Many things in life don’t come with an owner’s manual: Having a great marriage. Raising decent children. And how to start a business in Detroit.
Enter Tom Nardone. This week, he and the good folks at Ferndale’s Paper Street (a business incubator) hosted a “how to start your own company” class where cursing was allowed, drinking was encouraged and ideas at any level of development were supported.
Mentorship. Frank talk from a real entrepreneur. Advice on raising capital from a capitalist. If you think Detroit needs fresh ideas and a New Economy, here are the people making it happen. You wanna open a food truck, comic-book store, worm farm? Here is where your can-do spirit was not only appreciated, but it was lauded as well.
“You’ve gotta capture that dream. Because otherwise the dream gets lost in the frustrations of everyday life,” Nardone cautioned.
Now, don’t go thinking Nardone was easy on us. No way. This guy is a realist. He started his business, PriveCo Inc., with his own money borrowed from his own house. He created his company, which sells things people would rather buy in private in a safe, secure online environment, by reading books about web-site programming. So if you have a pie-in-the-sky idea, Nardone will hear you out. And then he’ll punch it so full of holes that you’ll look like SpongeBob and feel about as smart as Patrick Star. (Don’t understand my references? Go ask a 7-year-old boy.)
“Dreaming big is fun – when it’s on paper,” he added. “When you have to start writing checks, it gets scary.”
And the first day you don’t make payroll? That’s your last day in business. Yup.
Nearly two dozen people showed up for the class, which taught you how to write a business plan in eight not-so-easy steps. Well, Nardone made them seem easy for the most part. (“Six out of the eight are no-brainers,” he said to be exact.) He did a bang-up job of outlining each step, which include things like market analysis, operating plans and financial guesstimating. But actually writing a complete business plan and being honest about whether it has the potential for success is so very NOT easy. In fact, I think a lot of us left the first of the two-part course on Wednesday feeling pretty sick about the whole entrepreneur thing.
And that was the point to some degree. Being honest with yourself has to be one of the first steps in deciding to go out on your own. Let’s face it – it’s a lot easier to collect a paycheck from someone else. And it would be nice to lie to yourself that your idea for a bacon-themed pastry shop is a real winner. But that’s not what earns you any money. And, yes, despite your philanthropist intentions, is why you have a business in the first place. To make some damn money. After all, Nardone is a capitalist, through and through. And, yes, you Detroit do-gooders, you need to make some money somewhere along the way if you want to still be selling your single-brew coffee or horse dung or photography or what have you down the line.
“Ego isn’t going to get you anywhere,” especially when you fudge the number or your chance at success within such an important document as a business plan, Nardone told us. “You aren’t going to look back in 10 years and say, ‘Look at how confident I was!’”
But making us all wimps who never try anything new or daring clearly wasn’t Nardone’s intention either. Rather, he wanted to give participants an honest look at how difficult it is to get something new off the ground. It takes real guts – and an appetite for risk, failure and debt – to hang your own shingle, no matter what field you are in.
I’ll be honest. I’m a huge Tom Nardone fan. I love his business ideas (this guy owns the rights to and sell stuff at winners including Bachlorette.com and Vibrators.com. And, yes, that latter web site does get as much business as you think it would). I’m always amazed at his good deeds, especially as leader of the Mower Gang, while he still raises a family. I appreciate his humor and obvious intelligence. More importantly, I think he has the best of intentions. He really wants the people who come to his class or seek his advice in any form to get a business off the ground. And that, Dear Readers, is what Detroit needs.