Entrepreneurship is timelessly alluring. It is, after all, at the heart of the American Dream. Creative control, innovation, opportunity, freedom… The perks and incentives are endless. But so is the hard work. Entrepreneurship is also about making sacrifices and commitments, taking risks, and believing fiercely in the prospect of success, regardless of the magnitude of adversity.
Professor Lloyd Shefsky, author of Entrepreneurs Are Made Not Born (1993), Invent Reinvent Thrive (2014), and Visionarie$ Are Made Not Born (2017), taught me that through his publications and through this interview. In December of 2018, I reached out to Professor Shefsky via LinkedIn, and he was gracious enough to, not only connect with me, but accept my request for a Q&A on behalf of inConsequential. A respectable author on entrepreneurship with tried legal experience and a meaningful teaching background, Professor Shefsky was the ideal mentor to consult about our entrepreneur-related inquiries.
The final product is this full-length interview. It is our hope, for those of you curiously exploring entrepreneurship but feeling uncertain about yourselves from time to time, that you’ll find the encouragement you need to carry on in your endeavors with renewed confidence and determination. After all, entrepreneurship is rooted in the journey and process of cultivating a novelty worthy of success.
We are overwhelmingly grateful to Professor Shefsky for sharing his entrepreneurial wisdom with us and are excited to now be passing it onto you. Moreover, we encourage you to read Professor Shefsky’s latest book,Visionarie$ Are Made Not Born. It will be well worth your time.
Q&A with Professor Lloyd Shefsky on Entrepreneurship
During your career as a professor at Kellogg School of Management, what was an entrepreneurial topic that former students repeatedly considered to be both fascinating and difficult to understand? For you, personally, what was your favorite lesson to teach?
They rationally understood that failure is part of success and that they must be failure-willing. However, they were all highly successful people and found failure intolerable emotionally.
This is hard to teach but is the essence of entrepreneurship
When you set out to found your own law firm and become your own boss, what risks did you anticipate? What made those risks worth taking?
Intellectually I understood the financial and reputational risks but candidly, never dwelled on it. My passion was my entrepreneurial adrenaline.
Could you share a personal story about your entrepreneurial journey that showcases the depth of the struggles and sacrifices that you had to overcome to fulfill your dreams?
My assistant was also our office manager. A few months into our new firm, the outside accountant told me that she was not depositing our checks. I confronted her. She said, “We don’t have enough to cover all expenses. You have a baby to support; I don’t. You invested all your savings in the firm. So I am holding my checks.” She saved me from my biggest struggles and sacrifices. She was my angel.
What are some mistakes that you wish you could’ve avoided as an entrepreneur?
Ultimately it’s all about people. Most of the lawyers and staff I hired and clients I accepted were wonderful people, great to work with. Some were my mistake.
As you explain in your book Entrepreneurs Are Made Not Born, a lot of struggles that entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs initially face are internal and psychological (i.e. fears and myths regarding entrepreneurship and what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur). Let’s say those individuals overcome these fears and proceed with their business venture.
What, then, are some common “real-world” logistical obstacles that these entrepreneurs should expect to face during the “action/startup” phase?
The excessive confidence that enables entrepreneurship often results in a failure to prepare for shortfalls, etc. Entrepreneurs project revenue too large and too early. When it takes longer and less revenue is earned, the result can be deadly and at the least can be disruptive.
If you had one piece of advice to give to someone just starting down the path of entrepreneurship, what would it be?
Be well prepared. See the future (read my latest book, Visionarie$ Are Made Not Born) and learn to anticipate the unknown.
How did you promote your business and grow your clientele?
I learned to sleep four hours per night to have time to do that while also practicing law.
In your experience, is there a time frame or trial period for establishing a business before it begins to fizzle out?
Yes, but it varies based on various factors:
➢ Nature of business ➢ Resources available (capital & people) ➢ Skills of entrepreneur ➢ Quality of personnel attracted (and incentives offered) ➢ Size and seriousness of mistakes made
What is the difference between grasping an opportunity and rushing an opportunity? Is it okay to begin pursuing an idea before having thoroughly researched it? What constitutes “research?”
It depends. Some entrepreneurs have prior experience that compensates for lack of research. Others are very quick learners (even on the job), and still others have great coaches, directors, advisors & mentors. What you call “research” might be called “homework.” No students like doing homework. In fact, what they do isn’t real homework. They are learning how to do homework. Real homework comes later when no one gives you the assignment, tells you what resources to use or what your deadline is. An example of one who did great homework is Bob Walter, founder of Cardinal Health (full story in Visionarie$ Are Made Not Born).
Like you said, a lot of the entrepreneurs that you interviewed for your book entered the world of entrepreneurship as ordinary individuals, but they were successful because they understood their target market. Their services or products, even today, have remained relevant, in-demand, and trendy—exactly what people need or want.
If we believe that we have an idea with similar potential but have done little with that idea or have little entrepreneurial experience, what is the very first step that we should take?
Determine whether you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. If not, consider licensing your ideas to others who can take it and run with it. You may not be able to make that determination on your own. If that’s the case, carefully select others to help you—beware who and how you select, as explained in Entrepreneurs Are Made Not Born.
About Professor Lloyd Shefsky
Professor Lloyd Shefsky is a consultant, coach, mentor and advisor to entrepreneurs, family businesses and public companies controlled by families. He is an expert in guiding business leaders to become visionaries, to recognize and deal with opportunities and challenges. Over the years he has worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs, start-ups, and family businesses in every aspect from their earliest stages to succession and every possibility in between. Professor Shefsky has co-founded several businesses and not-for-profit organizations.
He was Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship, Founder and Co-director of the Center for Family Enterprises and Co-Founder of the Center for Executive Women at the Kellogg School of Management.
He has taught courses, lectured and spoken in China, Japan, India, Thailand, Canada, Israel and throughout the United States. His e-courses on Entrepreneurship and Innovation are circulated in China. Shefsky has written professional articles on family business, entrepreneurship, and other related topics. He is the best-selling author of Entrepreneurs Are Made Not Born, published by McGraw-Hill and translated into seven languages, and Invent Reinvent Thrive, published by McGraw-Hill in August, 2014, as well as Visionarie$ Are Made Not Born, published in 2017.
Professor Shefsky serves as Of Counsel to the Taft Law Firm which recently acquired the Chicago law firm, Shefsky & Froelich which he founded. As such he advises businesses on a broad range of legal, financial and business matters, including public and private capital funding, mergers and acquisitions, employee motivation and expansion.
He received his JD from The Law School at the University of Chicago, a B.S. from DePaul University, and is also a CPA. He is a member of both the Illinois & Florida Bars.