Mentoring and Paying it Forward

From time to time I find myself scrolling through old emails looking for some piece of information and I see his name.  His words feel as alive today as they were then.  I can hear his witty sarcasm, the playfulness in our back and forth banter, his wisdom that inspired me, and it still makes me laugh, and it still inspires me.  I miss my friend.  It’s been almost two years since his sudden and unexpected passing and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and ask myself, what would he do.  Jim was an exceptional business man and an extraordinary person.  We met for a reason.  We had a unique bond that I couldn’t explain and it left a profound impact on me.  As I embarked on my own journey as an entrepreneur, he was always there to lend a hand or impart some element of wisdom.  He rarely gave me the answers, rather inspiring me to discover them for myself.  He was mentoring me even before he was mentoring me.  It’s because of him that I can’t give up.  It’s because of him that despite the struggles of entrepreneurship we’ve endured, I still believe.  Passion drives, but only so far, that’s where a mentor comes in, to guide that passion to purpose, and that purpose to a prosperous business.  Recalling some of those epic conversations, his words ring truer now because a wiser man is reading them.  He said information is the most valuable thing you can acquire.  For what it’s worth here are some things I’ve learned in this journey thus far.

TAKE ME TO RADICAL, I’LL BRING YOU BACK TO CENTER

Jim said that to me once in a conversation we were having about marketing and it stuck with me.  Over time, I morphed that statement into my own interpretation; “If it doesn’t challenge anything, it won’t change anything.”  Entrepreneurs see the world differently.  We don’t usually start businesses for the money, but rather to make a difference and improve our industry, whatever that may be.  We see holes in the market and problems that need solving and we usually have a pretty good idea about how best to do address it.  There is a tendency in the beginning to worry about being all things to all people, don’t worry about that.  Start off by going all the way out to pasture.  Challenging an industry, doing things differently, and aiming to set a new standard usually require more radical thinking.  Go to radical and stick with your guns and don’t be afraid to be drastically different.  Don’t worry, the market will bring you back to center.  Your product will evolve, your marketing will sharpen, and you’ll eventually appeal to a broader audience.

MAKE IT BETTER THAN IT HAS TO BE

Think about that statement.  Whatever you’re doing, whatever product you’re making, it has to be good. Remember that what started you down this path was to make something better.  Well, go further and make it better than it has to be.  Those words are in our mission statement.  They are more than words, they’re a promise to ourselves to constantly think about how to get better, to provide more, and to over-deliver.  It may cost more but it’ll be worth it.  For example, the ingredients in our bars are unique and premium, and we go to great lengths to get them the way we want them; un-sulfured and un-sorbated.  Sure there’s an easier and cheaper way to go but we don’t believe in compromising and neither should you.

GROW SLOW

In business you’re really measured by two things; sales and profits.  However, starting out you really don’t know how it’s going to go.  Maybe your too much of a niche product, but maybe not, there’s only one way to find out…get out and sell.  Be tactful about it though, sell a little bit then take a step back and process what worked or didn’t work.  This approach may be slower but it will shape your decisions and teach you a little about your product and your company.  This will also allow you to make mistakes on a smaller level and not get penalized too much.  We created our energy bars for a specific purpose and for a specific individual.  We spent the first 3 years in business testing various niche markets in the outdoor industry tailoring our message to each sport and demographic, learning what resonated with each one, focusing on the benefits to each segment.  We learned a lot from our consumers and found success in places we didn’t anticipate and failure in places that seemed an obvious fit at the time.  Growing slow requires patience you may not have but it will allow you to pivot and grow organically and methodically, and ultimately refine both your product and your messaging along the way. 

BE A COMPANY FOR GOOD

I believe that “good” business is a partnership between you and the customer.  It has to mean something to have longevity.  Good products come and go all the time, but good products that do good have the ability to stick with you.  Be a full impact product or company.  There’s an inherent responsibility of a business to use its platform for good beyond the reason for its existence, or at least there should be.  We may have set out to create a better bar to help fuel your outdoor adventures, but we feel an inherent responsibility to protect that outdoor adventure and give back to those who afford us the freedom and opportunity to adventure in the first place.  That’s why it was important for us to collaborate with a lot of great organizations to help make in impact in health, conservation action, and in supporting our nations heroes.

DON’T HAVE A NEGATIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH FAILURE

You can find a thousand good quotes on the internet about dealing with failure, but ultimately you have to change your perception of failure in order to change your relationship with it.  Failures, like mistakes, are how you learn.  Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia said; “When everything goes wrong – that's when adventure starts.”  Well, things will go wrong and you will fail at something.  You have a choice to embrace or run away.  Learning what “not” to do is sometimes more valuable than learning what "to" do, and the only way to learn that is to experience it for yourself and be okay with the idea that things may not work out all the time, but you can learn from it and come out the other side stronger and better prepared. 

A good mentor or a board of advisers is essential when starting a business.  You can’t be expected to know everything, but having some trusted voices in your camp can make a world of difference, and give you confidence.  For Fourpoints, everything is beginning to come full circle for us.   Everything feels right, everything makes sense, and we are making an impact.  However, despite having the best version of our product and nothing but blue sky, our biggest challenges are still ahead, and it’s on days like these I wish I could call him up and ask for his advice.  Jim helped people and he made it look easy, and it was inspiring to witness it.  It inspired me to aim for something greater than success – to make a big impact and create a better world for my kids.  I hope someday to return the favor and pay it forward.  Then the circle will finally be complete.

Pictured Left: Jim Hale, Founder of Mechanix Wear.  www.mechanix.com

Jim was an avid supporter of our troops and his company proudly continues that legacy.  Fourpoints Tactical: Camp Hale Choco-Peanut (pictured above) honors both his legacy and that of Camp Hale; training ground for the 10th Mountain Division ski soldiers during World War II.

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