Thursday, October 16, 2008

A cuppa entrepreneurship

It was like a living jolt of good java visited our Drake University Entrepreneurial Leadership class the other day. Julie McGuire, founder and owner of Zanzibar's Coffee Adventure, 2723 Ingersoll Ave., in bustling Des Moines, IA, graced us with her thoughts and experiences on her entrepreneurial adventure.

She started off, much to the students' surprise by asking them a couple questions. First she asked them to jot down 2 characteristics essential to being an entrepreneur. Then she asked them to consider whether there is a difference between being a business woman and being an entrepreneur.

After sharing her personal background: Des Moines native; moved to California to pursue international business; took a job in a coffee shop; loved it; was good at it, but it wasn't enough. She wanted a "real career." Passed up opportunity to run a shop for somebody else, and decided to return to Des Moines where nobody was doing premium coffee yet. Why Des Moines? How could she leave Cali? As she explained, someone starting a new business is going to spend 100 hours+ a week working, so it didn't matter if it was in Des Mines or Vail. Also, she knew the "landscape." It also didn't hurt that Mom would cook for her and make sure she was getting a couple square meals regularly.

She wrote a great business plan and went searching for financing. Two years later, 2 YEARS, she finally landed enough financial support to get started. Of course by then, two other coffee shops had opened up. But they weren't in her neighborhood, and they did not make coffee the way she knew it had to be made. BTW, one of the reasons it took so long for her to get financed was because she was a "her." Bankers and investors were not quite ready for a young, single woman who wanted to start her own specialty biz. She also bumped into the "nobody will pay that for coffee around here" mentality, and after two other shops opened , that attitude shifted to , "well, you're a little late, they've got the market covered." Julie, and those that know her are not surprised by this, persevered. And 15 years later she has a successful business that has become a part of many people's lives. Zanzibar's has become part of that landscape she knew so well.

Unlike our other presenters, she did not offer the students a neat list of key traits; instead, she continued to ask questions. How do you come up with new ideas and solutions virtually every day? How do you recruit and keep staff in a customer-service oriented retail business? Was she really an entrepreneur (I answer that resoundingly YES...15 years ago she was a leader as a young woman, in creating a neighborhood destination, or as she refers to it, a third location: home, work , Zanzibar's; there was nothing like it in Des Moines, and there still really isn't). If she was, is she still? And if she isn't, what is she?

She acknowledged that she was passionate about her dream and her business; she was very committed and was willing to make the sacrifices to make it happen. She wondered, however, if she could muster the same passion and make the same sacrifices to do it again today.

I'll offer this summary of the traits that make Julie McGuire a successful entrepreneurial leader:
find your dream
  • Be prepared to work very hard and very long
  • Stick with it; you will encounter obstacles, and you will likely encounter naysayers
  • Be prepared for challenges everyday
  • Commit to coming up with new ideas and new solutions everyday
  • Be attentive to the needs and development of associates and, especially, employees
  • Be involved in your community
  • Be passionate about what you do
Thanks Julie.

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