Small business ownership is no cakewalk.
Just ask Eric Dosal. He's the co-founder of BrightGauge, a data analytics and reporting platform, as well as a HubSpot customer. So in honor of National Small Business Week, we sat down to talk about what it's really like to own a business. Here's what he had to say.
Me: Hi Eric! Thanks for joining me today. It's National Small Business Week, and you're a business owner, so I thought it'd be a good opportunity to talk about what it's like to own a business. So, tell me a bit about your business.
Eric: BrightGauge is a data analytics and reporting platform primarily focused on the IT service provider space. So we help IT providers visualize their data.
Me: Is that a space you've always been interested in? How did you get into it?
Eric: My father started a technology company in 1980 -- Compuquip Technologies -- and over time it evolved into a managed service provider. We originally built the software for ourselves to solve a need, showed it to a peer group, and a few months later decided to make it commercially available. So I have over 10 years of personal experience in the space.
Me: During my first job working for a small business, the founder told me he often recommends you don't start your own business in something you enjoy. For instance, if you like baking pies, don't start a bakery -- you'll work in the business too much, and not on the business. Do you find that true in your experience?
Eric: But that's what being a small business owner is all about -- working on something you are passionate about, and being able to put all your effort behind it to see it become successful. But it is a double-edged sword. You have to be careful or, like your former boss said, it could suck you in.
Me: I always had trouble entirely stomaching that advice, myself. I thought it'd be hard to throw yourself totally into something if there wasn't some passion behind it -- though I understand his caution. Have you experienced any instances of that double-edged sword? Getting sucked in too much?
Eric: ALL THE TIME! And it's especially tough for me since it's a family business. So my father is our chairman and manages the holding company, while my brother and I run two of the operating businesses. So I spend a lot of time with my family/co-workers. So a Sunday brunch could turn into a strategy session in the blink of an eye. That's why Mom is on high alert, and so are our wives ...
Me: Oh wow -- I had no idea it was a family business! That's a really romantic notion, but also one inherently fraught with difficulties. How do you handle that? I mean ... work-life balance must look really different than it does for most people, right?
Eric: Yes it brings a unique twist to the equation, but we work really hard to make sure we never forget it's a "family business." Family FIRST, then business! I couldn't do it any other way. To be able to work side by side with someone you trust completely and is motivated just like you is special. All that being said, we have to make sure we keep the work balance in check or you can work all the time.
Me: Do you think having your father, an experienced entrepreneur, involved in the business helps a lot? What value does his experience owning his own business bring to you as a first-time business owner?
Eric: TREMENDOUS help. Being a second-generation entrepreneur is awesome because I was there when my father started his first company (although that's because I was building LEGOs in his home office). I remember how hard he worked, but he was always at our events and was present when we needed him. So for that I'm not only grateful, but I also tap into that to learn from it. I tell him all the time that I want to learn from his mistakes so I can avoid making them.
Me: Do you think there's just some stuff no one can tell you, though? Stuff you have to learn on your own, the hard way? Or, perhaps some things that are just inherently different about running a business today than they were 20-30 years ago.
Eric: Absolutely. The business climate has changed a ton since then so the world is a different place with different challenges and obstacles. And some of the experiences, no matter how much people tell you, you can't truly appreciate until you're faced with them yourself. You can read all the books, but until you live it, you won't understand.
Me: What would you tell people who don't have anyone with experience guiding them on their venture -- people that don't have someone like your father? What kinds of resources are out there for those folks?
Eric: Talk to others who run their own business. I like to learn from others. I spend a lot of time speaking with other business owners in a variety of stages to learn from them. I'll either pick up something I didn't know or confirm my approach/solution. It can be very lonely being a small business owner, but if you reach out to others you'll be shocked at how much they are willing to help. There are plenty of formal resources as well, like coaches, books, seminars, classes, etc. But I like talking with real business people that live and breathe this every day. They know the truth.
Me: I agree -- there's really no replacement for a one-on-one with someone going through the same thing as you.
Eric: I think most people are afraid to ask, but what I find is most people love to help and at least share their experiences.
Me: Have you noticed that successful entrepreneurs have certain things in common? Particular character traits, for instance?
Eric: That's a tough question to answer with a blanket statement. I think there are a lot of people who start businesses and that takes some courage and of course usually a little capital. But I think it takes a different person to start and sustain a business. You have to be able to adapt to change, listen to the market, be open to feedback, be humble, have tough skin, and have a lot of patience. This is a marathon, not a sprint! There's this stat from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that 51% of businesses fail after the first five years. It's a tough road to climb, and you have to have the ability to see your way through it.
Me: What kinds of things within an entrepreneur's control differentiate sustainable businesses from businesses that don't make it? I know there's got to be tons of things ... but maybe one or two, from your experience?
Eric: Passion for what you do and the mental toughness to withstand the rollercoaster of starting/running a business. I love what I do, love the people I work with, and couldn't imagine doing anything else. But there are nights I get home and wonder "what the hell am I doing" and just want the day to end. That's where the mental toughness comes in -- you have to roll with it and come back the next day.
Me: What's the one thing you wish someone had told you before you started your business? Or, alternately, the one piece of advice that you are extremely glad someone shared with you before you started your business.
Eric: The advice I wish I would have gotten (and maybe I did but didn't listen to) was "It will cost much more and take much longer to implement than you think." And the best advice I ever got was from my dad: "You can't get a hit without stepping up to the plate and taking a swing." (I played baseball growing up.) I'm taking my swing now with BrightGauge, but it has cost more and taken longer.
Me: We've focused a lot on the difficulties of being a business owner because ... well, because it's hard work. But I like to end on a positive note, so what's your favorite part about business ownership?
Eric: Without a doubt, it's being in total control of my own destiny.
Me: Well said. I'm really glad we got to talk today, Eric. Thank you for taking the time and sharing your experiences!
Eric: Absolutely, I really enjoyed chatting with you and sharing.
Image Credit: Kekka