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So You Want To Be An Entrepreneur? (interview)
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So You Want To Be An Entrepreneur? (interview)

This interview was first published by entrepreneur and photographer Matt Koenig in his blog at
So You Want To Be An Entrepreneur?

Thinking of starting your own business?  Dream of working for yourself?  You need to read this first.

Recently I had the privilege of talking with the Founder and CEO of Modular Merchant, Chuck Marier, about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and small business owner.  If you are not familiar with Modular Merchant think ecommerce.  They produce a robust online shopping cart and full ecommerce solutions for companies selling everything from shipped products to downloads and subscription products.

Chuck was gracious enough to spend time talking about what it was like starting his own business; some of the key elements for being successful and general advice for anyone out there thinking of creating their own business.
The Interview

Chuck, what would you say are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur/small business owner?

In his book, The E Myth Revisited, author Michael E. Gerber put it best, “Everybody who goes into business is actually three-people-in-one: The Entrepreneur, The Manager, and the Technician. The Entrepreneur is the dreamer that can turn the most trivial condition into an exceptional opportunity; the visionary. The Manager is pragmatic. Without him there would be no planning, no order, no predictability. The Technician is the doer. As long as he is working, he is happy.” (The E Myth Revisited. Michael E. Gerber. Pages 19-27.)

The small business owner must be aware of, and be able to balance, these three aspects of their personality. If you’re lacking any of these skills, either develop it or hire someone with it. Otherwise, you’ll end up paddling your business in circles like a rowboat with only one oar.

It seems like there are two kinds of people out there; those who work for others and those who work for themselves.  What do you feel is the major difference between an entrepreneur and someone who works for someone else?

What they stress about.

Before starting my own company, every morning during my commute I’d worry, “Will I arrive at work today to discover that my job has been terminated due to budget cuts, outsourcing, or being on the wrong project at the wrong time?” Over time, these worries formed a physical Knot Of Stress in my stomach, which I carried to work each day.

Inevitably, the day came that, due to “corporate restructuring”, our parent company closed our office. (“Corporate restructuring” – I’d neglected to worry about that one.) Then the strangest thing happened, with the fear of impending layoffs gone, the Knot of Stress vanished.

Shortly thereafter, I started my own business, Modular Merchant, and the Knot Of Stress began to form again. But, this time, it was different. This stress is motivating. “Will I win this client contract? How do I make this business grow? What projects do I want to invest my resources in?” Instead of worrying about what my faceless corporate employer is going to do to me, it’s all on me. Instead of demoralizing, the stress now propels.

What ignited the spark, the entrepreneurial spirit in you to start your own business?

There was no single event. That spark has always been smoldering inside me. Even in third grade I started my own fictitious publishing company, drew several dozen comic books, and would display them on a desk at school for the other kids to borrow. I’ve always had an insatiable drive to make stuff, publish stuff. To borrow the analogy from The E Myth Revisited, I am a Technician.

The event that resulted in the launch of Modular Merchant was the closure of my previous employer due to the “corporate restructuring” mentioned above. After that happened, I concluded that if I didn’t want to worry about job security, then I’d better work for my own company.
What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?

I can’t answer that, because I don’t yet consider myself to be successful. I’m nowhere near where I wanted to be when I started the business. In the meantime, the current answer is: lots and lots and lots of time.

For someone reading this right now who wants to start their own business what advice would you give them?

Don’t work hard. Instead, work smart. Toiling away in sweaty determination day after day, month after month, year after year will have been a complete waste of time if your business is the same at the end as it was in the beginning.

As an online shopping cart service provider, I interact with many small businesses. I’ve had the opportunity to see lots of clients come and go.  The successful ones all share a trait. What is it?
  • Are they workaholics, sacrificing all their time to their business? No.
  • Are they masters of web design or search engine optimization? No.
  • Do they have deep pockets or investors injecting money into their business? No.
  • Do they have the perfect product, devoid of defect or blemish? No.
Okay, smart guy, then tell me, what trait do they all share in common?
They know how to get customers excited about their product.

There’s as many different ways to do this as there are products to sell. But doing so doesn’t require you to work hard all the time. Investing your resources towards a smart business tactic will be far more profitable than just throwing more hard work at it.

When it comes to starting and running a successful business what would be 5 key elements that any entrepreneur needs to consider?
  1. Know what you’re going to sell.
  2. Have both the physical and intellectual raw materials to produce what you’re going to sell.
  3. Know who you’re going to sell it to.
  4. Know how you’re going to sell it to them.
  5. Be naïve enough to believe you’ll not only achieve, but exceed, all your business goals.
What is the most favorite aspect of your business and being an entrepreneur?

I am extremely blessed in that I enjoy what I do for a living. Even on those days that aren’t great, I can step back and reflect on how fortunate I am to be able to be doing what I’m doing for a living. The amount of control I have over the tasks I do each day is very rewarding. When you enjoy what you do, work doesn’t seem so much like work anymore.

If you were to paint a picture in your mind of success what would it look like?  How do you define success?

To be honest, I don’t know what it will take. I’ve set many vocational and financial goals in the past. Some I’ve achieved, and many I’m still working towards. I keep waiting for that day that I wake up, stretch, and realize that the Knot of Stress is gone once and for all.

