(Editor’s note: Michael K. McKean is the CEO and Director of New Product Development for the Knowland Group. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
You never really know what to expect when you become an entrepreneur.
Some challenges are easy to see coming – things like difficulties building brand recognition, finding people you can trust and having the infrastructure necessary to support growth. But the real hurdles are the things you never anticipated. They vary from company to company, but here are five problems I never expected as an entrepreneur and the lessons they taught me.
Alarms going off in the middle of the night. Entrepreneurs expect to work long hours – that’s what it takes to build a successful business. What you don’t expect is the 3 a.m. crisis. I’m a businessman, not the President of the United States, right?
Still, somehow the problems that just can’t wait inevitably happen in the middle of the night. I was once woken up in the very early hours of Thanksgiving Day by a call from an alarm company informing me that my office had been broken into. I spent half of Thanksgiving that year going through the office with the cops and filing a police report. So much for football!
Lesson learned: Entrepreneurs are never off the clock.
Spamming and scamming. I could never have expected the massive amount of spam- by-phone we would receive when we first opened our office. Every morning we would be met with 8 hours of recorded phone calls and dozens of messages from people asking for things like a dry cleaner’s in Dallas. Then there was the time we got a massive telecom bill and found out someone in Eastern Europe had used our account to make $3,000 worth of long distance phone calls. The bad news: this kind of thing only stopped once we moved offices.
Lesson learned: Get a great IT guy and put procedures in place to prepare for the inevitable onslaught.
Unsolicited advice. It’s amazing how many people will come out of the woodwork the moment you start a new business. Some you know, some who pretend to know you, all who suddenly know exactly what you should do to be successful. Never mind that they probably can’t balance their own checkbooks. They will appear at the drop of a hat and insist they know your business better than you do.
Lesson learned: Ignore the wannabes.
Treatment from banks. I always thought that one of the foundations of capitalism was a strong relationship between business owners and banks. Banks provide the capital to entrepreneurs who build businesses and create jobs for people who then deposit money in the bank.
The fact is bankers often treat small business owners quite poorly. I’ve dealt with a lot of bankers who promised so much but in the end offered so little. They make unreasonable demands, expect you to meet impossible standards, and offer little in return. For a while it was virtually impossible to get a legitimate line of credit, despite proven success and large possibilities for growth.
Lesson learned: Bankers you can trust are worth their weight in gold.
Wardrobe malfunctions. As a software engineer, all of the best jobs I’ve had never had a dress code. It seemed like the fewer rules on attire, the better the company. That’s how we did it at Knowland for the first few years.
Then I learned the value of a good dress code. If people are dressed too casually, they tend to adopt a too-casual work ethic – it’s just human nature. We created professional dress standards – nothing too stringent – and it made a world of difference in the working environment and level of professionalism. Work ethic improved and productivity increased.
Lesson learned: Laying down a few ground rules for attire doesn’t make you uncool, just more professional.