When I was a kid, my family didn’t have a lot of money. My siblings didn’t grow up with a lot of extras. When I was 15 years old, I was fortunate enough to start in a work-study program. And, little did I know, I would embark on a career that would last for decades. I got my start in the shoe business at a retail store. It turns out that I loved shoes. I wasn’t interested in going for an education beyond high school. I was going to chart my path and eventually I would become a successful entrepreneur.
Shoes as My Core Product
In the shoe shop at the age of 15, I worked hard. It was easy because I loved what I was doing. I soon became a manager in everything except the title, because I was under-age.
I excelled in my career and went from retail sales to manufacturing. As I advanced throughout my career, I was excited by growth and the possibility of someday creating a successful business. I always knew I would become an entrepreneur. I had to learn everything I could about the shoe business first. I was relentless in wanting to pursue success in the footwear business. Hard work, insatiable curiosity and dogged determination ultimately ledme to become CEO and President of two global footwear companies.
◊♦◊But I wasn’t finished.
After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, I left my career in the shoe business. Frankly, people thought I was crazy to leave the money, the lifestyle, and the traveling that I was enjoying, to start a nonprofit. Here’s the thing. That was the beginning of my life as a social entrepreneur. Within five years I took that organization from a budget of zero to over a $70 million.
After five years I moved on and became a social entrepreneur and started a for-profit business that helps organizations and individuals raise money by collecting gently worn, used and new shoes. And again, I’ve grown my enterprise into a juggernaut with two additional complimentary brands. In fact, today I’m a serial entrepreneur and have at least seven independent brands and counting.
The common theme in some of these businesses, and certainly at the core of my success, is shoes.
The Secrets to My Success
I’m not a genius, and I’m not special. Anyone can create a successful business, and become a millionaire. It’s not rocket science. If a guy who didn’t have much growing up can do it, so can you.
1.) Pick Something:
- It’s remarkable how tough it is for people to find that thing that motivates them. For me, it’s shoes. For you, it can be airplanes, photography or coffee. Whatever it is, find one thing. Decide on it and tell yourself that you’re going to do everything in your power to understand everything about it.
When I discovered that I enjoyed the shoe business, I decided to learn everything I could about it. I wasn’t impatient thinking that success would come overnight. Instead, I was smart enough to realize that becoming successful in business was created by building a solid foundation. As I learned and mastered one thing, I moved on to the next thing. That’s how I went from retail to manufacturing. And, then I went from for-profit to non-profit and back to for-profit with shoes at the center.
- Think out of the box, and if the box is too confining, break the darn thing and create a new one. One of the biggest secrets to my success has been creativity. I love it, in fact, I thrive when people tell me “you can’t do it.” My reply is always, “Watch me.”
When I started the nonprofit I founded, there was no such thing as an organization that shipped shoes to people in need. It just didn’t exist. So, I decided to create it. And, when I wanted to get back into the for-profit world and make a difference as well as a profit, I developed a social enterprise that’s now the leading shoe drive fundraising company in North America.
- Listen, we’re human. We have our good days and our bad days, and hopefully, there are way more good days than bad days. Business success comes to those who are persistent. When you start a business, there are going to be—always—those who tell you why you won’t succeed. Don’t listen to them.
After you get past the negative people, you’ll end up in a place where you will have setbacks and challenges. That’s where having dogged persistence pays off. Do you want to know why most people fail in business? They fail because they don’t stay at it. Even if your company fails, if you want to become a successful entrepreneur, you don’t quit. You stay at it and keep going. You learn, and then you figure out how to do things better and even fail better.
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Photo Credit: Getty Images