Lightbulb Moments: Insights from Coco Duckworth and Brian Enevoldsen
How exciting is it to watch the entrepreneurs you help launch their businesses and grow?
Coco: It’s an honor to work with people who have either a good idea or an existing business that they want to grow. There are just so many of us that had to learn things the hard way, just by trying and failing. So, this is just a wonderful way to give tools to people to help them skip a lot of that. They can go directly off other people’s experiences or systems and processes that work for them. It’s extremely valuable and it’s fun to be a part of.
What types of ideas do you see? Are you able to advise those individuals in the right direction?
Coco: Speaking for myself, and not the agency, I always try to be totally honest with everybody; however, the real truth is we don’t always know what’s a good idea or a bad idea. It may sound like a bad idea, but my job is to help them think through the pros and cons – how is this going to work, how am I going to make money – because there’s a lot of stupid ideas that have made people billionaires. So, I’m not going to be the person that says, “Nah, that pet rock is a stupid idea,” because somebody made a fortune on that! My job is to help them really analyze every step of the way, and if they feel really passionate about it then it doesn’t matter what I think. They can make it work.
Can you elaborate on how you help your clients obtain a clearer vision and what that process looks like?
Coco: One good starting point is the thing we call the business model canvas. That is kind of a miniature business plan on one page where you can fill out this grid that tells you exactly who your customer is; whether you have a net; how you’re going to communicate with them; what’s the differentiator or special about your product or service; how you’re going to market to them; what your revenue sources are going to be; whether you are going to require a brick-and-mortar store, or be totally online, or a combination of both; how’s it going to be; whether you will need sales people or can start without a staff; what your revenues are; and what the cost overheads will be. Also, are you going to have to have patents, trademarks, etc., and how complicated will your website need to be?
So, you get all of this on one page – who are you going to partner with, who are you going to have to have, are you going to need an attorney or a CPA at the very beginning, IT people – you know, what is it going to take? It’s a great snapshot way for people to see, “Here’s my barrier. I need to find out more about this.” It’s a neat way to get it all on one page. This is even valuable for bankers, if you’re looking for financial backing – for them to be able to look on there and say, “Yep, this is valuable.” So, that’s a good starting place, and we help people examine and research their assumptions, because I may have a great recipe that everybody in my family loves and we think we can make a fortune, but if we just launch everything based on that assumption without going and doing some research, or what we call customer discovery, and find that people don’t love your product, then you could be wasting your time. Mom’s always going to tell you you’re smart and wonderful.
As the coach at Growth Academy, can you share your role in guiding these up-and-coming entrepreneurs and maybe one of your proudest moments with the WTEC as a coach?
Coco: It’s hard to actually come up with one major thing because the beauty of the WT Enterprise Center is that although there are road maps and systems and processes, our coaching is very much customized to each client’s needs. When they come to a coaching session, they have their own agenda and it could be, “I’m having personnel problems—how do I get my team to all work together on a challenge?” Or, “I don’t know how to read my financial statements. I think I’m making money on paper, but I can’t figure out where it’s all going.” So, whatever it is, it can be a different area on any given week.
Sometimes it is a marketing issue. I really want to do this big presentation for a prospect, especially because I have a sales and marketing background; that’s one of my favorite things. Depending on what it is, that may be the focus for that week. I always ask them to lead with a “big three” – three action steps that they’re going to take, which can be in multiple areas or one.
So, when you say ONE big success story, coaching is really a bunch of little lightbulb moments, and that’s the most rewarding thing when you see that person look back at you and you can see them thinking, “Aha, I get it!” or, “That’s going to help me in this situation.” There are little things and little moments, and what you learn as a businessperson is there’s no such thing as little moments. Those are the important things.
What is one quality that you look for in a successful entrepreneur?
Coco: One thing that every entrepreneur has—and it’s really a common trait among entrepreneurs— is the mindset of being a constant and lifelong learner. A true entrepreneur never thinks, “This is the only way to do something.” They never think, “I can’t learn a better way.” They never think, “I know everything.” They have a constant mindset where they’re open to learning. Entrepreneurs do a lot more business reading, more than any other group. They do a lot more following blogs and industry publications and all those kinds of things, because that’s our nature. We want to keep learning, growing, improving, and applying it to our businesses, as well as our personal lives.
As the Program Manager of the WT Enterprise Center, can you share with me how you guide entrepreneurs?
