(as seen at Forbes.com July 14, 2016)
It’s My Lifestyle
Entrepreneurism is more than just a word to me – it’s my lifestyle. In this, my inaugural post, I chronicle some lessons I have learned in my journey that have brought me to where I am now. In future posts, I will write about all things associated with being the CEO of a startup.
As a lifelong entrepreneur, I have been down many roads. Many were difficult, but all were interesting.
Life as an entrepreneur can be both daunting and exhilarating. It’s the chase, I suppose, that is so much fun for me; it’s the results (most of the time) that are so rewarding. The rewards don’t necessarily need to always be monetary, but more the satisfaction of doing something new, better or impactful.
I sold my first business at age 18. I loved the business, the process, and the results. I started the business two and a half years prior and made what was a decent living for an adult, while only a teenager.
I had discovered that a product was in great demand, and engineered a process to supply a better product, in higher quantity, faster and more consistently than my competitors. At the time, I didn’t even know the word, “entrepreneur.” However, I found myself learning how to build a business under-fire, and in the local library. When I sold the business, I made money that would help fund my next venture several years later. It also paid for a really nice sports car.
I also received my first business lesson: #1 – Do what you love.
However, a young entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily heed his own advice. In my next venture, I failed to follow lesson number one, thus starting a journey to my great awakening. I spent a lot of time creating my idea and fleshing out all details. This was the pre-Internet age. I had to do my researching in libraries, and although the idea seemed solid, I didn’t really know the industry I was entering and had never done anything even close. I was a young hot shot who had sold his company a few years earlier, and thought I knew everything.
Scratch that – when the rubber met the road, I really didn’t know what I was doing and I paid for it dearly. At the end of company number two, there was no sports car, savings or really anything other than a pile of trampled pride.
But I did take away another lesson: #2 – Do what you know.
Brushing myself off after this pride-robbing venture, I briefly considered working a normal job. But, as a born entrepreneur it’s not in my DNA to work for the man. Soon, I found myself doing what I loved and loving what I knew – starting another business.
This company used my education, experience and personal passion at the time. In business, timing is everything and it was an early time in a young industry. We had a best-selling software product and the largest market footprint for our hardware products.
However, it was still a very niche market that appealed mainly to hobbyists (code word for nerds). As I was building this company, I determined that my business had limitations due to the early stage of the market. When I was presented the opportunity to sell the company, I did. Although I loved what I was doing, I wanted to pursue something that had better growth potential.
Lesson #3 – Timing is everything.
The next venture was more of a journey, and more than likely the longest time I will ever devote to a company. I founded Raland
Technologies using all my lessons. I knew my business, the timing was right, and I was doing what I loved – the business trifecta
I spent the better part of the next two decades developing, building and promoting the company – building it into an entity with locations in multiple states and operations internationally. I employed a multitude of people and experienced the ups and downs of several economic cycles. Along the way, I encountered all the issues one can imagine: client, employee, legal, and government. I was able to experience the best of business, as well as the worst, in equal glory.
During my nearly twenty years with this company, I also had many life changes: from the highs of getting married, to the lows of receiving a horrible disease diagnosis.
My diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis radically changed in my life both personally, and in business. A year after diagnosis I found myself laid up in the Mayo Clinic, paralyzed. The illness hit me hard and I was in clinic for a couple months as the physicians worked diligently to get me back on my feet. You have a lot of time to think when you’re lying in a hospital, unable to move.
Creating a company that was, by all accounts, very successful is one thing, but the question that kept coming to me was, “have you made a real difference?” I could justify a “yes” by saying I employ scores of people and that my company does great things. It just was not the “yes” I needed.
Lesson: #4 – Success is more than a dollar sign.
This was my “Great Awakening,” and I started looking for my next venture in a wheelchair. I embarked on a trek across the United States and, in the end, was introduced to my new venture. I found what I was looking for, not in the halls of Johns Hopkins where I had ventured in my pursuit, but in my backyard. Through networking, travel, talking, and listening, I found my calling in Rochester, NY.
I founded Efferent Labs in 2011, a biotechnology company, with technology created by my co-founder Dr. Spencer Rosero of University of Rochester. When I met Spencer, things clicked in a way that is needed to be successful. We had the experience, passion, and drive, and the time was perfect. His ideas had just become feasible due to technological advances. Together, we formed the nucleus of the team that we are building – a team that has the vision, passion, ability, and drive to ensure our success.
Since our initial meeting a few short years ago, we have made scientific history by watching cellular activity live in vivo. In October 2014, we were a winner in 43North, the $5 million startup competition, based out of Buffalo, NY. Moved into offices at University at Buffalo’s Center for Bioinformatics and Life Sciences. We are advancing a product that is going to help millions of people. We have been awarded patents, and started the large effort of pitching investors to help in moving our product forward to those in need.
Life is short, but I have found that it is the journey that is the reward. In my articles I will tell you my story – the story of a life-long entrepreneur on a quest to build a company that will help people.