ET-3 Most Common Startup Questions w/Jeff Stoller

You Need More Than Just A Great Idea!

jeffstollerToday’s episode is with a very accomplished gentleman named Jeff Stoller. Jeff has quite the entrepreneurial resume.

He was the President of Stoller & Associates, a firm that consulted and created business plans for a wide array of companies from start-ups to major corporations. He also ran Stoller Publications during which time he developed products for The Rolling Stones, Playboy and Warner Brothers. He is currently working on releasing an app, called “IntiMates”, to help families and couples strengthen their relationships.

Aside from all that, he wrote a book, which you can find on Amazon in English and Spanish, for people thinking about starting a business. The main idea behind the book is that a good idea for a business is a nice start, but there is a whole lot more you need.

I definitely agree! While just getting started and making some initial sales is very important, there are lots of other considerations for becoming a business owner that you have to deal with. None of them, on there own, are too onerous, but left undone they can cumulatively become kind of overwhelming and in some cases can end costing you a lot of time and money that you could have avoided if you’d handled them sooner.

I see this a lot, with our bookkeeping business. New entrepreneurs let this go and go until finally tax time forces their hand and then there is a panic as they realize how much effort the catch up work is going to take. If they had planned for this from the beginning, not only would they have had financial statements all along to help them run their business, but tax time would be a breeze and they would already know and have planned for whatever they were going to owe.

The same thing is true for a lot of other aspects of business startup tasks. The best prevention is education and that’s where this book and the podcast can both help you out!

Show Links:

Twitter: @realjeffstoller
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Matt:              I want to welcome to today’s episode, Jeff Stoller, who has a ton of entrepreneurial experience in addition to being an author and rather than me talking about him, let’s have him talk about himself. Jeff, can you give us a little bit about your background and kinda where you’re coming from in your business experience?

Jeff:                 Matt, glad to be here on your show. Professionally, my training was as an attorney in the department and went to USC, went for undergrad business, graduate business in law school. Got out and went into the tax department of a big international accounting firm and then USC invited me back to be a professor in finance. So, I ended up to teaching law to business school and accounting to law school. I really did. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life at that point but the first business that I ever actually got in was because I had a friend who was a TV show and he asked me if I wanted to help produce a movie. And I didn’t know anything about producing movie so I ended up showing it to someone that I knew who had some money. He wasn’t ready to do it at that time but about 6 months later, I ran into him in Beverly Hills and said “I’m ready to do the movie now.” I thought about it. I really didn’t know anything about that business but there was something that I really have an idea about. I understood finance. I understood marketing and I had a very big idea, something to do with real idea. So, entrepreneurially, the first thing that I got involved with was a business that I had an idea. No one else has done it. This was my dream. From there, I’ve been involved with a number of things. Because remember, when you are an attorney or accountant, as soon as someone said, “I want to hire you!” by definition, you are an entrepreneur.

Matt:              Right!

Jeff:                 Now, you have your own business. But, beyond that, yes I have my own consultant firm and I did help people with all of their businesses. I’ve always loved the start-up of creative things. I really love that part of it. So, I’ve always been attracted to people who are doing those kind of things even though we do work for severe big companies as well, my area of expertise, what I’m really was attracted to was the creative processing of creating something from nothing which is what we’re talking about in this show and my book, of course. I started in a publishing company. It’s a very big licensing with some very unknown companies. I’ve been in the reclaiming business, more so in the hospitality side of it, entertainment, night clubs, things like that. I got some new things coming up. It’s just very exciting. Like I said, I Iove the creative process and that’s how I got into it.

Matt:              I think it sounds like your experience is similar to mine and I think a lot of entrepreneurs in that. Once you kinda cross the line into entrepreneurship, no matter what you’re original thing is, you seem to find an opportunity. Just kinda start coming out of the wood work. Some you pursue, some you don’t. People that haven’t seen their crossover yet, you often hear them “Wow! I don’t have any ideas.” Or “I am not sure where to start.” Where once you got into that entrepreneurial world, it seems like you’re saying no way more often than you’re saying yes because there’s just so many things that you could do or you can get involved with. Is that sort of what you experienced as well?

