Entrepreneur Seminar with Paul Lewis

Published by Michael Carrano on September 17, 2010

I attended an entrepreneur seminar hosted by my University: Stevens Institute of Technology. To my surprise, there was a large turn out. (I have been to previous seminars and only a handful of people showed up).

Paul Lewis was the guest speaker of the evening to talk about his story. His story of founding four companies, two which went public and the other two were acquired by Fortune 500 companies.

Overall, I was very pleased with Paul Lewis’ entrepreneur seminar and learned a lot from it, as well as, reinforced some beliefs I already had when it came to entrepreneurship. It was satisfying knowing that Paul is a very down to earth guy and told us how it is. You can see him blushing and showing emotion when he talked about his story.

The story that stood out most to me was how he started his first company MC2. He was in college and working on a homework assignment. He decided to go out and rent a movie and noticed that the person was using index cards to keep track of movies and who rented the movie out. Well, his homework assignment did exactly that and so he went back to show the owner and on the spot the owner said “how much?”. In which Paul mistakenly said $3,000 as he only wanted $300… Before he could correct himself, the owner said “sold!”.

And that is how it began.

Some confessions he made at the beginning:

  1. He has no advanced degree
  2. He really is not smart, he breaks down concepts into ways he can understand.
  3. It is not hard to start a business and sell it.

He began by asking us a question: Why start a business?

  1. Do you want to make a lot of money? If so then you are better off buying lottery tickets. Not a good reason to start a business.
  2. Is it because you want more free time and tired of a 9:00am - 5:00pm job? Well, sorry but you will be working more than ever. So again, not a good reason to start a business.
  3. You have an idea you are passionate about? Bingo! Go start your own business.

Do not think of a business idea(s), let the idea come to you. When you have this idea talk to people you trust and get their feedback on it.

If their feedback says your idea is a great idea, well sadly it is not so great. Chances are they did not want to hurt your feelings so do not start a business on this idea (there are always exceptions to the rule). Now, if whomever you told the idea to says it is crazy and dumb then you have a winner. Chances are this idea is a forward thinking idea. Meaning, you foresee an issue in the future and you will solve it now.

Paul stressed the importance of putting together a good team, one where you have access to an accountant, attorney, and management team. Most accountants and attorney’s provide your first consultation for free. Friends do not make a good business partner or employee.

Paul told us a story when he was working at one of his startups, he had to make the tough choice of firing his Mother in Law. He noted that if you ever say to yourself: “If only [employee name] would do [task]” to get rid of that employee as soon as you possibly can.

Top 5 to be successful:

  1. Be passionate about your idea.
  2. Your idea and goals must be realistic.
  3. Your business must be unique.
  4. Have enough cash, credit, or be profitable from the very first transaction.
  5. Build a strong team.

Top 5 kisses of death:

  1. 50/50 partnership.
  2. Team members only along for the ride.
  3. Business that cannot generate profit.
  4. Over spending on unnecessary items.
  5. You lose interest.

Some other notes I took at the seminar include:

  • You should be thinking of an exit strategy from day one, but you do not have to sell the company. If you want to sell, you must keep focus on your business during negotiation. There are “acquirers” who will try to steer you off track so your company fails and your clients become theirs.

  • An idea is not a business, you need to make the business. Do not work in the business, work on the business. Example: Local Deli (works in the business) vs. Subway (works on the business).

Feel free to watch some of the highlights from the seminar.

Lastly, if you believe, you can achieve.