– Entrepreneur Extraordinaire. Entrepreneurial Journey, Motivation, & Enthusiasm.

March 1, 2007

Welcome to this continuation of an interview with entrepreneur John Unger. In this portion of the interview, I ask John about outsourcing, his journey through a variety of careers, his internal motivation, and how he spreads enthusiasm. Enjoy.

Owning a small business requires you to perform many different functions. You have experience in a number of different roles, “poet and writer, a tech geek, a print and web designer, illustrator, industrial designer, musician, teacher, actor, set designer and even a paid guru once”. Do you outsource anything to other people in areas outside your expertise? If so, how do you go about it?

I do outsource things that are either beyond my capabilities, or more often when it seems like outsourcing is cheaper and more effective. For example, there are times when it makes a lot more sense to order steel pre-cut or have a shape made on a CAD/Cam plasma cutter. Although I could do the cuts by hand, it’s more accurate, efficient and ultimately cheaper to have it done in a larger fabrication facility. On the other hand, there’s a lot of stuff that could be outsourced which I prefer to do myself… all the marketing, design, writing and so forth are things I prefer to have absolute control over.

Being an entrepreneur has been a journey for you. How did you decide when it was time to move from one job or skill set to the other?

It depends on which move, really… sometimes it’s because of a new interest or opportunity, sometimes it’s more about market forces. I moved to a full-time art career after the dot-com crash because there was suddenly very little work in the design field and too many people vying for it. On the other hand, after writing my blog TypePad Hacks for about eight months I began getting quite a few inquiries about whether I was for hire. I hadn’t said I was for hire and really hadn’t intended to do blog design as a business, but when the opportunity presented itself I decided to go with it. Currently I have a steady stream of clients coming in via the blog, referrals and several companies that needed a TypePad guy to outsource custom template work to.

As you worked in these different jobs I imagine you had a lot of opportunity for both success and failure. When things don’t work out, being able to adapt your approach is an important skill for an entrepreneur. Sometimes, even with several adaptations, a project or idea just doesn’t pan out. You hate to give up on an idea right before it finally breaks through but you don’t want to spend all your time chasing a dead end. When you run into multiples failures how do you decide how long to keep adapting and trying and when to move on to something new?

Because I’m always actively engaged in more than one business, I tend to focus my energy at any given time where there is the most demand. Sometimes, a project will lay fallow for awhile and then unexpectedly take off, and sometimes a formerly successful business will experience a downturn. I rarely give up entirely on a project unless I become convinced that the only way to make a significant return is to outsource the entire manufacturing process, or when I feel that I won’t be able to make a suitable profit without sacrificing quality. Some things just can’t be done profitably at a boutique or hand-crafted scale.

Working long hours with many ups and downs can be mentally draining. Sometimes an entrepreneur has to depend purely on their motivation to get them through tough days. You talk about your source of motivation on your about page.

“I wake up most days thinking about how I want to change, fix or improve some aspect of the world. And after a couple cups of coffee I get started on it. My specialty is impossibility remediation: if it can’t be done, I’m on it.”

How much of your success do you attribute to plain hard work, driven by your motivation for improvement?

No matter how good your product or service is, it takes a lot of time, energy and work to succeed. I think that some of the keys to my success have been optimism, drive, relentless curiosity, and the fact that I take joy in the work that I do. Having a passion for your work makes it easier to get through the harder times, and it also helps get other people excited about what you do.

There are times when I hit a wall and have to take a break… Sometimes I can accomplish that by switching to a different project and making progress there. Sometimes I need to just walk away for a while and come back to it later. Sometimes you just have to give yourself permission to take some time off whether it’s a good time for it or not. Most of my work is personality-driven (creating content, design, writing, art… all of them are a byproduct of who you are and how you think). For me, the creative process never really stops, which can be as much of a curse as a blessing. When the constant noise of ideas gets overwhelming, I typically shut down for a couple days and binge on fiction or movies. It’s like a vacation from myself, or hitting a re-set button. Once I feel restored, I go back to work.

On the whole, though, what really keeps me going all the time is that I get bored really easily and need constant challenges just to feel alive. The harder the challenge, the more I tend to enjoy it.

I imagine spreading that enthusiasm to others helps them buy into your, goals which helps you be successful. What success have you had spreading enthusiasm about art, poetry, technology, and blogging to others? What tips can you offer to others about spreading excitement about their product or service?

The most important thing about spreading enthusiasm is to find some way to make the thing you’re discussing relevant to the person you’re telling it to. An example: back when I was a full time poet, I did a one day workshop on poetry at a program for juvenile delinquents. I knew it was gonna be a tough crowd… these were rural tough kids without much education and as far as they were concerned poetry was for pansies. They weren’t dumb kids, in fact, they were all probably too smart for their own good, but no one had ever given them a motivation for finding a way to channel their energy into something productive. So I spent a little time thinking about what kinds of things they probably spent their time thinking about and went in with all the best poems I could find about prison and sex.

I read them one of mine I had written for my current girlfriend, and as I told them about that, they stopped me: “wait a minute,” said one kid, “you mean to tell me you can actually get girls with poetry?” “well, it worked for me,” I said, “this time.” And then the woman who taught their basic classes chimed in by saying “Yeah, I married Bob because of a poem he wrote for me.” I’m told that for the next six months they could barely pry the pens out of the kids’ hands. Heh. I don’t know whether they wrote a single poem of any real merit, but the fact that they kept writing them could only have had a good effect. The tough guys all became poetry geeks!


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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