Years ago, Michael Cummings wanted to start his own company. But he was not confident and unsure about the future — he was wavering.
Hearing this, his wife handed him a slip of paper with a quote from Mark Twain.
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do, than by the ones that you did do,” it read. “So, throw off the bow lines. Sail away from safe harbors. Catch the trade winds in your sills. Explore, dream, discover.”
Cummings still carried that message in his pocket Tuesday evening at Via Vita in Bellevue as he shared his best entrepreneurial tips to members of the local non-profit entrepreneurial network TiE. That Twain quote, he said, is still the most important piece of advice he’s received over the years.
Cummings, a professor at prestigious Massachusetts business school Babson, is certainly worthy of providing some help for budding startup hopefuls. He is the founder of LTC Group, a Massachusetts corporation that owns and operates long-term care facilities. Cummings also founded Health Force of Fall River, a provider of in-home nursing services, and Image Scan, a manufacturer of industrial bar code labels and related identification products.
Now, he’s teaching the next generation of startup stars at Babson as the MBA Faculty Director and shared a wealth of knowledge to a group of over 50 people Tuesday night.
Here are his 10 tips for anyone looking to start a business:
1. Stop thinking about it and start doing it. “You can’t think your way to success,” he said. “If you have an inclination, act on it. You won’t regret the business, even if you blow it. As painful as it gets, it will be something you won’t regret.”
2. Be driven by something else rather than money. “It’s a 80-to-90 hour work week with terrible uncertainty. You’ll likely be driven by something other than money in most cases,” Cummings said. “I’ve never met anyone successful where money is the key. Do you want to do it? — that’s the most important question. You got to really want it bad.”
3. You need your family’s support. “There’s going to be a lot of dark nights,” he said. “A lot of 3 a.m., looking at the ceiling. If you don’t have that support, it might take you a little longer.
“Remember to pay only what you can afford and want to — that’s affordable loss. It will take five years to know if your company will succeed, and 10 to know if it’ll get going. Remember that fact if you have mouths to feed and someone to come home to.”
4. Make sure you have deep industry knowledge. “Some people starting a business don’t know the nuances. There are deep nuances in every business, even if it’s a very visible business. If you don’t know those nuances, you won’t succeed.”
5. Bring others along, both tangible and intangible. “Have some friends and resources standing by to help or rescue,” he said. “You need to build that support.”
6. Befriend reality or else you’ll miss something important. “Act smartly,” he said. “Make sure you are stepping on firm ground. What does the world really look like? Take small steps with what you’ve got at hand and limit the risk for each step. Don’t look through rose-colored glasses. Reality is a good thing. Surprises bring opportunities. They can also be a problem, but if you solve them, they can be your asset.”
8. Extrapolating from the past is dangerous. “In most cases, the past is not a true (predictor) of the future. Look at what’s going on business world — it looks like it did from 1890-to-1920. Electricity, petroleum, the car, the telephone, the music record — that was all invented in that time frame.
You’re seeing that same type of destruction right now. The past, in my opinion, is a very poor predictor for the future. Favor what is real over projections. As long as you don’t use prediction, you’ll be in good shape.”
9. Be ready to encounter obstacles. “Lots of big corporations have a wall of priorities that prevent them from being successful. For entrepreneurs, that wall is something to go around,” he said. “Keep changing your goals and build off what you find, whether it be good or bad. Surprises are usually good.”
10. Ask yourself questions before you quit. “Continue until you don’t want to, you exceed your affordable loss and/or you prove to yourself it cannot be done.”
Previously on GeekWire: 13 tips for finding a startup cofounder you can count on