How to Start a Successful Business in Today’s Economy

by | Mar 28, 2009

While on my federally mandated sabbatical, one of the things that I’m doing to make good use of my time is to teach a class on entrepreneurship. Many of us are interested in starting a business – whether it be for part-time income or full-time work, and we’re focusing on the basics to ensure the greatest possibility for success. We have three goals for the ventures we’re discussing:

1.  Startup costs of less than $1,000
2.  No debt
3.  Revenue generation within 90 days

Given those seemingly difficult restrictions you might think that it would be nearly impossible to find a business that could end up being successful. To date we have more than 130 ventures that can fit . . . and I know there are many more.

Our class meets each Thursday night for a period of 10 weeks and we cover everything from selecting your venture, marketing your business, managing growth and ensuring success (as much as this is possible). Tonight we had the privilege of hearing from Roger Blackwell (, a noted and highly respected marketing expert from Ohio State University. Roger’s also on a federally mandated sabbatical and generously gave myself and the 31 students of this term’s class over an hour of his time and expertise – specifically dealing with “Garage Startups.”

Many of the companies that we’re familiar with today began decades ago as part-time ventures with little or no capital and worked out of a garage, kitchen or bedroom in the early days. Roger began by discussing why most business ventures fail. The top reason? Too much capital – yes, that’s correct. Certainly not what you’d think. Other key failure issues are a lack of passion, a lack of accounting skills, and a lack of something that you do better than the competition (Not necessarily a lack of a better product. For example, Wal-mart sells the same items as KMart, yet is much more successful, due to better logistics among other factors).

Roger shared some first-hand stories with us about Dell, Hewlett Packard, Cheryl’s Cookies, The Limited, Wendy’s, Check Free, and a number of other firms that he’s been involved with. Passion was one of the cornerstones of each of these successes. As Roger stated so eloquently, “You don’t find a passion; your passion finds you.” Whether it’s skiing, logistics, photography, cooking, or a myriad of other things, one of the best indicators of success is pursing something that you are passionate about.

Today’s economy is tough. Being incarcerated insulates us a bit from the day to day aspects of this, yet we’re bombarded with the national news stations telling us how terrible things are and how difficult (if not impossible) it will be for us as felons to get jobs when we’re released. You are likely not incarcerated as you read this, although you may still be pondering what your future will look like. I’m confident Roger Blackwell, among others would agree with my advice to pursue your passion.

What are you interested in? What excites you? Determine your passion, start working in a related field (better to learn on someone else’s dime), and then begin your entrepreneurial venture with limited or no startup capital and no debt. Small businesses and entrepreneurs can and will turn this country’s economy around.

– Jonathan Mast on Sales, Marketing and the Internet