Work Week: Capital Region entrepreneurs on what they wish they'd known at the start

work week entrepreneurs

It's Work Week on AOA, which is pretty much what it sounds like -- we're talking with people about their jobs and working.

Starting something new -- making your own job -- is hard. Especially if it requires leaving a steady paycheck, an eight-hour workday and weekends off (though there seem to be fewer and fewer of those jobs these days). It means risking security, time, and often cash. It means being prepared to learn, and sometimes, to fail.

And the further you get into a new venture, the more you'll learn things you probably wished you'd known at the start. We talked with a handful of Capital Region people who took a chance and started something of their own -- to create a job for themselves -- and asked them one question: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself before starting your venture?

Here's what they said...

Eben Bayer Greensulate

Eben Bayer
CEO and co-founder Ecovative

My advice is to pay attention to the product first; e.g. what you provide your customers. Following that, the building of your team. Don't be afraid to make that first hire, and don't be afraid to fire if they don't fit.

Matt Baumgartner
Matt Baumgartner
Owner of Bombers, Wolff's Biergarten, Olde English Pub and Sciortino's

If I could go back and talk to myself when I first started my business, I would tell myself to put all of the money into Apple stock.  :)

Joking aside (not really), I would tell myself not to hire my friends because it will ruin those friendships, and I would tell myself not to take the businesses so personally and enjoy the ride.  No matter how hard you try, there will always be ups and downs and all you can do is try your best and breathe.

traci cornwell
Traci Cornwell
Owner, The Giddy Up Bus

The advice I would give myself is that you cannot make everyone happy with the product and service you designed. Your main goal should be to please the majority because there will always be a small percentage that will complain and disapprove. The most important thing is how you handle the situation and how your improve the problem for the future.

AnnmarieLanesey_Headshot.jpgAnnmarie Lanesey
President, Greane Tree Technology

I would give myself this advice:  Stop worrying 

I left a well-paying secure job to start Greane Tree, and I worried quite a bit about my decision.  Was I doing the right thing?  Was I crazy?  No one has a crystal ball, but If I knew then what I know now, I would definitely have worried less.  And this is advice I still need to hear today!

John Curtin pipe.jpg
John Curtin
Co-owner, Albany Distilling Company

If I could go back and talk to myself, I'd probably want to do more listening than speaking. Hey, past-self, what are you doing with all the fabulous free time you have? Where did you go this weekend? How many hours of sleep did you get last night? You have HOW MUCH money in your pocket right now?? Basically, I'd just want to live vicariously through him for a couple hours -- he got out a lot more than I do. After that, I'd congratulate him, give him an awkward hug, and wish I payed more attention to sports so I could give him some gambling tips. It's been an incredible experience, and I wouldn't want to ruin any surprises.

sarah gordon farmiemarket
Sarah Gordon
Founder of FarmieMarket

Stick to your guns.  When you come up with a great, innovative idea, you are undoubtedly going to have to work hard at getting it up and running.  Opening a business takes months or years of preparation, and oftentimes entrepreneurs develop their ideas in a vacuum of sleepless nights and delirious mornings.  It's important to solicit input from friends, family, and potential customers to make sure you are designing a business that will be useful to customers and clients.  However, don't let the input of others steer you away from your mission. You came up with your idea because you saw an opportunity for advancement, and because you believe in your business.  You need to maintain this personal commitment to your mission to remind you why you are working so hard on tough days.

When I launched FarmieMarket, I was fortunate to be very well received in the Capital Region.  But, that isn't to say that I didn't deal with nay-sayers that reached out to me belittling my idea, encouraging me to add larger farms with deeper inventories, or trying to convince me to change my business practices to lower prices. In the midst of managing customer relations, I had to work hard to remember that FarmieMarket's mission was to make small family farms more profitable.  In doing so, I pushed myself to educate people about why FarmieMarket works the way it does.  It's up to the entrepreneur to help consumers understand and commit to new ideas, advance social causes, and support small businesses.  We're lucky to live in an age when social media, blogging, and other digital media make idea-sharing easy.  Work hard to stay committed to your mission, and work even harder to help people understand your mission so that you and your business can thrive.

Thumbnail image for the_confectionery_0467.jpg
Vic Christopher
Owner, The Lucas Confectionery, The Grocery

Everyone I know is looking for comfort and job security and there is no job security these days. You have to have faith in yourself. For me, the road to being an entrepreneur is something that I should have recognized earlier. I had dedicated my life to making other people very successful, and I wasn't quite sure I could do it for us -- me and [my wife] Heather. I wish I would have done it sooner. I wasted time -- it was a learning experience -- but I wasted time making other people successful. I should have been on my own all along.

