April's featured article
Taking the Entrepreneurship Plunge
Do you have a “BIG” idea that you think will revolutionize the world or even solve a local community need? Are you prepared to take the next steps to give life to your idea? Or are you stuck and overwhelmed by the sheer size of the challenge that you’re having trouble taking the plunge into entrepreneurship?
Small businesses play a vital role in creating jobs and stimulating America’s economy through their introduction of robust innovations. The Office of Innovation and Development (OID), a national outreach office within the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), offers inventors and businesses help with all phases of their application processes and other educational programming. The mission of OID is to foster invention and entrepreneurship by providing full access to the U.S. intellectual property system. It also conducts national training programs for pro se inventors (filing without an attorney), colleges and universities, and underserved businesses in urban communities through national webinars, conferences, and town hall meetings.
OID staffer Dennis Forbes recently interviewed seasoned entrepreneur Ramon Ray, publisher of Smart Hustle Magazine, an online publication, and a recently tapped council advisory team member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. A longtime champion and advocate for entrepreneurial inclusion of disadvantaged communities in urban areas across America, Ray is frequently consulted for his insights on how to progressively grow and sustain incubator entrepreneurial efforts in America. Ray’s knowledge and experiences covers a broad range of innovative business startups that he has launched in a variety of business markets.
Dennis Forbes: What are some common mistakes that you have observed over the years that are made by entrepreneurs?
Ramon Ray: Thinking sales will come faster than they do, not having a well-thought marketing plan, not knowing their target market, and not listening enough to their customers.
DF: What are your thoughts about using resources such as business angel investors and others for startups to grow their business?
RR: Anytime you use an investor, you are adding complexity to your business. Unless you plan to go very big and have a company worth several millions, it's best to bootstrap, self-fund, even get a line of credit or other financing. Most small businesses don't need investors. However, if you do use investor money, get investors that are smart, care about you, and love your idea.
DF: At what point do you feel that is it necessary for young entrepreneurs to detach from competitive comparison?
RR: Always. Be sure to know your market, but focus on executing as best as you can. Know your customers better than you know your competition.
DF: What is your best advice that you can give to entrepreneurs from your personal lessons learned?
RR: Get a mentor. Be thoughtful. Don't knee jerk. I've started four companies.
DF: In today’s rapidly changing times, is having an entrenched mindset a pro or con?
RR: It’s terrible. You can be focused but still willing to learn and adapt to new information or a changing environment.
DF: When it comes to entrepreneurs adapting or dealing to contrary game-changing business friction, what advice can you give?
RR: The marketplace will always change. Customers will always want new things. New competitors will come to the market. If you are listening and innovating, you should be okay. Having great customer service and a great product can reduce friction in many markets.
DF: When it comes to obtaining financing, what is your advice to startups?
RR: Act like you’re poor. Too much money can hurt you. Spend less; however, do not be afraid to take calculated risks.
DF: Do you have a marketing strategy model that you rely on? If so, what is it?
RR: It really depends on the product, but for me, some things are (a) get others to talk about your product; (b) launch, then listen and innovate; and (c) build a list of those who might not buy your product today and educate them to buy later on.
DF: Is there a sound recommendation that you can offer to young entrepreneurs for coping with high levels of stress?
RR: Prioritize and schedule time to decompress. Know there is always tomorrow. And always know that stress is not healthy.
DF: What was history-making for you as an entrepreneur?
RR: I don’t have one defining moment. But I do have a few standouts such as my first Smart Hustle Small Business Conference that I hosted 12 years ago, and the rise of video. Some other personal highlights that I'm proud of include my invitation to the White House, my testimony to Congress, and interviewing former President Obama, just to name a few!
DF: What advice do you have for business owners to cope with disruptive business practices that become the “new normal?”
RR: Read, read, read! Be informed. Get close to your customers. As an entrepreneur, be disruptive too!
The USPTO, America’s innovation agency, helps inventors, innovators, students, and business owners achieve impactful business platforms for their intellectual property inventions and trademark branding. For more information about useful programming events offered nationally by the USPTO, check out the current events page.