What is your greatest fear and how do you manage it?

Not being able to get out of my company’s way.

As a Technician, I love the “building stuff” part of my business. However, overindulging in this can be deadly. For example, we’re nearing completion on one of the largest projects we’ve ever taken on: an extensive redesign of the shopping cart software from the ground up. It’s an insanely complicated project that has been in development for two years. A project this size has a lot of stuff to build.

When the project began, I submerged into my Technician role too deeply. I was trying to plan, schedule, design and program everything. I was doing too much myself, and wasn’t spending enough time on my Manager duties — specifically, delegating tasks to others.

It reached the point where, several months into the project, my lead programmer approached me and said, “Look, you need to let go and give me more to do. I’m here to help you, but if you don’t let me, I’m going to quit.”

It was a wake-up call. By not relinquishing a portion of the Technician’s duties that I enjoyed so much, I had been improving a product but obliterating the company.

If you were conducting this interview what final question would you ask?

I would ask: What have you had to change about yourself in order to grow your business?
And I would answer with the story above. In order to grow my business, I’ve had to teach myself to make time for Entrepreneur and Manager tasks in addition to the Technician tasks I enjoy so much.

My mother has a saying, “Success comes from doing what you don’t want to do, but know needs to be done.” I try to evaluate every chore that comes along by those wise words. And, now that I think about it, maybe I can take a picture of what success would look like for me. While my mother’s words instruct how to work towards success, perhaps my definition of success would be, “Success is no longer needing to do the things you don’t want to do.” What a fine day it will be to wake up, stretch, and realize that the day is mine to spend however I please.
Take Away Points

I wanted to highlight some key points that I walked away with after talking with Chuck.
  1. To be an entrepreneur or small business owner you need to be able to fit into and play multiple roles.  Whether it’s the entrepreneur, manager or technician or some other role, you need to be flexible enough to wear different hats and adapt according to the situation.  If you can’t do a certain role then hire someone who can.  For example, maybe you need to build a website but don’t have the technical skills to do it right.  Hire a developer to do it for you.  Stick with what you know or can quickly learn.
  2. Expect a certain amount of stress no matter what you do.  I love the distinction that Chuck makes between the stresses an employee has versus the stress an entrepreneur has.  The stress an entrepreneur has can be motivating.  Maybe this has something to do with success or failure resting squarely on your shoulders.  It’s totally up to you.  I don’t know about you but I find that encouraging.  Of course everyone reacts to stress differently so mileage may vary.
  3. One aspect that I want to point out is that the whole notion of “getting rich quick” is a fallacy unless you are really good at picking lottery numbers.  As Chuck clearly pointed out being a successful entrepreneur takes lots and lots of time and effort.  It takes time, effort and perseverance to create and sustain a business and to build those necessary customer relationships.  But we shouldn’t be afraid of the work and time investment because we are doing the thing that we love.  When you do the things you love it doesn’t feel like work.
  4. Work smart.  You can work 24/7 but if you don’t have a plan, if there isn’t a method to your madness then it will all be for nothing.  Chuck is in a unique position to see what works and what doesn’t as his company works directly with small businesses.  Keep in the back of your mind the statement he makes about the one thing successful businesses all have in common: they know how to get customers excited about their product(s).  Use smart tactics to advance.  Brute force doesn’t always work.  And maybe this is why so many businesses fail.  Their owners mistakenly believe that all it takes is putting in time.  So work smart, not hard.
  5. Relinquish some control.  I love that Chuck realized that you can’t do it all, all of the time.  We all need help from time to time.  We need to recognize when it’s time to delegate and get out of our own way, accept help and allow growth.  Delegation is key to growth.
  6. Always be aware of the 5 key elements that Chuck speaks of.  In fact write them down and hang them on a wall where you can frequently review them.
  • Know what you’re going to sell.
  • Have both the physical and intellectual raw materials to produce what you’re going to sell.
  • Know who you’re going to sell it to.
  • Know how you’re going to sell it to them.
  • Be naïve enough to believe you’ll not only achieve, but exceed, all your business goals.
To wrap this all up I really like the parting wisdom Chuck gives us.  “Success is no longer needing to do the things you don’t want to do”.  The whole notion of starting your own business is to be your own boss and free up your time to do the things you really want to do.  Yes, it will take hard work to reach that point.  Yes, there will be times when we’ll need to do things we don’t really want to do.  But the end result is freedom to do what we want and to build a sustainable life for ourselves.

Thanks again to Chuck Marier, Founder and CEO of Modular Merchant.

Modular Merchant produces a robust online shopping cart, providing an ecommerce solution for companies selling downloads, shipped products or subscription products. The shopping cart makes it easy to open an online store, run sales and promotions, manage shipping, engage customers and track results. Modular Merchant also provides services that go along with the shopping cart, such as website hosting, web design and custom programming. If you’re looking for a complete ecommerce solution, then look no further than Modular Merchant.

Matt Koenig is a photographer with an inspiring zest for life, and a unique talent for beautifully meshing the technical and artistic requirements of digital photography. He and his family recently put their finances and faith to the test and achieved their long-time goal of moving to Indonesia. Matt has been documenting their experiences on his blog at

Image courtesy Matt Koenig Photography.

— Last Edited - 01/18/2013 11:22am PST
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