Par For My Course
August 31, 2012 Leave a comment
For fifteen years I was one of three partners in a manufacturing business, a business that I helped start from scratch, a business that when I left had sales revenues close to twenty million dollars.
Before starting the company I met with two friends. Each of them wanted to leave the company we were all working for. The three of us knew that the company we were at would soon fold. The owner had mismanaged the company into the ground, causing many to be fired. Soon the owner would take the assets out of this failed company and go start another business. We saw what was coming and so we decided it was time for us to set our sights higher and take care of our futures.
In the failed company the three of us soon-to-be partners were the three people who knew how to make the equipment being sold. And, though only one of us had a BS degree there were plenty years of experience between the other two partners. Each of us had met with customers and we knew manufacturing. We didn’t know all there was to know about running a business but we did want to find out for ourselves.
My own experience developed from many years of electrical engineering and design in the manufacturing sector. Over time I managed groups of designers and electricians. There were also many times when I was a welder, a fabricator, an electrician. I taught myself how to use AutoCAD and Microstation CAD design software. I taught myself how to program PLCs and computers. I went to night school to learn accounting, economics and business. I took math course, physics and welding. In order to commission equipment I traveled thousands of miles to customer sites across America, Mexico, Canada, and as far as Korea, Poland, Saudi Arabia and Brazil. I learned by applying myself to the task, by learning what I needed and simply by doing.
After several after-hours discussions at a local bar the three of us decided which day we would leave the troubled company to start our own business. Being integral to the functioning of the business our concurrent departures would mean that the company would rapidly fold. The company did close within a year. We went off on our own with no nets beneath us and just our own will to make things happen.
We began our business in a basement. We invested $3000.00 in start-up capital. We each claimed a share of equity in the new firm, incorporated as a Delaware corporation.
Now I have to tell you, starting a business with nothing but sheer determination is not easy. The risk of no immediate sales and therefore no paychecks for weeks and months is ever before you. With this in mind we began to solicit business by sending out business letters telling a broad spectrum of customers about our new venture. We even begged for business, often drastically discounting the sale just to get our foot in the door and to keep it there.
While we advertised I also set up the computers and the accounting system using what I learned at night school. I set up the accounts: Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Assets, Revenue, W-4s, etc.
Over time (almost a year after starting) we received our first purchase order. I had developed a small position indicating device that could be readily used in the plastics industry to control plastic sheet gauge – a necessary requirement for thermoforming companies. We sold one and then two. I was then sent to California to install the later-to-be patented device. I had to make sure that our product did what we promised it would. Once it was proven we invoiced our first receivable.
We slowly gained sales momentum from customers who knew our reputations and knew of our capabilities. We sometimes over sold ourselves just to get in the door. There were many quiet anxious days along the way waiting for something bigger to break. When things did start happening we rented a small industrial building and set up what little we had. As orders came in and invoices went out we were then able to buy computers, software, drafting tables, welders, paint equipment, hand tools and a truck with our company name.
We soon hired staff: a fabricator. As business continued to grow over a time , a seeming eternity for us with our shoe string budget, we added more and more people. When I left the company there was over fifty employees on the payroll. This company, currently housed in a 325,000 sq. ft. building with large overhead cranes, is now doubling it size, building an expansion on the same site.
The reason I left the business and cashed out was simply the fact that the work of starting a new business is a 24/7 job. This intensive venture took a toll on me and my family. There were many nights away from my family. There were many intensive phone calls with clients. As the Vice president of Engineering I spent many hours trouble shooting customer problems in person or over the phone from home. I spent a lot of time interviewing people and then hiring and firing as needed. I supervised design work and managed over a dozen people, all engineers. I was on call constantly.
In the early days of our company I multitasked. There were only three of us and one of us had to go on the road to do the cold calling. I stayed with my other partner and we did what was needed. As an order came in I would create the electrical schematics on a drafting board, I would then order the parts. I would receive the parts, sort out the paper work, input accounts payable, print out checks on a line printer and then send out the checks to vendors. I would assemble the large-scale equipment by hand: I welded half-inch plates of carbon steel to create structural frames; I assembled control panels and wired the instrumentation. I also spray painted the finished products. Before that I would power up and test the equipment. I was front office, plant, truck driver, assembler, engineer and tired but excited. I was working for myself and creating growing equity. My piece of the pie was growing.
Until you’ve done something like start a business from scratch you would have no idea how intense, exhausting, scary and pleasurable it is to make your way in this world with just the work of your own hands. But the excitement doesn’t stop there.
As the company grows you hire people. But it is a scary proposition. You know you need more help but you don’t know where or when the next order is coming from. You bite your nails and finally say “OK, we need someone. Place the ad.”
When you hire someone and train them you’ve given them hope. At the same time your own stomach is wrenching with the fear that someday you may have to lay that person off if business drops off. It is all risk, calculated risk and that is what entrepreneurs do best: find a venture and put themselves and their money at risk in order to create something successful and to gain a return on their investment – an investment of dollars and tons of sweat equity. Obama knows nothing about what I talking about.
Obama risks nothing. He finds safety in numbers, in government. He is the child of safety nets. His absent father gave him no guidance whatsoever about business. It is apparent from Obama’s biographies that Obama learned to hate anything which might smack of colonialism. And Obama has wrongly conflated capitalism with colonialism. Obama’s only claim to success is his community organizing. We can see now that his organizing is nothing more than organizing taxpayer money to the benefit of his political gain.
No government built our business. Government with its ever-present paper work and regulations was ever the impedance to growing our business and hiring more people. Government now, in effect, hinders human flourishing. And I don’t have to tell you that Barrack Obama wants more government and less independent success. You’ll have to ask him why he hates business and demonizes success.
Sweat equity built our successful business not government. And it was not Obama, not Elizabeth Warren, not roads and bridges, not the IRS, not organized labor and not the three thousand dollars of start-up capital back in 1988. We built it with our own hands while paying corporate taxes up to 30%! Obama can kiss my sweaty ass!
Listen Obama (I know I am speaking to deaf ears) – “There is no sweat equity in golfing.”