Thursday, September 10, 2015

Money Makers: Tips for Entrepreneurs

Jeff Stoller, JD, MBA, MBT, wrote YOU WANT TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR: Success Requires More Than Just A Good Idea to help people who have a great concept but don’t know all the vital business areas they need to think about in order to start a successful endeavor. With his professional background as an attorney, accountant and business consultant, Stoller’s book offers advice and practical insight to the budding entrepreneur.

This book offers a primer on marketing, finance, law, production, accounting and everything that is the foundation of any solid business. Whether your dream is to open a new restaurant or to sell a new product or app, you will have to address contracts, licensing, labor and a whole range of topics you may never have thought of before.

I had a chance to interview Jeff to learn more:

-What was the inspiration behind this book?
The inspiration behind "You Want To Be An Entrepreneur" was twofold: As a professor teaching business law at the University of Southern California, I understood that real world issues were not neatly divided into boxes such as marketing or finance or management, but rather they are intertwined to such an extent that one issue could impact or be impacted by many others. I addressed this with my students by allowing them to ask questions about anything - marketing, finance, accounting or management. I want to help my readers to see things in an intertwined big picture because that's how the real world functions. The second influence was my experience as a consultant when clients would come with various ideas and my clients had inadequate understanding of the myriad  of issues that had little to do directly with the idea but were still essential to the business. For example, the person who was the great cook at home and wanted to start a restaurant but had never thought about product liability insurance, leases, marketing, labor laws, designing a kitchen and installing it, and many other things that had nothing to do with cooking a good meal.

-What sets it apart from other entrepreneurial-focused books?
Rather than try to be a cheerleader who provides encouragement by saying "you can do it," "You Want To Be An Entrepreneur" takes a more practical approach to say, "Ok, you're motivated and you've got an idea... now what do you do and what do you have to think about?" This book does not pretend to have all the answers, because I cannot possibly know the background and total circumstances of each reader. But what I can do is provide certain important information and show my readers where the red flags are so they will, hopefully, remember when it's important to ask questions and consult professionals. Also, my background is not just as an attorney, accountant and professor. I have also been an entrepreneur and even made some of the same mistakes I warn of in the book. So, I have the benefit of seeing these issues from the point of view of a professional as well as that of an entrepreneur and, as a result, I think many readers will be able to relate to my advice, approach and style of writing easily.
-Why do you enjoy being an entrepreneur?
What I like about being an entrepreneur is the creativity of making something from nothing. But whereas some people start by thinking, "I want to have my own business. What can I do?"  I didn't start with the goal of being an entrepreneur but rather an idea that I felt I could not do by bringing it to someone else and therefore I had to do it myself, meaning be an entrepreneur. For example, one early venture was a calendar featuring a variety of musical acts; but if I had brought the idea to an established publishing company, I could not have protected myself or my partner. So, I had to do it myself and I became an entrepreneur as the result, not as the goal.
-What was the biggest piece of advice you received when you were starting up a new venture?
The biggest piece of advice I received when starting a new venture influenced not only that venture but my entire career. I had done the calendar I mentioned above and it turned out so well that I was contacted by management for The Rolling Stones and asked if I would be interested in developing and marketing some products for the world famous band. I expressed my gratitude for the invitation and explained that I had done the earlier project on my own and did not have the money I imagined would be required to start a relationship with such an important brand as The Rolling Stones. The manager leaned forward and said, "Jeff, no matter what you do, Mick Jagger's lifestyle will not be affected one bit. The band wants products that reflect them as artists and help them sell their primary product, music... and I think you can do that." Until that moment, I had thought of licensing as one person using someone else's brand to make himself some money and paying the brand owner for the right to use that brand. From then on, though, I approached brand licensing as saying to a brand owner, "I have some ideas how to help you sell your primary product and if we do a good job, we'll make money, too." That subtly different approach led to deals with other world famous brands I believe I would not have gotten otherwise, and has influenced my approach to brand management ever since.

Jeff Stoller has a long history in the entrepreneurial world. He was the President of Stoller & Associates, a firm that consulted and created business plans for a wide array of companies from start-ups to major corporations. He also ran Stoller Publications during which time he developed products for The Rolling Stones, Playboy and Warner Brothers. This fall, he will be releasing unique app, called “IntiMates”, to help families and couples strengthen their relationships. Prior to launching his own businesses, Stoller served as a tax accountant at KPMG Peat’s Century City office. He has served as an Adjunct Professor of Finance and Business Economics at the University of Southern California where he was selected as one of the 20 top professors at the School of Business. His greatest pleasure in teaching was helping students accomplish their business goals as a result of what they learned in his classes.

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