By May 9, 2011 25 Comments Read More →

Pursuit, Passion, and Perils: The Story of One Young Entrepreneur

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“Passion is the genesis of genius.” — Tony Robbins

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from best selling author Shama Kabani on how to be a more effective entrepreneur. Shama is an award winning CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, an international speaker, and author of The bestselling book, Zen of Social Media Marketing. I asked Shama to share her lessons learned on finding your spark, following your passion, and succeeding in business.  Here is what she had to say …

I was recently invited to speak to a group of young college students at The City University in Hong Kong on the topic on entrepreneurship. And, I was quite thrilled by the challenge. I believe that entrepreneurship is partly inherent, but everyone has a spark within them to make it happen. At 26, I’ve learned quite a few things about entrepreneurship first hand. My first business was at the age of 9. It was no astounding success. As it turns out, your parents will only buy so much gift wrap before they force you to retire. Since then, I’ve become a savvier entrepreneur. Today, I serve as CEO of The Marketing Zen Group –a full service web marketing firm with a staff of 27 and a global clientele.

Top 10 Lessons in Entrepreneurship

Here are my top ten lessons in entrepreneurship. These are the same lessons that I shared in my physical presentation with the students of City University.

  1. Don’t be afraid. It can be scary to start a business. There are a lot of variables and unknowns, but it doesn’t have to be a frightening experience. Take the time to plan it out, do your research, get help, and learn from other people’s mistakes. Ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen? Often what scares us the most is our own judgment.
  2. Get adopted. The younger you are, the better this works. I had a professor who once told me that the best thing about being a young entrepreneur is that you can get adopted! People want to mentor and guide you. Most see you as the future, not as a threat. I’ve found this to be very true, and have always been grateful for the support of my community –offline & online!
  3. Leverage technology. Technology continues to get cheaper and more user friendly. It has removed barriers, and flattened the marketplace. You can compete with the biggest of companies by leveraging what is available out there for you in terms of technology.
  4. Think globally. As an entrepreneur, you are no longer bound by physical boundaries. Even if your business is local, you can generate a global following. I recently learned about a business in Singapore called “Awfully Chocolate.” And, as a chocolate lover, it is on my list to visit when I go there! \
  5. Your age is an asset. No matter your age, it is an asset, not a liability. If you are older, you are a seasoned professional. If you are younger, you have a unique perspective to bring to the table. When I first started my company, I did not disclose my age. I felt it would undermine our good work. But then I realized that clients were seeking us out exactly because they wanted to work with a “young & hip” company. They wanted someone who understood technology as a first language. I was amazed at this revelation.
  6. Hire by trial. Perhaps the toughest part about being an entrepreneur is that you can’t do it alone. You have to eventually hire a team. I recommend hiring by trial. No resume, no cover letter, no interview can ever take the place of actually seeing someone in action.
  7. Marry a lawyer. And, it really helps if you are in love with them. I never realized what a huge role legal plays in a business. And, I’ve been lucky enough to marry one of the smartest attorneys in the world. If you aren’t married to an attorney, no problem. Befriend one! Find a great business lawyer, and make then a true partner in your business. They are trained to see things that you can’t.
  8. Listen to your marketplace. Perhaps the greatest lesson you will learn as an entrepreneur is the ability to listen and respond to your marketplace. When I first started The Marketing Zen Group, we only offered consulting services. But, very soon, we saw that our clients were frustrated when they didn’t have the right resources to implement our recommendations. We then offered to take over their web marketing for them, and business has been booming since.
  9. Invest in what matters. Bootstrap the rest. Invest in bettering your services, hiring the best, and marketing. You don’t need a fancy office. You do need to know what you are doing, and a competent team to help you do it. Don’t negotiate with your vendors on price. Negotiate on value. Make them feel like a part of your team.
  10. Less money is better than more money. This is contrarian advice, but it is true when starting out. As you grow your business, this changes. But, if you are just starting a business, it forces you to be more creative. And, at the end of the day, entrepreneurship is really an exercise in creativity.

Shama Kabani is the award winning CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, a full service web marketing firm in Dallas. She is also the author of the best-selling, The Zen of Social Media Marketing; and hosts her own web TV show at Shama.Tv.

25 Comments on "Pursuit, Passion, and Perils: The Story of One Young Entrepreneur"

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  1. alik levin says:

    I love #6 a lot – hire by trial.

  2. Shama says:

    Thank you, Alik. I, personally, find #6 to be a favorite as well.

  3. Thank you JD and Shama, what a lovely timely post on entrepreneurship!

    This was a very encouraging post and brought new smiles of confidence in some of those areas I wondered even hesitated about if I had what it takes. Inside I do indeed feel that spark, and focus on value and creativity. I care much about building community and preserving the old while knowing the new.

