Small Business vs. Entrepreneurship Interview

by Sarah Halstead, CARD Extension Specialist,

Sarah asked Brenda Pinnel, a WVSU Lean Startup 60X client, to share advice with others who are thinking about starting a small business. Below is an excerpt of the interview.

What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture? How did the idea for your business come about?
For me, it was more of a long-smoldering ember that several breezes blew back to life. I’ve been doing graphic design work for newspaper for 30 years, and for the most part, enjoyed it. After meeting Charly Hamilton and Bernice Deakins and coming around in my life, I think I decided I wanted to be an artist. I started a notebook of sketches and somehow a whirlwind blew me into Tamarack. And then into [WVSU’s DigiSo business training program] and the Lean Startup 60X program. And I began to think, maybe I can be an artist and make money.

What three pieces of advice would you give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs? Is that advice different for Encore Entrepreneurs 50+?
Follow some kind of passion or dream. I wouldn’t halt a perfectly good career or job prospect unless you do have a passion. If you’re over 50, I’d say, get moving. You never know how much time you have. Listen to people who have gone before, even if you think they are lame. Learn to see what is in front of you for what it is.

If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Be more proactive. Follow more advice. I have been lucky enough to drift into pretty good situations, even out of college. Sometimes I wonder if I had been more persistent, could I have been a fancy modern Mad Men style executive? If I had followed advice to concentrate on informational graphics would I be renowned or famous? Or unemployed?

I do believe, though, in not having too many regrets or dwelling on what could have been. Maybe I don’t learn any lessons with that philosophy, but I am where I am because I did what I did. And try to be okay with that.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Not successful yet, but — and this is just for me — I think I will need to be able to manage my own time, do things I’m afraid of or uncomfortable with and be open-minded.

What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Hard to say yet what my failures are or aren’t in my HepCatz venture. Right now, a big failure is choosing to play online games rather than pushing on with a Facebook post. Also, not believing in myself. Don’t know what I’ve learned yet. Ask me again in a year.

How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Well, so far about six months.

How many hours do you work a day on average?
While I am working full time, about 12 hours, five days a week. But that includes travel time. I work at least a couple of hours on the business nearly every.

Describe/outline your typical day.
Get up, plan what I’m going to do. This is important, because I tend to drift without a plan. At this point, it’s not so critical to get everything done on the list, but I need a guide. I try to get in doing a little artwork. Go to the WVSU Economic Development Center. It’s hard to say. I don’t really have a typical day yet.

How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
The cats are ticked. But they’re mollified by the hope of better kibble.

What motivates you?
A desperate, deeply-ingrained need to succeed. And a need to draw, and the pleasure both give me. I also like to please people and make them happy with what I do, and if I’m successful, be able to make the world better in what small ways I can.

Brenda Pinnell is the 2013 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., Graphic Designer of the Year and a Tamarack juried artist at Tamarack in Beckley, W.Va.

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