Serial Entrepreneur Meets College Intern: Skip Shuda & Yasmine Mustafa
May 6, 2008 by Akemi Gaines
Opportunities are everywhere – can you see and grab one?
The challenge is that opportunities don’t always come in handsome package. In fact, most opportunities don’t look like opportunities at all, so many people dismiss them. Some, however, see the hidden sparkles and take actions. For example, Kim received home-made presents from her boyfriend Jason. She loved his sense of humor and together formed the message that adults can learn a lot from children to enjoy life more. Now they have multiply income sources. Or, Susanna started jewelry making as a hobby while she was on sabbatical. She loved it and built a business on it.
Or some opportunities come as plain job offer from a small start-up company. No big paycheck. Quite uninteresting, huh? Unless you see the learning opportunities in it. Or how about a college internship?
Today Interview With Successful Entrepreneurs have two guests, Skip Shuda and Yasmine Mustafa. They help aspiring entrepreneurs launch their internet businesses by offering marketing, technology and management consultation. Please check their website Team and a Dream. They also write an intriguing blog at The Cheap Revolution.
1. Tell us a bit about your business and why you started it.
Skip: Team and a Dream is a company for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs. We love the creativity and energy around entrepreneurs. We also believe in the importance of focus, so we focused on what we know … which is Internet Entrepreneurship.
It was formed in late 2002 after I wrapped up Destiny Websolutions. For the first few years, I mostly operated as a virtual management team member with startups. However, last year – after Yasmine joined, we really launched our “virtual team” business for startups. Yasmine started with us in 2006 as an intern through Temple University. When she graduated in December of 2006 at the top of her entrepreneurship class, I asked if she’d like to help grow Team and a Dream. Since then, she has taken on responsibility for marketing of Team and a Dream – especially our online marketing. I’ve been responsible for sales and deciding how to work with clients (the consulting end of the business). However, we both pitch in on just about everything. For example, I’ve been recruiting project managers and Yasmine has been recruiting interns to work in our “meshwork” of professionals that we draw upon to create virtual teams.
I’ve been a serial entrepreneur since 1983. It was then that I chose the lowest paying of seven job offers (including two from IBM) to work with a software startup as employee number 16. That company eventually went public and I’ve been part of the entrepreneurial world ever since. In the mid-90’s, I created a startup in my basement called “Destiny” – and we built one of the first online banking systems in the world for Bank of America on AOL. That company grew to 120 people and $17 million in annual revenues as “Destiny Websolutions” before the eCommerce consulting market evaporated in 2002. I learned many lessons as part of that venture and have been sharing them with our startup clients since late 2002.
2. What were the biggest challenges when you were starting off as a new entrepreneur? And how did you work through these challenges?
Skip: #1 – Sometimes vision is all you have to carry you forward. During a particularly dark period, I thought about my troubles starting a new venture and reflected on the “wealth” I had amassed. In response to that reflection, I wrote this piece that sits above my desk today.
“If you fear failure, rejection or conflict… you can avoid them OR you can accept them while keeping the faith that connections, Ki (or qi – universal energy) extension and a path with heart cannot be defeated for an entire journey.”
Sticking to this credo has served me well… and I always end up with a successful path eventually.
#2 – Understanding that letting go is sometimes the best way to grow. I have had key employees facing attractive opportunities, key clients that I MUST have to build my business lay down impossible terms on the table and challenges as a young executive that seemed insurmountable. Each time, I found that “letting go” with grace resulted in better situations. I invited the key employees to explore their options and they remained with me. I told the client that we’d have to stop the project and they changed the terms – and I stepped down as CEO to hire a person better able to move my dream forward.
#3 – Cash is king in a startup. Yet focusing on fund-raising has never been a favorite approach of mine. I’d rather “bootstrap”, demonstrate that I can get clients and build value without an investor – and then am much better positioned to raise money with an investor.
Yasmine: #4 – Be flexible. Don’t be tied to your idea completely. – adapt to the environment and eco-system. Understand your idea will continuously change and evolve. You can progress further by being aware and open to your surroundings as well as other people.
3. What is the best part of being an entrepreneur for you?
Skip: Helping others to realize their dreams and influencing those dreams so that entrepreneurs are approaching things with a socially conscious approach. It is my way of “giving back” to a world that has been very generous to me.
Yasmine: The best part (without a doubt) is not having to sit in traffic as often in the morning and late afternoon! It’s also working on things I love doing. Brainstorming strategies, formulating the concepts of an early stage company, observing the end results of a marketing project or another engagement – those are the most exciting parts of what I do.
4. Any advice for people who dream to have their own business and yet find it hard to make the leap?
Yasmine: Don’t wait for the perfect idea – it’ll never come. Find an experienced mentor who’s been-there and done-that. He/she can provide you with needed guidance and support. I would recommend starting with something you’re either passionate about or something you’re good at. One or the other (or both) will provide you with a jumpstart in your business. Once you take the leap, you’ll feel exhilarated. There is no better feeling than knowing you’re starting something on your own.
Also, listen to your gut instinct. Life is too short to live someone else’s dream – follow your own!
Skip: The web has made it very easy to start a new business. Get out there and make it happen. Test out your ideas with a close circle of friends first and then with people who understand the business side. Launch early and often. Provide feedback forums for your clients. Listen closely to the market. Participate in the market conversation. Iterate. Focus. And always ask, “How is this business helping others or helping this world to be a better place?”
If you choose a path with heart, you will have a much higher likelihood of attracting partners, vendors and clients who want to see you succeed. One of my favorite quotes on this is by William Jennings Bryan.
“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.’ – William Jennings Bryan (1860 – 1925)
It seems to me that Skip and Yasmine each brings in their special strengths to make the team stronger. Skip, as a serial entrepreneur, has the experiences in internet business and great entrepreneurial mind. Yasmine, on the other hand, has the fresh perspectives that Skip trusts a lot. It’s a great way to avoid getting stuck, where 1+1 is more than 2.
I also like their resilience. Yasmine says, “Don’t wait for the perfect idea.” and “Don’t be tied to your idea completely.” Skip says, “. . . letting go is sometimes the best way to grow.” We can’t plan out everything upfront. But don’t let that stop you from taking the leap. With faith, and learning from both successes and failures, the results can be more than we initially expected.
If you like this article, you might enjoy my eBook on spiritual entrepreneurship. Click here for free, immediate download