What I Learned from Three Generations of Entrepreneurs (And How You Can Apply Those Lessons to Your Firm)
I am a fourth-generation entrepreneur. Before me, my family founded 15 companies that include general stores, farming equipment sales, accounting and payroll services and business
payment technology. My great-grandfather set up a general store in 1910 in Manitoba, Canada. My grandfather established five businesses over the span of his life including a citrus company and an accounting and payroll service in 1960. My dad helped grow one of the family’s accountant businesses and later founded a company with my grandfather. Both of my grandmothers, as well as my great-grandmother, were accountants.
When I was growing up, dinner included conversations about the things you would expect – school, weekend plans, and chores. However, in a family with a multi-generational history of starting businesses, discussions rolled beyond “pass the bread” to hit upon cash flow, hiring and business growth.
Our dinners often turned into business round tables, where the latest issues were considered with an equal amount of respect between adults and children. We’d talk about managing cash flow. Consider how to hire the right candidate. And often kick around business growth strategies.
I am now leading my second company. I attribute a lot of my success to those dinner conversations and the business advice gleaned from three generations of entrepreneurs around one table. I call this the Dinner Table MBA and in many ways was more valuable than the education I later received in life.
Lesson 1: Listen.
One night after a typical weekday dinner, I stayed at the table to listen to my dad and grandfather talk about business. My grandfather turned to me during the conversation and said: “The most important key to success in business is to listen. Listen to your employees. Listen to your customers.”
My grandfather was the best salesperson I ever met. He could sell anything. His secret was that he really knew how to listen. He would ask the right questions. Then he would sit back and listen to the response. He didn’t say much, but he always heard the problems people were having. And he’d present solutions.
Over the years, listening has helped me identify new business opportunities. It helps me find areas of growth. It reveals smart marketing maneuvers. I do not believe I listen as well as Granddad did but I am still learning and developing my listening skills every day. So who knows, eventually I may get there.
Tip: Challenge yourself to take at least one client out to lunch a month. Spend the time actively listening to that client’s business challenges. Listen to what that client likes about your firm and what could be improved. Do the same with your employees. Be sure to listen more than you talk. Then carry that information with you to help discover new business opportunities or improvements.
Lesson 2: You Have to Have Passion.
Entrepreneurship is hard. My grandparents, mom and dad worked six to seven days a week. The whole family spent weekends stuffing brochures for direct mail campaigns. My mother was working on processing data punch cards when she went into labor with me. I was literally born into business.
My family has always been passionate about what we’re doing. Passion is an essential ingredient to success. I learned this from my Dad. My Dad was passionate about life and only did things he believed. Looking back, I think what Dad taught was to listen to one’s heart and to find the passion and intuition that drives any relationship, any product launch. Passion helps entrepreneurs persevere when things look the worst. Without it, folks would close up shop at just the wrong time.
In my book, passion provides the foundation for essential entrepreneur qualities such as commitment, work ethic and vision. Passion also commands response. Think of it: When you meet people who are truly hyped about what they are doing – no matter what that is – that passion is intriguing. It spurs an emotional response, curiosity and engagement. That translates well to business connections – employees, investors and clients most of all.
Tip: Think your passion for business is ebbing? Or want to add more fuel to the fire? Mix things up. First talk to customers, talk to competitors and then share your learnings with your employees. If you have time, mentor college students and share with them what inspired you to start your own firm. And always keep learning. Access online resources like Ted Talks that inspire creativity and “business hacks.”
Lesson 3: You Have the Power. Act on It.
My dad was an amazing businessman. He always accomplished what he set out to do. In his book there were no such things as excuses. And while there are plenty of business examples on this, I prefer a personal one. My dad was born with a total of six fingers. Starting at the age of four he wanted to learn how to play the piano, but no one would teach him because everyone thought you needed 10 fingers to play piano. While he became an excellent trumpet player, he was not satisfied. So when he was 15, he sat down at the piano and taught himself in one summer. Not only did he learn, he summoned his passion and developed a beautiful style of Jazz that was unique to him. No excuses. He just made it happen.
I did not start my own business until I was 30, and I honestly think it was because I had seen firsthand how hard it is to set up and grow a company. At the time, I was employed at a leading accounting technology company. But my frustration was growing as I spotted alternative ways and new opportunities for the business to grow. Ultimately, despite my reservations, I took the initiative and founded my first company in 1999. Now, leading my second company, I know I am on the right road.
Tip: Initiative-related opportunities occur every day – either small or large. Act on the advice of employees or clients. Revisit your business plan. Do not wait for someone to solve your problems or hold up your own movement forward.
Founding and running a business can be hard and risky work. Every time I sit down for dinner with my family, I remember the business acumen my extended family shared with me and make it a point to promote that with my own family as well. Their advice and experience helped me identify, execute and enjoy my entrepreneurial ventures. Now I am passing it on. Try it, you’ll find that you learn as you explain things and then when you listen, you’ll be surprised how sage a young child can be when it comes to business.
About the Author
René Lacerte founded Bill.com in August 2006, bringing with him more than 20 years of experience in the finance, software and payments industries. As a fourth-generation entrepreneur, Lacerte developed the concept for Bill.com based on personal experience growing up in multiple businesses as a kid and then co-founding his first company, PayCycle, in 1999. Lacerte also spent five years at Intuit, creating and managing the company’s bill presentment team and growing its bill payment and credit card businesses into a multimillion-dollar concern. He also launched Intuit’s first connected payroll product, growing the team from two employees to 300 in 18 months. He has a Master of Science degree in industrial engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in quantitative economics from Stanford University.