    Probably the favorite takeaway from this post and what I will likely apply most is this one: #9 Negotiate on value. Make them feel like a part of your team. and that was interesting as well what was shared about age. Though I don’t worry about that too much I guess sometimes I do feel like I’m probably seen as a baby face so what can I bring, haha, but I know inside I have much wisdom through life experiences and those who know me say so as well –so overcoming my own judgment and learning to appreciate myself is what I’m working on lately to be able to share what I’m here for: unchanging values and inner wisdom. So this was a nice reassurance as well!

    Great post! Thank-you kindly.
    Jenn

  4. Patricia says:

    Thank you JD for sharing this bright and beautiful entrepreneur

    I think I would have gotten hired more over the years with a trial than by interviews and resumes….and now I definitely look OLD and people are rather startled by how much I have accomplished – as one fellow said at an interview, have you ever thought of baking cookies and selling them/ or volunteering to read to children at school…

    I have realized that I am a very creative ideas person and I have tremendous skill at integrating ideas…I need to hire someone for the technical know how and delegate that which moves to fast for the other aspects of being me….

    I wish some folks that only paid me $500 a month and no benefits would come back and pay me properly for my services and pay with interest….being a professional volunteer only works if you have enough funds for basic necessities….they thought I was a young woman just starting out – they did not know that I would build them programs that are still going 30 years later with such success…as a matter of fact the US Congress is working to de-fund one of my biggest projects….

    Thank you for your good information sharing

  5. Jk Allen says:

    Hi Shama,

    I love numbers 2 and 5!

    Get Adopted – This is advice that I’m only starting to reap the benefits from…and I’m 30.

    Your age is an Asset – no matter our age, we all have something worthwhile to share.

    Great advice – Advice I wish I would have read a few years ago.

    Thank you and you have a great website Shama over a MZG!

    Hi J.D. – hope the week has started off well!

  6. Joe says:

    Hi Shama,

    I finished reading your book yesterday night.
    This article confirm still further what was my impression about the book.
    Great pieces of advice, no doubt..

    But what if you have ideas but don’t have money?

    What if you have been forced to leave all that you love to try and succeed in another country, learn another language on your own, in few weeks, just studying hard and alone because the only accommodation you can afford is in a little city full of people over 60?

    What if you don’t know anyone important and you’re fresh of graduation but even if you’ve got experience, (and fresh graduates usually don’t have any experience)your CV are thrown out and you can’t even show your value at the interview because you don’t get that interview?

    In this economic situation, a 26 man with a great dream, ready to give all he has, ready to learn, eager to learn everyday something new, how can he break the glasses and escape from this transparent prison?

  7. Marlee says:

    Hi Shama!
    So lovely to see you here. I must say I’ve know of your work for some time and I was very skeptical of another “social media marketing” book, but your book Social Media Zen ROCKS! You did a great job with that.

    Thank you for you insights here. I’m particularly fond of number 7 (I’m a lawyer turned entrepreneur), because it’s nice to see someone saying something nice about lawyers these days.

    Lastly, thank you for demonstrating so much ambition and courage. Your work is inspirational to many others who seek to chart their own course at a young age. I delayed my passion for business with a law degree, and although it’s served me well, I would have like to take the bull by the horns sooner.

    Keep up all your great work!

  8. Shama says:

    Blooming Paris – Thanks for adding your insight. You have a lovely approach towards life!

    Patricia – I have a lot of respect for those who realize the importance of volunteering. My mom volunteers non-stop. :)

    JK Allen – Thank you so much for your kind words.

    Joe – Everything is a story we tell ourselves. I came to this country when I was 9. My parents and in-laws came here without a penny and started businesses, raised a family, and integrated successfully. People do it every day. The first thing you have to change is your mindset. Instead of making a list of things that are stopping you, make a list of the things that are supporting you. A brand new country means a brand new start.

    Marlee – Very pretty name, btw! Thank you for your kind words as well. I am so glad that the book was useful for you. And, yes, I do believe lawyers don’t get the respect they deserve. They are such a key partner to have in any business!

  9. Sally says:

    Shama,

    I liked #1 and #6. There are so many people out in the world frozen in fear due to the economy. Taking that first step is huge! I like #6 because I am 55 and I am working with 30 year old marketing gurus! I respect their knowledge and am learning as fast as I can. I love that these two guys know so much and have faith in my ability – maybe because of my age or enthusiasm – who knows!? Who cares? I am loving this new education!

