Take some advice from a spare room tycoon

Travis McMenimon

So you want to go out after your career at Villanova and start your own company? Fair enough. But before you go out and start your career as a budding entrepreneur, take some advice from an experienced one, James Chan.

James Chan is the president of Asia Marketing and Management; a company that helps businesses expand their companies’ reach to Asia. His clients include companies like 3Com, Kodak and Lucent Technologies. He is also the author of “Spare Room Tycoon” which offers life lessons on what it takes to define – and enjoy – your own success.

Chan offers this advice to undergraduates.

“It is still very important to get a traditional job once you get out of school,” Chan said. “It doesn’t have to be a Fortune 500 company. It can be a job with government, a job with non-profit, or it can be a job with small and mid-sized companies.”

The importance of going out and working in industry is twofold: it is rare for a graduate to come out of school and have an idea that will change an industry. It can happen but it is out of the ordinary. One needs to have worked in industry for a few years to know what the needs of companies are and what the best way to service them would be.

“What clients want is your expertise,” Chan says.

Also, industry experience helps build the one thing that potential clients are looking for – credibility. Having some sort of industry experience puts a potential client at peace when you are trying to sell them your services. Credibility is one of the hardest things to come by when you are an independent.

After working in a specific industry for a few years and coming up with your idea, you have to ask yourself one thing. Is my idea in concert with the desires of the market?

“It’s one thing to think that your invention, idea, or service is great.” Chan said. “It’s another thing whether or not your customer [market] really needs it.”

You may have come up with an idea that is as revolutionary as affordable sliced bread, but if you don’t have a grasp of what the market wants, you will have a tough time selling your widget.

When starting your own venture, remember that many entrepreneurs make the mistake of being too egocentric. Everybody wants to go into business to make a lot of money, but if this is your sole purpose you may be done before you get started.

Chan finds that some independents have a tendency not to listen to the needs of their customers. Companies must listen to their clients and come up with creative solutions for their problems.

“People who come up with new ideas and develop new products tend to be somewhat narcissistic,” Chan says. “If we don’t have an ego how are we going to summon enough courage to quit our jobs and start a business?”

As with everything, ego is only good in moderation.

Selling. Without some degree of selling, business would cease to exist. If you, as a new startup, cannot sell your product, your idea and yourself, you are doomed from the onset.

“Our society has given salespeople a very bad image.” Chan said. “Selling is a part of life and most people don’t do it well.”

You must be an expert salesperson. You know your widget inside and out. You know that a company will benefit from implementing it into their operations.

Now you must convey your knowledge and passion for this product to your potential customer. You must know what to say and what not to say, and when to say it.

The ability to sell yourself and your product is absolutely critical to your success as an independent

While this piece of advice is a separate, it ties all the previous ones together into one cohesive unit: every aspiring entrepreneur must have passion.

Chan describes passion as a driving force you cannot quantify, enumerate or put on a chart. Passion is a wild card; it transforms and gives power to everything you do.

It is not good enough to just be good at what you do; you must love what you do.

Have you ever gotten involved with something and become so immersed in it that you forgot what you were doing is work? That is passion. If you have to repeatedly ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing, you have no passion in your work.

“Passion is absolutely critical,” Chan said. “When sitting down with a potential client, the client will be able to tell if you love what you do. And from this, they make their decision on whether you or your competitor will be providing services to them.”

If you have passion, it will make the good times great and keep you going through the rough times.

After school, get a job in industry and quietly build your selling skills. When the market is ready for your widget, quit your job and start working for yourself with a passion to please your clients and live independently.

Go out into the world and the world will help you find yourself. It is wise to heed the advice of the people that have come before you, because there is no reason to reinvent the wheel.