Jeff:                 Absolutely. Let’s separate them. There are two kinds of entrepreneurs. One is the one that says “I want to work for myself.” That’s their focus. They just have a drive. They want to be their own boss. They don’t really care. I mean, ultimately, of course they care. But their focus isn’t picking someone with their dreams of their lives. They main goal at that point is “I want to be my own boss.” And, any number of businesses, even a franchise can satisfy that. I don’t mean that’s were talking about here. We’re talking about the entrepreneurs who are dreamers, who have an idea or who have something or have some motivation. And to think that way, to be in their mindset of that kind of a person, it basically sort of unlock your brain to be able to look at all possibilities. That’s way you just said it’s so true. I think that happens when someone allows themselves to think that way. If all your thinking about is “My work is a means to an end.” And the means is to earn enough money so I can play football, so I can go fishing, so I can do all the things that I really do enjoy. What we’re talking about here, in terms of entrepreneurship, we’re talking about people where whom work is the end. That is their dream. That’s what they love to do. It’s probably true with you. I know it’s true with me. I don’t have a lot those of extracurricular things because I enjoy what I do so much. It shows sort of bleeds into kinda cross my whole day so that I might be doing something like that at 7 in the morning or 11 o’clock at night. I’m just enjoying it. I don’t have my day. I do this 9-5. And I do something totally different from 5-8. That’s not how most entrepreneurs that I’ve met and maybe you’ve met to, how they live their lives, and because they open their minds to that kind of thinking, they go “If I can do that, well, maybe I can do that. But what if I can’t do that, what if we thought about something else?” It’s a particular way of thinking that unlocks your mind to the possibilities around you.

Matt:              I completely agree. It sort of delineates to your earlier point, there’s sort of 2 different people, 2 different ways of ending up in entrepreneurship and a lot of them are kinda some of the clients we have for the bookkeeping as where somebody is maybe a cabinet maker or a clerk or even an attorney, something like that. They sort of default into owning their own business either because they didn’t want to work at a big firm or the boss that they worked for, they just had different ideas. But because that was the only sort of thing they could do, or they got back to being their own boss but it wasn’t their intention originally and I think they still a lot of times feel a lot of discomfort for most of the other business task that don’t relate to whatever their particular skill or passion is. And then, there are other people who are really sort of born entrepreneurs and jump into various opportunities and businesses because that’s what gets them excited not so much exactly whatever that particular business is that their working on at that time but just the process of taking something from nothing and building it up and seeing it grow and seeing it become a real thing that started out on the back of a napkin or on a whiteboard and suddenly has real paying customers and real employees. It’s an actual thing that you’ve brought to life. They are both business owners. They are both entrepreneurs but they’ve come from very different places and so have different needs and different ways that they gonna have issues in growing their business and managing it. Some of the practitioners become good managers and entrepreneurs. Some entrepreneurs who are good at the idea are terrible in actually running the operation and you know some people crossover. But I think there are 2 different pools of people that fall into business ownership but they have very different needs and backgrounds and challenges that they face. Is that something you’d say you’ve seen to?

Jeff:                 Absolutely. In fact, the subtitle of the book that I wrote is Success Requires More Than Just an Idea. The ways we can see that that parallels what you just said are the people who got into business. Let’s say, the cabinet makers. He’s just a very talented cabinet maker and he’s got thrown into it but he has no idea… he doesn’t know what a double entry system is. He doesn’t know the balance sheet. And it’s his business and he’s got to know this things. Now, whether he knows these things because someone explained the terminology to him and he has a basic understating to it or he does it himself. Somehow, he has to be able to relate to that because these are critical things to run a business. If you don’t know how to do it yourself, then, at least know the terminology, so that when they deal with someone like CapForge that CapForge can give them their financial statements, their balance sheet, their income statement and they have what this things mean and how to read them so that it’s not just a piece of paper with a bunch of numbers on them. These actually help you manage your business so that you can grow and you know where you at at a given time and where you can go in the future. That’s why I picked that as the subtitle of the books because even I’ve had situations myself. I’ve made some of the mistakes I’ve discussed in the book where the great ideas are one thing but how you execute it, and how you fund it and how you give it to the point where it’s actually self-sustaining can be much harder than just having that great idea. Lots of people make lots of mistakes. Sometimes, you try to explain this to people. The internal optimism in so many people, including myself, just sometimes regards of the practicality of the reality. But unfortunately, I’ve had experience it. Guess you’ve experienced it too. Too many times you’ve thought, but maybe you didn’t say it but you thought “I told you so.” That’s one of the reasons that I wrote the book because I just wanted the people to have a general idea of what that big picture is. When they have that good idea, they have that situation of being an entrepreneur whether or not they suck that role; they have some idea of how to go through it so that they’re not a deer in the headlights.

