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What Is This Whole Entrepreneurship Thing Really About, Anyway?

In 2005, I walked across the stage as the first ever graduate in Entrepreneurship at Belmont University. I was lucky enough to fall into a program that Dr. Jeff Cornwall had designed AND to be a part of it on the ground floor. He had built a program not about case studies and faux business plans but real life. Real business. MY business.

Each student was working on their own plans. Everyday. Each class designed to teach us principles needed to best “fail on paper” as we sifted through all the information and research it takes to incubate our dreams. I knew exactly what I wanted and no one was going to tell me it couldn’t happen. I was like Rocky. The Karate Kid. The plans, the experts, the people who knew better than me would knock me down and I’d get back up fighting to get better. I felt bulletproof when it came to this business and this way of life.

People used to say that was my “entrepreneurial spirit” – the sort of drive or maybe stubbornness that wouldn’t let me quick. I believed them. At that time, being an entrepreneur meant starting a business that only I could see a future for and making it happen.

(a quick note here: this is not me saying that I didn’t have supporters who thought I could succeed. Quite the opposite. That fighting spirit is just what I attached to this entrepreneurial definition.)

I have met so many other people who are in this world – small business owners, visionaries, leaders, serial entrepreneurs who don’t know how to quit. Who see holes in the market that need to be filled. Relentless go-getters who aren’t afraid of outcomes. It’s about doing.

I went back to Belmont in October of 2019 (just after we closed on the sale of EVOKE) to be honored at the Belmont Entrepreneur Awards Top 100. It was an awesome time to be back on campus with other alumni businesses. In fact, it was the first time I had stepped back on Nashville soil since 2005.

Relive the 2019 Belmont Entrepreneur Awards

When I arrived, I was in a place of figuring out who I was without my company. I was in a time of trying to figure out what was going to be next for me. My wife and I had a real estate team but was that going to be my full focus now that I was no longer a part of my first company? I was in this strange limbo of excitement that we had nurtured a company into something that somebody else thought was valuable enough to pay money for and the loss of my “first born” venture.

There is an energy in a room filled with these “entrepreneurs” that you really can’t find anywhere else. I think it might be like feeling the vastness of space for the first time. There are no boundaries. No impossibles. Just life and energy and a never ending drive to do and be better.

While I was on campus, I ran into Dr. Cornwall, someone who I admire like a father and someone who pretty much kept me going in this adventure I called an entrepreneurial journey. I talked to other student business owners and those that had been out of college for years. There is an energy in a room filled with these “entrepreneurs” that you really can’t find anywhere else. I think it might be like feeling the vastness of space for the first time. There are no boundaries. No impossibles. Just life and energy and a never ending drive to do and be better.

It just seemed so simple. It rolled off the tongue so easily for them…

“Awesome. You sold your company. What are you building now? What are you doing next? What is your next venture? How much do you need to raise…”

Here is the truth. I wasn’t feeling like that. I was sad and missing my company. It was all I ever knew and the one thing I had worked for and towards my entire adult life. My company wasn’t about a bottom line or a lead in to what was next. It was my thing. The top of the totem pole. I was ALL IN for the people, for coffee, for my staff, for the community that called us their coffee place, and for my town. It was like I had “left it all on the field” so to speak. I couldn’t image that sort of buy in or emotional attachment to any other business. It wasn’t about valuation or the money. It was about my WHY.

I have been thinking about this ever sense. Are their degrees of entrepreneurship? Can a true entrepreneur repeat a passion based business? Can you sustain on value based ventures? Can you be a serial entrepreneur if all of your businesses are not filling some sort of gap in the market or trend in an industry?

Am I even an entrepreneur?

I don’t look or talk like these other guys and gals that are doing some amazing business things…. I can’t image being on Shark Tank or worrying about scale and Boards and…..

Or, is entrepreneurship a lifestyle choice? Some sort of willingness to be stubborn and a fighter and an optimist in the face of all this world likes to throw at us…to fail and fail again just to get up for more? To know there is a way to win and that you will find it?

Maybe this is the sort of “entrepreneur” I am. I don’t have much money left. I don’t have an endless supply of network connections to raise a bunch of money or even a desire to keep creating businesses just to say I have them. That works for alot of people. It just isn’t me.

I love telling stories. I love fighting for the things I believe in and helping people see a side of things they may not have seen before. I like to defend what I love and watch it grow in light of others saying it’s impossible. I like to defy the odds. I like to make a difference in a community. To be a team player. To add value to people’s lives. To be change.

Most importantly?

For me to start another company would have to follow that passion, belief, and value system that I’m built on. It would need to push people to find their impossible. To bring people together. To make a difference. To change the world. Doing anything otherwise might as well be a Monday – Friday with a smoke break per day.

Maybe being an entrepreneur is doing things the way you see fit despite what the models tell you. Maybe it’s life on the b-road. If so, I’m in. If not – I’ll keep trying to define what it is I’m doing and what it is I’ll do next. I don’t know what’s next but to not tackle the challenge head on would be turning on the one constant I have learned in this life.

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