Entrepreneur To Entrepreneur

by | Nov 4, 2009

PORTLAND—Last night, about 50 entrepreneurs, and those interested in that lonely path, gathered in Keen Footwear’s Great Room to hear from a panel of local business owners willing to share their hard-earned advise. The “Start Your Own Business” panel was organized by Zimmerman Community Center, whose mission is “to strengthen civic and spiritual life while developing the identity of The River District.”

The panel was moderated by Randy Miller, president of the Portland Ambassadors business advocacy group. Michelle Cairo of In the Black; Robin Jones of 88 Inc.; Otto Papasadero of NARDA (and a Zimmerman board member); and Sarah Shaoul of Black Wagon were on the panel.

The panel covered a lot of ground in a short span, but for me the key takeaway came from Papasadero. He said, “Your business has to be well documented to be successful. Documents detail how the business works.”

After the session, I asked Papasadero to clarify and name the actual documents he thinks are important. He said 1) your business plan and 2) your operations manual. Papasadero also told a story about how Warren Buffett was so impressed with the documentation from Dufresne Furniture in Winnipeg, that he offered to buy the company’s documents (not the actual company).

Papasadero’s point on documentation is ultimately partly about transfer of ownership. He said when one sells their company, even if it’s a sole-proprietorship, the buyer wants a turn-key experience and that’s found in the company’s documentation.

Another highlight of the evening came in Miller’s introductory remarks. He said “there’s a perception that this community is anti-business, which is dead wrong.” Miller said business formation in Portland has tripled this year. He also made a great point about the mutually beneficial relationship between one big business and many small business. For instance, Intel, the largest private employer in Oregon, has 8000 Oregon vendors, he said.

There was also talk from Miller and the panelists about the “defining moment” that drives one to launch (and stick with) a business. Papasadero said defining moments come along semi-regularly, “but we don’t always recognize them.”

I’m reflecting now on my own defining moments, and I have to say, being fired more than once from an ad agency job helped me see that there’s little security in placing one’s fate in another manager’s hands. Yet, I still go back and forth, thinking that “a job” might be the better path (I wish I didn’t). Another entrepreneur I know also struggles and wavers from time to time. But he reminded me earlier this week that when he did work for other people, he hated it. That’s a common theme among entrepreneurs and another important source of “defining moments.”