For his second year returning home to inspire aspiring entrepreneurs – and to celebrate his book “Greatest Year Ever” – motivational speaker Koran Bolden flipped the script.
A native of St. Louis, Bolden has traveled the nation as a speaker, author and influencer. Last year as people piled into Knight Hall on the campus of Washington University, he encouraged them to live their best life and go after whatever they desire. They left full of fire. This year, he wanted to fan the flames and strengthen that fire with information.
“I want to tell you that motivation is good, but it’s just not good enough,” Bolden said. “If you want to build and sustain a business, you need information, you need cultivation and you need a guide.”
For year two, the capacity crowd spent more than three hours on a recent Sunday hearing from successful business owners – including Bolden himself – about the highs and lows of their journeys and the lessons they learned along the way.
“Everybody sitting on this panel are jumpers,” said Cedric Cobb, owner of Best Wardrobe Solutions and inventor of the Best Pocket Square Holder – which was recently featured on the hit ABC Network show “Shark Tank.” “We had to jump off of that ledge and trust God, or whatever we believe in, to catch us.”
Guests sat attentively through a panel discussion and four speakers to learn about what they can do today to become successful tomorrow. The information was broad in range – from maintaining personal health to luring investors – and dealt with the highs and the lows.
“Just get started. Stop yourself from stopping yourself,” Dr. Eboni January, OB/GYN, author and owner of her own fitness coaching business. “All too often we give up – and we put the blame on other things, like ‘I don’t have time.’ Time is what we want the most, but we use the worst. So, we have to be great now. You have to maximize your time and say, ‘What am I wasting time on?’”
‘I got back up’
“Right now, you are looking at the glamour and a bit of the glory, but there have been some hard times,” said Rance John, barbershop owner and creator of The Classic Man line of beard grooming products.
John built up a successful business, only to lose everything he owned as the result of a divorce.
“I found myself sleeping on my friend’s floor. I lost my properties. I lost my business. I lost it all,” John said. “But because entrepreneurs are born and not made, there is a certain level of resilience that is in each and every one of us. I took baby steps to get myself back in position, but I got back up.”
Cobb bought a one-way ticket from St. Louis to Baltimore to meet with a potential client. He didn’t have the money for a return flight home. He ended up landing NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis as his client.
“I had $35 in my pocket – which was enough for an Uber to the Four Seasons and a sandwich from McDonalds,” Cobb said.
Aundrea Chanaye, makeup artist and owner of Live Victoriously Cosmetics, took work as a housekeeper before a viral video helped propel her business to the next level.
“I was a CEO of Live Victoriously and cleaning dirty hotel rooms,” she said. “I ended up getting fired from there because I didn’t have any help with childcare for my son.”
While they all had different stories about their climb – and eventual success – they had the common thread that an entrepreneur’s life is one of a perpetual state of discomfort.
“If you want to do this and be comfortable, don’t waste your time,” said Cobb.
Raphael Morris, attorney and owner of The Morris Firm, was digging in the seat of his car looking for enough change to buy a burger from the Wendy’s dollar menu a month before graduating from law school.
“When I’m having a tough moment or dealing with a difficult client, I think back to that same kid and remember,” Morris said. “No matter what I go through today, I just know that it’s been way worse than what it is.”
‘You need more than motivation’
The event gave several opportunities for the audience to ask questions to the panelists and speakers.
“It can be something as simple as the difference between having a Gmail account and your own domain name,” said Cornell Boone, owner of The Corner Street Food and Shift58 Marketing and Brand Promotion. “Those small things make a difference. As you make your money, take it and invest back into your business. That’s where the growth happens.”
Guests learned about the difference between investment and sponsorship and the proper way to secure investors.
“Whatever you structure with your investors, make sure that there is a strong WIIFT element. That’s ‘What’s In It For Them,’” Cobb said. “So many times, we structure things as far as investments and sponsorships based on what’s best for us. We are not even concerned with what they are going to get in return. We think like, ‘You should just feel good investing in my company.’ No. I need a return on investment – and you need to know [and tell me] what that looks like.”
Latasha Fox, the region’s only African American Chic-fil-A franchisee, spoke of the challenges she has experienced since opening in February.
Because she was intentional with respect to making her team of employees reflect the community where it’s located, only two employees had prior experience with the franchise.
“If you go to other stores, they have a fully experienced team that doesn’t look like us – if I’m being transparent. There are few Chic-fil-A kitchens that look like mine,” Fox said.
“I have young African-American team workers hustling in that kitchen. We are asking for that element of grace. Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don’t. But we know we have to be twice as good to be seen as equal. I try to instill excellence in them. Focus on your people. Pour into them, and they will take care of your business.”
In the talk before Bolden closed out the event, A. Keith Turner of TurnGroup Technology offered five tips for moving forward with a business.
They included understanding of self in order to find the right type of business to operate, being able to articulate what your business is going to do, making sure that there is demand for the product or service, and developing a plan on how to make the business work and finding customers.
“You need more than motivation – you need a strategy to get your business going and a structure that you can do well in,” Turner said. “It’s great to be motivated, but you have to have some things to hang your hat on as far as business fundamentals.”