Here is a quick story about my career at Sprint and how it helped me prepare to be an Entrepreneur. Nearly 7 years of Entrepreneurship training while doing my job.
I want to start out thanking Sprint and my managers for such an exciting opportunity and the Entrepreneurship Degree. It is early 2001 when I received a call from a Sales Manager at Sprint. I was working as a Regional Sales Manager for a Motorola Communications Dealer in Bloomington, IL. I had already spent around 7 years in various Wireless Communication Sales roles when the phone rang. The recruiting manager’s name was Tony. He was the Business Sales Manager for Sprint in the affiliate market in Central Illinois. Sprint had already been preparing all the major markets for the roll out of PCS Digital Service and Central Illinois was next.
The interview went well. I was told I was a great fit for the roll out of Digital PCS and I would be among the first in this area to have a shot at something incredibly amazing. Believe me in late 2000 and early 2001 PCS was incredible. The interview presentation blew me away. I would be among the first to market mobile phones and services that would revolutionize the wireless market. This probably sounds familiar and is always the reason an Entrepreneur starts a new business. So the analogies are the same.
I was shown something that I had never seen before and in fact neither had anyone else in this market because there wasn’t anything like it. For the first time Long Distance, Roaming Charges and Voice Mail are included in the plans. Sounds pretty basic doesn’t it? But let me tell you people where tired of being nickel and dimed for add on services like these…it was a big deal.
If that wasn’t enough imagine having a talking phone. Yes …when you flipped the phone open it would say “Who Would You Like To Call?” It’s as simple as that. But wait there is more. The voice quality is crystal clear; the phone has internet access and the ability to tether to a camera!
I’m thinking to myself this is going to be incredible. Yes I want the job! I took the role as the first Business to Business Sales Representative in Central Illinois. There were others hired but I was defiantly the first and it was an honor. I knew this was going to be an amazing opportunity. But I had no idea what I would eventually end up doing and how it became an Entrepreneurs dream.
After training and a ramp up period I was off and running. Marketing Digital Phone services that everyone wanted. It was incredible. I was selling mobile phones everywhere and arranging 100’s of meetings with small and medium sized businesses. I was experiencing the rush of making Sales and the sport of working a deal. I cannot stress enough how popular these products where. You really just had to be there. I was a top selling producer and learning real quickly how to create a niche. But honestly looking back on those days it wasn’t called a niche. It was called job security.
Tip #1 Find Your Niche
So what do I mean by that and how does that relate to Entrepreneurship? In today’s world everywhere you look in Entrepreneurs are being told to become a Key Influencer. I get that now but at the time I just thought of myself as a Subject Matter Expert. What I learned with this new Digital Service is that you could also get your email on your phone. This required actual set up of your IMAP, POP3 Account and SMTP Incoming and Out Going email settings. It also required special integration with your servers and the Sprint network. It’s not like now days where you are accustomed to Gmail or other easy set up and instant access.
This was a BIG Selling point for on the go Business Accounts. So I learned everything I could about this set up process and integration and became the go to person. I just thought I was doing my job and going the extra mile for customers and I was. But at the same time it showed me how to become an expert at something, An Internal Key Person of Influence.
Keep this in mind if you are working for a corporation. Recognize the role and duties and become a specialist at knowing everything inside and out. Become an internal expert in a field. Once you have this you are set to launch a plan.
Tip #2 Stay Healthy.
As the months and years started to pass by and sales just rolled off my sleeve I worked day and night nonstop up to 80+ hours. My market expanded into multiple states and I was traveling a lot. I wasn’t aware at the time but my job was starting to affect my health. Things started to go south and I did have an alarming wakeup call. I was actually in a meeting at a Hospital of all places and I was having rapid heartbeats during the call. I ignored the signs but when the meeting was over I went straight to the Emergency Room. The hospital ended up keeping me overnight for EKG testing, monitoring and a full Stress Test the next day. I assure you that I am absolutely fine now. However to this day I am on prescription medicine and have not had an issue ever since.
So no matter how busy you are you must manage your time wisely, eat healthy, exercise and get plenty of sleep. Entrepreneurs and Startup’s are charged with the idea that you eat, sleep and live your work. But you must find time to stay healthy.
Tip #3 Look for Change Opportunities
As more time passed by different opportunities where staring to pop up. I have always been a person to get bored real quick. Especially after I accomplish the task and now it’s becoming repetitive and no longer a challenge. I did not know if I had ADHD and I would have been embarrassed to even think that is what was wrong with me. I know today that is a typical trait of an Entrepreneur. I’ve never been diagnosed nor has anyone suggested this to me. I’ve just learned that it’s possible and recognize it.
As an entrepreneur you always have to be prepared to take a different route if the opportunity exists and if it makes sense. If the new Business opportunity will help you grow , learn new strategies and open new doors …I say go for it.
Sprint started an Indirect Dealer Channel called SBDN, Small Business Dealer Network. This is similar to a franchise in that the operations where the same, the products and services where the same and you had to apply and be approved. You had to have a business and financial plan and the money.
I was a successful B2B Sales Representative and had a significant account base. I heard about the SBDN Opportunity and was ready for something new. I approached my manager about it and presented it as a win, win.
It’s a win, win because I will still be presenting Sprint PCS and helping expand the Indirect B2B Market. We worked it out and agreed on the accounts that would go with me and which ones would stay with Sprint Direct. As an Entrepreneur or Startup you have to be multi directional and know how to write a business plan and get finances in line. I was forced into knowing what it would take to set up a business of my own. I already had some experience in this from a previous venture prior to my Sprint days but not at this level.
