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Been There, Done That

Why you need a mentor

Ask any entrepreneur who's hit it big, and you're sure to find a supportive mentor somewhere in his or her past.

Larry Schwarz, 28, is a case in point. He's taken his New York City toy company, Rumpus, from start-up in 1995 to grossing more than $1.5 million in sales in 1998. But he credits his success in part to one of his mentors--a friend's grandmother, who also happened to be cosmetics giant Estee Lauder. "She started her business from nothing," says Schwarz admiringly. "She mixed things in her uncle's garage and went around peddling them to stores, trying to get interviews with buyers on her own, and built it up into an incredible company."

One story especially hits home with Schwarz. "[Estee Lauder] would go to meet with a buyer, and the buyer would say `We have no appointment for you.' So she'd go to retail stores and pour her perfume on the floor. Customers would ask the salespeople `What is that?' and people started asking for her products."

The lesson for Schwarz? "With me, going up against huge toy companies like Mattel and Hasbro, I've got to get out there and be pushy and fight for it."

Sean M. Lyden ( writes frequently on motivational, sales and leadership issues. His mentor, prolific outdoors writer John E. Phillips, inspired him to leave his position as a high-school English teacher and pursue his passion as a full-time freelancer.

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Sean Lyden is the CEO of Prestige Positioning (a service of The Professional Writing Firm Inc.), an Atlanta-based firm that "positions" clients as leading experts in their field-through ghost-written articles and books for publication. Clients include Morgan Stanley, IFG Securities, SunTrust Service Corp. and several professional advisory and management consulting firms nationwide.

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This article was originally published in the January 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Been There, Done That.

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