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Interview: Randy Myer, former CEO and founder of Best Friends Pet Care, April 2003

The reading level for this article is Novice

What attributes make a successful entrepreneur?

Sales and marketing skills are a must whether it is convincing outsiders to invest or customers to buy. The successful entrepreneur must be an astute and gifted sales person and have a flair and creativity to market a product with very little money, resources and time.

What do you believe are the necessary elements for a business venture to succeed?

First class management team and a WOW idea. Much has been said about the quality of the team and all of it is true. But finding the right product, the right market niche and the customer acceptance and excitement for your product is still critical. Previously successful entrepreneurs may find raising money easier but those of us who have done it know that earlier successes do not mean that your latest idea will. Take Dean Kamen – there is a long road ahead to make the Segway a successful product and not just a fad.

How essential do you see an undergraduate degree or MBA being for an entrepreneur?

Hard to measure but the discipline of learning probably means that one would likely be better at pre-screening potnetial new business ideas and writing a convincing plan that would get invesotrs interested. The value of experiential learning by being exposed to a variety of academic and real world individuals can only help if the student uses that experience to build a business and business model that works. Why would Bill Gates, Jud Bowman and others have succeeded without that educational experience – probably because of a superior product and the ability to surround themselves with talented people but whether they would have made fewer mistakes along the way and whether their counterparts fail at a higher rate is subject of speculation.

What role has academic education played in your own life versus the role of experiential learning and what has been the relative importance of each?

It is hard to say that academic education per se contributed nearly as much as the experience factor since my entrepreneurial career began 20 years after my last class.

What are the three most important lessons you have learned about business and entrepreneurship in your lifetime.

  1. Spend more on quality people upfront – budget and cash limitations are bad reasons to unhire
  2. Start planning your exit strategy earliere than you think – the relationships you develop with strategic partners or buyers take longer to develop than you think.
  3. Do what you believe is right for the customer first and the investors second. It may get you fired but the business will succeed with satisfied customers and unhappy investors longer than the reverse

What have been the keys to your success?

Picking the right people to be part of your team and having a good marketing and sales instinct.

What advice would you give to an aspiring young entrepreneur?

Make sure you have the marketing and sales experience in your industry under your belt – or get a partner who does. Pick your partner based on their experience, values and complementary skills – not based on friendship or money.

What books would you recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs? Which books have influenced you the most?

Inside The Tornado by Geoffrey Moore

Describe some of the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve have encountered as an entrepreneur? How were these overcome?

Moving the ship at twice the present speed but with half the money. I always had more good ideas than the time or money to make them happen. It forced me to proioritize and reprioritize frequently.

What memorable mistakes, if any, have you made in business? What did you learn from them and how can they be avoided?

Hiring mistakes – and then trying to make them work longer than I should have. Do not compromise your standards to take someone because of time or money constraints. And remember training is for big companies with lots of resources.

What trends and changes do you see occurring in business today? What new technologies and industries will everyone be talking about in twenty years?

China – and how its markets look like the US 50 years ago.

What are the best and worst things about being an entrepreneur? Best part are the rewards, financial and psychological. The worse is the impact on your health and your family. If you have young kids and a spouse that needs you, take a different road. It takes five years minimum of living and breathing the company.

What are the best and worst things about being an entrepreneur?

Best part are the rewards, financial and psychological. The worse is the impact on your health and your family. If you have young kids and a spouse that needs you, take a different road. It takes five years minimum of living and breathing the company.

Would you rank the following attributes in order of greatest to least importance for an entrepreneur?

8. Persistence
15. A College Degree
11. Knowledge of Accounting and Finance
10. Knowledge of Marketing
13. Confidence
4. Leadership and the Ability to Inspire
6. Ability to Communicate Effectively
1. Integrity
12. Having the Right Advisors
14. Good Networking Skills
5. Motivation and Ambition
3. Having a Good Idea or Plan
2. Being Able to Build a Solid Team
9. Being Able to Execute
7. Having a Bias towards Action

Are there any other thoughts, insights, or advice for aspiring entrepreneurs that you’d like to add?

Pick an idea that others who know the industry say “WOW, why didn’t I think of that”. Along with the financial viability, that is the one measure of a great business idea.


This Distinguished Entrepreneur Interview Series article was written by Randy Myer, interviewed by Ryan Allis on 2/28/2005

Randy Myer is an adjunct business professor at UNCs Kenan-Flagler Business School. He is the former CEO and founder of Best Friends Pet Care, now the nation’s largest pet services company. As the COO of Lindblad Expeditions, he managed all operating departments for this $60 million family business. He also is a former vice president and partner with Booz Allen Hamilton, where he worked for 13 years. He has been a visiting lecturer at Kenan-Flagler since 1998. He holds an MBA from Harvard and a BA from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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