise about the people we had on board, and we began making progress again.”
“[The tipping point was…] probably our first international distribution contract for our fonts. This was pre-internet, so the fact we reached a milestone with licensing in those days was really welcome. It was a great first international deal to get because it helped me understand the global business context. Since then, the other deals felt incremental to that one, even the big ones!”
Now that Jack is a mad success, does he rest on his laurels? No. He still does the daily grind every day in order to keep growing as an entrepreneur. “[I] answer emails, arrange meetings, check some articles, do the meetings, write a lot, check my Facebook and Twitter, answer more emails. OK, that sounds really boring, but I do have fun in that! For example, I tend to create our ads, and I get final say on our publishing layouts.”
Obviously, Jack knows his stuff. And i’m not just saying that because he’s one of my best friends. As someone who is starting up a business, I am most interested in any advice a successful entrepreneur can give me. Fortunately, as it is coming from a friend in this instance, the advice is even more honest and valuable.
“The only way to do it is to do it. Don’t ever get sucked in to the tall-poppy syndrome BS. Kiwis are good enough, and we are usually better. We punch above our weight and are among the most entrepreneurial people on the planet. Never lose sight of that. Learn about other cultures: many of us will need to export, so there’s no point having tunnel vision. And do good things for people: when you mess up or when you get into a funk, they’re the ones who will send you an email going, ‘Hey, mate, what is this?’ I’ve always been grateful when earlier good karma comes back and helps me out of the crap.”
Image by Jennifer Hamilton
Finally, for those of us who have chosen the path of an entrepreneur, we can often suffer from pangs of self-doubt and lack of confidence. Perhaps we think about what we would be doing instead of mixing the cement for our own road to success. But in the end, it is quite likely that this is the journey that will take you right where you ought to be – and perhaps forging your way to even greater opportunities.
“If I didn’t have my own business, I probably would have done my bar exam after my law degree, and be a frustrated lawyer. However, I get a lot of pleasure from teaching, and had lectured for a few semesters. So maybe one of those two things. But somehow I think there’s a human tendency to drift back toward the things you love, so I probably would have wound up doing something similar to what I do now. I still learn every day. I still have a passion for it 25 years later. I just love it.”