During the 7 years at Sprint the Indirect Channel was half my time there. I learned so much on the fly. There were no incubators or Startup Workshops at that time and the program was brand new. I became a business owner real quick. I had my business accounts and did very well. Plans change and you have to be very creative and make decisions on a daily bases.
I ended up doing so well that Sprint approached me about opening indirect store locations. Retail stores were not really my gig. I am a true B2B guy but I was open to the challenge. I went from having a business sales office to Mall kiosk locations and Strip Mall in line stores. The company quickly grew to a premier hybrid dealer serving both B2B and Retail.
As a Corporate Employee and now an Entrepreneur I learned how to run a business. This is a very unique situation. Most Fortune 500 companies do not have these types of programs. Most people just see opportunities in the way of doing things better. They see the holes in the business processes or they see an area not being served, leave the company and open a business of their own to fill the gaps. Either way I was learning Entrepreneurship.
Tip # 4 Have a Plan
This would be a partnership with Sprint. I did my due diligence and worked hard getting everything ready and submitted the paperwork. After a short period I was informed that it was not approved. The reason was due to the finances need for the role out. I was not prepared for that reply.
I took it as a challenge and was not going to settle for that answer. I took my business plan on the road and for the second time in my life I had to raise funds. I had to look for an Angle Investor. There were no Crowdfunding platforms in those days. So I had to be sharp and get my pitch ready. I did end up securing the funds needed with a local investor, went back to Sprint for second round and was approved. It was a great feeling of accomplishment, my very own dealership under the brand name of Sprint. But you can see here how I am being trained as an Entrepreneur. The investor pitch did not seem intimidating to me because I was confident. If you have a plan and are an expert in a niche you will be a natural when it comes to talks about your business.
Today there are all kinds of Startup groups that you can attend and work on your pitch for feedback in front of live audiences. So much has changed and today there are many tools available to help you.
This part taught me a lot about planning and gathering the details of a Startup. Even though Sprint was already in business and I had experience selling. It was the first program they had. As an Entrepreneur you have to plan your goals and finances. This is not my strongest area but I’ve learned that Entrepreneurs have to do everything in the beginning.
Tip #5 Be a Creative Marketer
While I had different opportunities I was forced into learning marketing skills. Even though Facebook had not taken off and MySpace was available but not as common as a social media platform for business. Billboards, newspapers and radio were the most popular at the time. I took to billboards as my favorite. I learned how to become an effective marketer. Websites are just starting to become a must and being mobile ready is not even being talked about. I focused on billboards and a new website. I owned the billboard market for mobile phones in my hometown.
I worked a deal out with a billboard advertising company and had locations on all major roads in and out of town and high traffic areas. Today Facebook would be one of the first places I would suggest you start with target marketing. But in any case you see how things began to escalate into a full scale business. I thank Sprint for their business model and programs. Without the different channels I would have never had these experiences.
I tracked my customer sales and broke them out into categories. Certainly Business 2 Business was a major source of my revenue but I started seeing the younger generation taking hold. I started setting up additional Kiosks in high traffic areas like grocery stores and college book stores. I activated so many phones I got a visit from corporate that would produce yet another opportunity and change.
Tip #6 Make Quick Decisions
What I want to point out here is that even though everything is going well you still have to be ready for unexpected opportunities. This one is similar to Tip #3 “Look For Change Opportunities”
It may seem repetitive but an Entrepreneurs career is never a straight line. But again I am working with a corporation and I am open to new opportunities to learn and grow.
After another successful run as a store owner another opportunity was calling. I believe what makes a great Entrepreneur is their ability to adapt and make quick decisions to the market. You have to be willing to change directions at a moment’s notice.
Now that I have experience in B2B Sales, Store Owner and Retail I was approached about the Indirect National Channel. This included managing Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Radio Shack Channel Partners. I had to quickly figure out how to flip my own business and I was soon on my way to managing an indirect market including dealers like the one I owned. Now I am back as an internal employee at Sprint for about a year I found another niche of mine. Do you see the patterns here, the signs of an Entrepreneur? Things are changing very quickly and I am learning how to adapt on the fly a key to being an Entrepreneur.
This last role reminded me that I was not a retail guy. I loved the client interaction and training national retail partners, however I do not necessarily like managing others. The niche I found was helping independent store owners expand by finding new locations, store build out and cultivating strategies to find new B2B customers one meeting at a time.
After all the experiences I just described, I found the need in the industry for a specialized wireless Business Broker. I saw the industry getting bigger and bigger. For independent store owners to be really successful they needed to expand and have multiple locations. The bigger you are and the more locations you have the more successful you will be. My niche became an independent Business Broker, a new self employed role and managing partner of a New York Broker firm. This is a whole new chapter and a whole new story that I will put into another blog someday soon.
In the meantime you find this story and beyond in my latest book called “Nothing Happens Until The Meeting Is Set.” This will give you the full journey even before and after my Sprint days. You can read about the chain of effects and how one thing leads to another.
Sprint definitely prepared me for the real world and gave me the skill sets to be an Entrepreneur. Do not overlook the corporate world as a training ground. If you know what you are doing it could be a paid Entrepreneurship training program in disguise. Most opportunities are able to be duplicated in a startup of your own. I just described several just working at one Major Corporation. Don’t be discouraged by all the Entrepreneurial hype these days. You will find your niche internal or external.