Remember pencils? Sure you do. You used pencils on SAT tests and for other odd tasks before completely giving them up for a Palm Pilot. Some of the legends of pencil-making include Frenchman Nicholas-Jacques Conté, who made refinements to the writing tool in 1795. Then there was William Monroe, who in 1812 became the first U.S. entrepreneur to open his own pencil-making business. What (no pencil pun intended) is the point?
History is full of entrepreneurs who saw a need, met it and made a fortune in the process. But if you haven't opened up shop yet, you're probably asking yourself "Do I have the background, lifestyle and personality to be a good entrepreneur? Could I possibly ever measure up to Nicholas-Jacques . . . what was that guy's name?"
Well, we're glad you asked! Grab a pencil or pen, and take our easy quiz to determine your Business IQ.
1. I . . .
a) am an only child.
b) am a younger sibling.
c) am an older sibling.
d) was part of the Brady Bunch.
Best answer: "d." That answer, at least, comes from Christine Durst, the second of six children (an older sister and four younger brothers), and CEO and co-founder of Staffcentrix, a Woodstock, Connecticut, e-commerce company. "My father is an entrepreneur--a building contractor," says the 36-year-old, "and some of my earliest memories are of him working long hours and coming home sweaty and tired--and satisfied." While seeing her father ultimately helped fuel her desire to be an entrepreneur, Durst also felt it was the only real way she could distinguish herself from her brothers and sister. "I was not the oldest, not the youngest, not the first daughter, not the first son, not the smart one, the funny one, the cute one or the jock. This left me with no choice but to be the successful one," she says. "I would say that having a sibling is a real plus if you have a competitive spirit and consider everyone else's successes a personal challenge to push yourself just a bit harder to stay with, and possibly race ahead of, the pack. A bit of healthy sibling rivalry might indeed serve to push everyone to their entrepreneurial apex!"
That said, consider James Jacobson, 33, an only child who grew up in the Washington, DC, area. Jacobson insists he's not spoiled or selfish, adjectives sometimes thrust upon only children (probably by people with brothers and sisters). While being an only child may not prepare everybody for managing a huge staff of employees, Jacobson says that going through his childhood solo did help him in his Alexandria, Virginia, businesses--WAVE Communications, a marketing and video production company, and ConsciousMedia.Com, an e-commerce business that sells such items as books, videotapes and audiotapes, and music dedicated to the mind, body and spirit. "[Being an only child] helped tremendously," says Jacobson. "You look to yourself for validation--and you certainly feel inwardly directed--at an early age. You learn to become your own best counsel, out of necessity."
Lesson: As long as you don't wind up trashing your family on The Jerry Springer Show, it really doesn't matter whether you're an only child. Whatever you circled, give yourself 10 points.
2. True or false: "I watch a lot of mindless TV."
Best answer: true. Consider New York City's Josh Harris, 36, who grew up idolizing George Peppard of the 1970s TV series Banacek as well as Thurston Howell III of Gilligan's Island. Harris is now the founder and chair of Pseudo.com, the world's first and largest Internet TV network. Then there's Hoby Buppert and his fiancee, Christina Staalstrom, both 26. They loved watching Hart to Hart, and now own a Miami Beach, Florida, soft drink company with year-to-date sales of more than $800,000. And there's Anne Buchanan, 39, of Buchanan Public Relations in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, who says she learned how not to run her own public relations firm by watching Heather Locklear on the now-canceled Melrose Place, and that the character "G" on the also-canceled Homicide taught Buchanan a lot about "making decisions quickly, standing firm in the face of office and city politics, and being a good manager, as opposed to a friend, to employees."
What if you don't watch a lot of mindless TV? We don't know. We couldn't find anyone who fits that description.
Lesson: The best entrepreneurs get their inspiration anytime, anywhere; their minds are always working. If you said "true," give yourself 10 points. If you said "false," subtract 37 points for either lying or being out of touch with the rest of America. (Don't like it? Write your own quiz.)