We took over a year to build the space up -- and you have this overriding paranoia that you're going to put all that time and your life savings into something and nobody is going to show up. But if you have been successful in the workplace why wouldn't you go out on your own? This is America. We lose sight of that. If you have an idea -- you recognize the need -- there are going to be a million reasons why you shouldn't do it. But once you take the first steps forward all the questions take care of themselves.

There are resources out there If you have a good idea and you demonstrate action, support just starts to grow. Especially in the Capital Region. It's an incredible place to be an entrepreneur. I'm from Brooklyn, and I saw the place go from undesirable to unaffordable in the blink of an eye. A regular guy with a decent idea in the Capital Region can do anything. People don't understand the opportunity here.

Jennifer Rittner 3Chicks.jpg
Jennifer Rittner
Owner, 3 Chicks and a P

Our strategy has been to move slow and learn on the way. So far it has done well for us. We still are managing full-time jobs as well as the business and we need to be sensible and strategic in every move we make. I think we have been successful in this area.

But... if there was one thing I would go back and do differently... I would probably say invest more start-up money upfront and purchase better and more efficient equipment right from the beginning. I have to laugh when I look back at the 12+ hours it used to take us to process our batches of hummus in our two small household food processors. We have now cut that time back to 4 hours since we invested in larger equipment including a high quality emulsion blender. And that was a tip we got from a member of the Entrepreneur Bootcamp Program through the Albany Colonie Chamber of Commerce that I participate in.

One thing we have said from the beginning, if we aren't passionate for what we are doing, then we shouldn't be doing it. I love meeting our customers in person and building relationships with other entrepreneurs in the Capital Region. Every time someone walks up to me and expresses how much they love our products, it reinforces why we do what we do. We love people. We love food. Sometimes it's just that simple.

hounds on the hudson jen pursley cold weather
Jen Guidice
Owner, Hounds on Hudson

Focus on the way you want to feel, rather than what goals you want to obtain. (Hint: goals are meaningless unless you feel good when you get there!)

Learn how to say "no." This is a big one!

Work with talented, awesome human beings who you consider to be "winners." Get rid of all the mediocrity makers.

Delegate anything that someone else can do. Focus on business growth rather than maintenance.

Duncan Crary
Author, owner of Duncan Crary Communications

If I could talk to young freelancer Duncan way back in 2001, I'd tell him to RELAX. I was so anxious back then about not having enough work to support myself that I'd waste sunny days just worrying about not having enough work. I landed on my feet. So I'd tell young 20-something Duncan to go outside on sunny days. I'd tell him to just write poems if he didn't have any gigs lined up.

If I could talk to my slightly more experienced self back in 2008 when I started up DCC, I'd reiterate what I already knew to be true: the ones who want to pay the least are always the ones who expect the most. I'd tell myself to strictly enforce the rule of "Fast, Good, Cheap" by informing potential clients that they can only have two out of the three. 

One piece of advice that author James Howard Kunstler used to tell me is that talent will only take you so far. You've gotta keep showing up if you want to succeed. The people who keep at it are the ones who eventually get the work. I agree with him. I still hustle for my modest livelihood, but the work comes to me now. 

Rhea Drysdale
CEO, Outspoken Media

I'd tell myself to have more confidence and to trust my gut. I'd also tell myself to find a business consultant/mentor outside of the company who could guide my understanding of business fundamentals, legal concerns, accounting/cash flow, partnerships, and management experience (of people and projects). Lastly, I'd tell myself to not try to do everything at once. By breaking tasks into simpler quarterly goals and focusing on what's important, not urgent, I can accomplish far more than running around without my head. Put the rocks before the sand. 

Sue Rad Soap.jpg
Sue Kerber
Founder, RAD Soap

You should have started earlier.

This business is the best thing I ever did, but in hindsight, I had to take time to raise my kids. As a mother  I used to make things to heal them and stuff and all the things I invented over the years I just wanted to share with people.

But these people just love my products. I have people that come once a year to a farmers' market and they'll spend $200 on soap and they are thanking me.

You've got to know your business from every aspect -- what to do, how to make it, the accounting... you have to know it all.

So when we hire people we know exactly what it takes to do every job... and what to pay them. Every area you've got to know.

Just think of something you love to do and go and figure out how to make money with it. 

Kevin Craig West.jpg
Kevin Craig West

Beware the Ides of March. That's what I would tell myself. Quote from Julius Caesar.

Seriously though, I'm pretty sure I would simply encourage myself to stay the course and continue to believe in my vision.


Great advice! I'm loving all of these work week features on AOA!

I love you AOA, but being open for a year or less doesn't make someone a successful entrepreneur. That being said, its nice to see a group of people who genuinely love what they are doing at the moment.

I would love to meet all these people. And thanks to AOA for doing this piece! Gives me the strength to continue the work I've been doing!

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For a decade All Over Albany was a place for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. It was kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who could help you find out what's up. AOA stopped publishing at the end of 2018.

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