Matt:              Different people have different equations but the business is 1% idea and 99% execution. I don’t think that’s too far off and when you ran into people who are really hung up on their one particular idea. It’s the only one idea they ever had and they feel like they’ve got to pursue this to the end of the world. If this doesn’t work, then nothing else ever will. You don’t want to dampen their enthusiasm but at the same time, realistically, I have 4-5 good business ideas a week, I think. But in eyesight, probably if you were that 1 and 5 who are any good at all. And even that one if you were actually to execute it would need a lot of tweaking and twisting and adjustment because it became really viable. The idea is a starting point and nothing more. After that, you’ve got to go talk to potential customers. Talk to vendors and put a plan together and figure out and you may have to kind of twist it around and it’s not gonna be real similar to what the original idea was once you finally get it out there and the robber meets the road and you’re actually in business. That’s okay. That’s part of the process. But, that’s the reality. The business is gonna have a lot of pivots or a lot of changes before you actually get to the point where customers are willing to trade you their hard earned cash to whatever it is you are trying to sell them.

Adam:            I totally understand. I was that first. Then, I got into actual teaching. That was my great idea. I was gonna change the world for that. We had a lot of moving parts and I was able to get it so far but circumstances for my inexperience which has not succeeded. For 6 months, I was terribly depressed. I thought “Okay. That was the one idea which I’m ever gonna have in my life.” I isolated myself from friends and to some family because I thought people would just see me as a failure or as a loser. The reality is, this is really important because to some extent we are talking about businesses and we are assuming that they are going to succeed if they do the right things but a lot of businesses don’t succeed for whatever reasons. I wanna say to your listeners, your clients, my listeners and my clients that you invest to succeed but don’t think that because your idea don’t succeed, don’t think that other people are gonna see you as a failure. It’s very important. Surround yourself with friends and family at all times. Don’t isolate yourself. If the worst happens, and if it doesn’t succeed, then move on. You’ll have another idea. Do something else. If you left your job, you know what? Go back. You know, in most cases, unless you’ve burn some bridges and said some terrible things on your way out because you thought you didn’t need your job anymore, well, in most cases, people will respect you for trying and don’t see you as… not harsh on you than you are probably being with yourself. For all that I can say about the technicalities on how to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to know what happens if it don’t. I guess, the analogy for what I’m saying is the first thing that they teach you in wrestling is how to crawl properly. That’s what I’m saying. Know how to go down and get back up without hurting yourself because this is really important to all classes of being an entrepreneur.

Matt:              I totally agree. To that point, I guess, the advice that I usually give to people who talk to me about wanting to start a business when they’ve never started one before or particularly when they want to start something in a field they don’t have a prior experience is “That’s fine. But before you borrow a $100 grand from your grandmother or you raise $200,000 from “shady angels” or something like quitting your job, mortgage your house and everything else, do some preliminary research. Make sure this idea is really gonna fly. Maybe start small. Maybe don’t get that $500,000 SPA Loan to open a restaurant. Maybe start by taking whatever you think your 2 or 3 big hits are gonna be and go down to the farmer’s market and see if you can sell any of them. Invest a couple $100 because you invest a couple $100,000.make sure the idea is viable and make sure it’s really something you want to run with. If you get good attraction and good feedback, then continue to expand your efforts and grow and maybe 6 months a year down the road, then you open a restaurant. Don’t go all in if you have to on the idea until you are really sure you’ve got some validation. But at the same time, by all means, give it a shot. And if doesn’t work, yes, this is the greatest country in the world for the reason are people are very willing to be forgiving about failures. You gave it a good shot. It didn’t work out. People don’t tend to hold that against you. You are usually your own worst critique. But other people go “You know, good try. It didn’t work out. What are you gonna do now?” I agree. You’ve got to be able to get up and carry on and not shut down and figure it’s the end of the world.

Jeff:                 Absolutely. For all the technical ideas you can get from somebody, that I can get from somebody, there’s some reasons for technical advice but its important life advice than encouragement. Just understand that “Hey look! Not every entrepreneur is going to succeed. And if it doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world!”

Matt:              Very true. In terms of your book and counseling for other aspiring entrepreneurs or people getting started at business, what are some of the other tips or advice or steps in the process that you recommend people be aware of? And obviously, they can get the book to check out the full details. But just from a higher level, what are some of the other points that you are pointing out to people who are in this process or starting to go down the road?