3. If I start my own business, I should expect to . . .
a) work around the clock, tirelessly, until the nice men in the white coats come to get me.
b) not work around the clock. All work and no play makes Jack and Jill a dull couple, you know?
Best answer: "a," of course. Starting your own business takes a certain level of commitment, and while that shouldn't result in you actually being committed, there will be some nights you'll feel loopy. "I've often found myself waking up in the middle of the night, working out problems," concedes Alan Discount, of his Minneapolis-based Vallon Inc., which creates Web sites for small businesses. Discount says his schedule is loosening up a bit, but when he started his company in 1995, he was putting in 100-hour weeks, with each day topping out at around 15 hours. Today, Discount reaches the office at 6 a.m. and goes home around 6 p.m. for dinner with his wife and daughter. Afterward, he's frequently in his home office, working from his computer. His philosophy echoes that of the numerous entrepreneurs who have appeared in the pages of Entrepreneur: "The true definition of an entrepreneur is somebody who's flexible. You need to do whatever you need to do to get the job done."
Lesson: Anything worth anything is a struggle to achieve. If you picked "a," give yourself 10 more points. If you picked "b," give yourself 5. Even Discount admits of his 15-hour days: "You can't do that for very long. You burn out."
4. Your chances of succeeding in business are better if . . .
a) you have taken business courses in college.
b) you haven't.
Best answer: "a" inches out. Obviously, a lot of people succeed without a business education--like Cindy Rowe, 51, a former registered nurse who now owns a windshield repair company that brings in $5 million a year. She's never taken a business class in her life and says the most important tools an entrepreneur can have are attitude and drive. And once you become successful, do what Rowe did: "Hire an MBA graduate to take care of the marketing end and a CPA to take care of the financial end."
But if you have the money to invest in business school, do it, urges Alissa Fields, 29, who got her MBA at Washington University in St. Louis. She says, "The biggest benefits are that you learn the lingo of the business world, and you learn to see yourself through the eyes of a businessperson." Fields was given the opportunity to make mock presentations to actual venture capitalists, and she ended up taking their advice and steering away from a produce-related company in favor of a more profitable market. Indeed, her Chicago-based store, Eye Spy Optical, which opened in October 1998, will net $235,000 this year. Another benefit is the respect business grads earn in the community once colleagues learn they have MBAs, says Fields, who's glad she invested in her education. "If I hadn't gone to business school," she explains, "I'd probably still be working at some measly job, earning nothing."
Lesson: Education never hurt anyone. If you circled "a," give yourself 10 points. If you circled "b," give yourself 9.
5. I'm . . .
a) usually convinced the glass is half full.
b) usually convinced the glass is going to fall off the table, break, cut me and send me to the emergency room, where I'll have to deal with my HMO.
Best answer: "a." True, there is a place for realism in entrepreneurship (and you're probably better off with a PPO), but if you're going to start your own business, your attitude must be positive, no matter how corny your ideas sound. That's how Hugh McPherson sees it--and his ideas are corny. The 24-year-old founded Maize Quest, an entertainment center in New Park, Pennsylvania, that's literally a maze of maize: pathways weaving through his family's cornfield. When McPherson first proposed the idea to bankers and nearby farmers, everybody laughed. Some were probably tempted to call those nice men in the white coats.
Because McPherson had once read a saying along the lines of "The crazier people think you are, the more likely you are to be on the right track," he actually felt encouraged by the naysayers. He convinced bankers to loan his fledgling company $20,000 for operating costs, and his 1998 revenues ended up at $150,000. He projects figures closer to $250,000 for this year.
McPherson recently mazed a cornfield in Columbus, Ohio, and, thanks to another bank loan, he's opened the HANDS-ON Agricultural Science Center (start-up costs: $75,000) at the New Park field, to teach visitors about the ways of the farmer. "The inventor of every great idea was probably told he was crazy more than once," says McPherson. "You can't be afraid to give it a try. Chances are, you'll be a success with at least one of your ideas."
Lesson: Corn is even better for you than we imagined. If you circled "a," give yourself 10 points. If you marked "b," subtract 42.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.