Brian: One of the things we really focus on when we’re meeting with a new or prospective client is trying to figure out where they’re at and the help that they will need right away. There could be similarities between the two, but most of the time it’s pretty specific to that business and how they got started, and why or what brought them to us. So, the very first part is just meeting with them, getting to hear about what their goals are, the problems that they incurred, and trying to reach their goals. Then we really just try to quickly make sure that our programs, between coaches and mentors, are going to be of value to that person. It’s one of the best parts about this—getting to meet these different businesses and what they are doing. We really want to add value to their business.
What’s your favorite part about working with all these up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
Brian: I think if you work at the Enterprise Center, you are people-focused. You love people. It’s very hard to work here and not be people-minded. I very much love the coaching and mentoring. I think that’s where a good bulk of the individualized parts come in. One of the things I love about the Growth Academy, specifically, is the fact that it is cohort-focused. With that, we will have a group of nine or ten businesses represented at a round table, and they get to come with the struggles they’re facing and say, “Hey, I’m really struggling in X, Y, Z. Is anyone else hitting that same roadblock or having similar problems. If so, what are you doing to get around that?” It is what’s true about Amarillo, in the sense that we really just want to see people succeed. I think our community wants to see people succeed and our individual members want to see each other succeed. It’s celebrating the success together that I really enjoy because there’s not this mentality that “if I help you, I’m hurting me.” It’s a culture of “if I help you, I’m helping entrepreneurs as a whole.” That’s my favorite part, and my favorite part of the programming is the round tables. The entrepreneurs getting together to talk about what’s ailing them then allows us to determine which resources we can provide to help them; the best part of it comes from each other—the other entrepreneurs that are going through the program.
In your opinion, what is one quality every entrepreneur needs to have?
Brian: An open mind—just to be open to all possibilities. No one should get so boxed into their idea that they take away the potential opportunity of other things. Secondly, they need to have a true passion for what they do, because it’s really hard; it doesn’t always have to be hard, but naturally with anything there’s going to be days that you don’t want to get up. When you’re the business, if you don’t get up and work, the business is not going to get up and work. So, passion and an open mind are critical! I think you can conquer a lot with those two qualities.
What is your proudest moment working for the Enterprise Center?
Brian: I think any time I get to see an entrepreneur—we use the lightbulb reference a lot around our building; you’ll see it in our branding—I think that lightbulb moment where all of a sudden the difficulty fades away and they can see a path forward. Any single time that happens is my favorite part! A lot of what we do is really encouraging them to pursue the difficult things and do the things they’re not good at. Let’s say marketing or sales might not be their strong suit; if they pursue it and overcome the struggle, they get that reward in the end. I think that’s what it’s all about. It keeps them going and it keeps us going.
What’s something you say to people to keep them out of that kind of slump you spoke of when they are down and unmotivated?
Brian: There was an instance recently where we had a founder who was doing well but was having a hard time seeing the wins through the perceived losses; sometimes just reminding him of that passion and why they’re doing what they are doing was what he needed. Most of the time, I’ll point them back to their customers. Ask yourself, “What’s the moment where you felt like ‘I got my first order’ or ‘I sent out my first product,'” or, “What was the moment when you felt that win?”
We try to recapture those “hilltop moments” to fight through the monotonous tax filing, accounting, and budgeting. So, when you just seem to keep getting kicked, just remind them of the passion they had. I love when any entrepreneur can get customer testimonies. I think those are great even beyond just advertising; the entrepreneur needs to hear why people value what they’re doing. You want to talk about putting gas in a tank! When someone comes along and says what you’re doing matters, I think that goes far beyond anything I could do.
Besides a competitive market and strategies, what is the hardest part of helping entrepreneurs advance? What is the hardest aspect of your role at the Enterprise Center?
Brian: It’s probably just wanting people to realize that anything worth having is worth working hard for. We’ll have entrepreneurs come to us and say, “Here’s this idea that I have. Will y’all make this work for me?” That’s when we have to remind people that we’re not the founder, we’re not the entrepreneur. When I walk out of this door when I go home, it’s not as an employee of whatever business they work for but as an employee of the WT Enterprise Center. It’s harder to get things done when you want other people to do them for you. Sometimes people come to us thinking we’re just going to build this huge successful business for them, it’s going to be easy, and they aren’t going to have to grow or learn. That’s just not the case. When you become an entrepreneur, you are all things to your business until you either have the money to hire it out or the staff to take it on. So, just really getting people to not work in the business, but work on their business…getting out of the “I am an employee” mentality to “I am the owner” mentality. Once that shift happens, a lot of really great things can happen!