Jeff:                 Well, the book is broken up into subjects just like business code, marketing, finance, accounting, law and I tried to put it together but a couple of big points are if you don’t know the answers, at least know many of the questions because if the people going are surprised by everything, they are the ones who are most likely to fail. I tried to give a broad approach so that someone could get introduction to the terminology and the concepts of each subject. In marketing, one of the things that I’d learn is that no matter how attached you are to an idea, you’ve got to detached yourself and look at it from the customer’s point of view. However much you love this new thing, everybody in the world will love it, you’ve got to be able to step back and look at it as your potential customer way. Love it or hate it, when you watch a show, that’s what those guys do. You see so many people go on there and then say “This is the greatest thing since sliced bread!” and there are guys and people like “I don’t get it.” One of the things we plan to do as entrepreneurs is we tend to rely on friends and family. You cannot rely in friends and family. Just can’t. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. They want to encourage you. You have to talk to somebody who couldn’t care less about you as a person. I know that sounds sort of ironic but that’s really what you have to do because that’s where your customer is. Your family is not gonna be a man to your own business to support your entire company. You have to go to the people who your real customers and think about who your audience is. Don’t you say “Oh, its everybody in the world.” Because rare where you got that case. Even if you make cost, a particular card has a particular audience. That’s what you have to think about in your business. Am I satisfying my audience? Am I satisfying a problem that exists? Or Am I just putting something out there that’s a total luxury item or people can take it or leave it or it could be awful. These are the things that I talk about in the book and the points I’m trying to make to keep people to understand enough about each of these subjects so that when they are having a conversation with their attorney, they have an idea what their attorney starting. They have a conversation with bureaus and bookkeeper. Or they are talking to a city sales person and the sales person who might be much more experienced than they are is selling that particular item, start explaining something. They’ve got to understand at least enough of the language so that they are not lost in the process. That’s really a major point in the book. I don’t want people to forget the laws and the process and discourage because they feel overwhelmed. That’s probably the biggest what I’m trying to accomplish is to make people feel comfortable enough to move forward without being overwhelmed.

Matt:              And there’s definitely a lot of moving parts and starting even the simplest business. One of the things we find is bookkeeping and accounting tends to fall to the bottom. It’s hardly anybody‘s favorite task. In fact, there’s a study not too long ago that bookkeeping was named the most hated small business task which makes me feel great. It is the important thing and it’s something I try and coach my client. Books are not something you do just one a year so you can pay your taxes. It’s a part of your business information system. There’s valuable information within those numbers if you’re doing it right, if you’re doing it on a regular basis and if you’re paying attention to what the numbers are telling you and we always try and coach our clients on not just you know “Hey! Here are your books done for the month. Talk to you next month.” But “Here’s what it means. Here’s how to interpret the information. Here are some red flags that we are seeing that you might want to address. Or here’s some ideas on how you might be able to improve what you’re doing.” Anybody can sign up for a QuickBooks Account but that’s not really the same as being able to add your books on correctly and knowing what you’re telling you. We’re trying out value in that way. But you’re right, just with that and all the other task that go wrong with just business operations in addition to providing whatever the product or service it is at the business itself is invested with. It can be overwhelming and if it’s your first time doing it and you’ve never done anything like it before, it can get discouraging and you can feel like there’s so many things coming at me and I’m just not sure how to handle them. I feel like maybe I should be doing this or maybe it’s too much for me. But education and having the opportunity to talk with people you can help you will take you a long way towards making this much more bite size and understandable than if you’re trying to deal it on your own.

Jeff:                 What you just said is exactly what I tried to do.

Matt:              Excellent! Well, it sounds like it’s definitely worth the read. Now that we’re kinda at the end here, why don’t you let everybody know how they can get in touch with you? How can they get a copy of the book or get some information that might be able to help them on this journey?

Jeff:                 Well, the book is called You Want to Be Entrepreneur: Success Requires More Than Just a Good Idea. It is on Amazon. It is in English and Spanish. The whole book is in Spanish as well as English. You can get either one. The website for the company is There are a little bit of contact information –phone numbers, emails and everything. Someone could want to get in touch with me.

Matt:              Great! I definitely appreciate you taking your time to speak with me today, Jeff. I have a feeling you and I could probably chat on for hours but we won’t project everyone to that. But I appreciate your insights and your thoughts in entrepreneurship and the start-up world and taking the time to speak with me and share your experience. Thank you very much.

Jeff:                 My pleasure, Matt. Thank you very much!

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