  10. Bethanie says:

    Great article, Shama! Been a follower for a short time now but you really opened my eyes when I read your book. We totally bootstrapped our business and bartered the rest. I love the creativity and flexibility this allows a business and when everyone walks away thinking they got the better deal, that’s priceless! And having more rather than less money walking into a startup is dangerous. It tends to encourages unnecessary funding and the thinking you’ll make it up when business starts rolling. Optimism is one thing but no one can afford to live without reality and the what-ifs that do happen.

  11. Hi Shama,
    This is excellent advice. I definitely need your book! J.D. thanks for a wonderful guest. The number of talented young people in the world never ceases to amaze me.

  12. Annie Lin says:

    I’m all about #6. Outsourcing has been invaluable to me and has allowed me to focus my energy on what REALLY matters while growing at the same time. What’s your best system for taking on new help?

  13. Basant says:

    I liked lesson#1. Fear is a big factor which keeps many of us away from entreprenaurship :)

  14. Keith Davis says:

    Hi Shama
    Thanks for the insight – passion and of course talent and ability, guess you have all three.

    Liked your “Marry a lawyer”
    It’s a bit late for me, should have read your post many years ago. LOL

    Enjoyed reading.

  15. I think an entrepreneur can get adopted at any age. You just have to show the willingness to learn from someone else. Just show a lot of interest and you have a good chance of winning them over.

  16. Vered says:

    “No matter your age, it is an asset, not a liability.” Interesting idea. I’m thinking this can apply to other traits too, those that *could* be a liability – unless you turn them into an asset.

  17. Shama says:

    Sally – That’s the attitude! = )

    Bethanie – Thanks so much, and good for you! More businesses would succeed if people would think like you.

    Tess the Bold Life – Thank you very much! = )

    Annie Lin – My best tip for hiring is to always try people on as contractors or interns. I always look to my online network first before I publicly post a job. I find LinkedIn and Twitter to be invaluable.

    Basant – It sure is. Fear, though, is learned. Children are born fearless. Somewhere along the way we learn to pick it up.

    Keith – Thank you!

    Karl – That’s an excellent point.

    Vared – You certainly can, and the best entrepreneurs do exactly that!

  18. Hi Shama & J.D., (J.D., you’re the master of enticing neat folks to write guest posts.)

    My favs?

    5. Your age is an asset.

    Younger and older people often get dumped on, when everyone can offer insights and inspiration. Wish we’d stop doing that. And we can if we all agree not to do it anymore.

    10. Less Money is Better Than More Money.

    You do get creative and learn to depend on your own mind rather than handing it off! A lot of companies start because the person didn’t have any money, yet they came up with ways to do something with less (which usually is more anyway.). Think I read that Apple became wickedly creative from the beginning because they had so little money. It gets the mind pumping.

    We can all see that throwing money at things doesn’t necessarily make them better.

    Will check out your site! Thx, Giulietta

  19. Shama,

    I like how you took a topic that we have heard about often from most entrepreneurs, and gave it a **bigger** picture and more of a **thought provoking** perspective.

  20. Joanna Vaiou says:

    Hi Shama,

    Great article, I’ll stick to #1 of your points: “FEAR” = False Expectations Appearing Real.

    This is the biggest barrier and counter productive factor that will determine an entrepreneur’s success or failure.

    Once fear and our own judgement is mastered in a way that it can add to our creativity everything else can be handled with the right mindset.

    Thanks!
    Jo

  21. Dia says:

    Hi Shama,

    I like the points 2 and 5. Being ambitious is not all what matters, money plays a vital role. If you don’t have a strong back up in a country like India you can’t start your own business. Though there are many business which require less investment, but still investment is required and who knows business works that well or not.

    Anyways thanks for such a nice post, it’s been encouraging. :)

  22. Tram Tran says:

    Shama, I just read about you in youngentrepreneur.com and RT the article as my way of admiring how awesome you and your achievements are. It’s so true that your age is an asset. I believe starting when you are young is the smartest investment you can do. Will support you all the way.

    come say hi to me on my blog sometimes=)

    @ JD, wow, awesome blog JD, you got yourself a new fan=)

  23. JD says:

    @ Tram — Thank you — Welcome aboard!

  24. Avindra says:

    Insightful and very true.. Marry or Befriend a lawyer True that!!

  25. Patrick says:

    Great article. #’s 3, 5, & 10 are the sticking points for me. I am a 40 year old with 1st time entrepreneur, with tight budgetary constraints, currently looking for a smartphone that will serve as my mobile office & allow me to conduct business on the go. Less $ is definitely an advantage for me in that I don’t get distracted by the possibilities that are available when one is flush with cash. Being broke forces one to have a lot of ingenuity. It also forces you to “trim the fat” & stay focused, so all that’s left are the necessities & the bottom line

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