Walking Through Fire – 7 Lessons from Eric T. Wagner, A Life Long Entrepreneur (Interview)

Expert Interviews

One of the great privileges of running this entrepreneurship blog is being able to connect with other entrepreneurs that are making things happen. This article will be the first of my ‘Entrepreneur Insights’ interview series where we will delve into the minds of the business ‘super achievers’.

Entrepreneurs are indeed a unique breed. Many of us hope and dream but the real achievers are simply not satisfied with mere fantasy. One such entrepreneur is Eric T Wagner, life long entrepreneur for 30+ years. Eric has been involved in multiple startups, acquisitions and successful exits in multi million dollars companies. On top of that he is also a successful author and contributing writer for Forbes and Entrepreneur.

I caught up with Eric this week and asked him some questions and got some superb insights on entrepreneurship to share with you:

What skills do you consider are absolutely essential for success as an entrepreneur?

Top 3 Traits:

1. Risk Tolerance — if an entrepreneur sits on the fence afraid to take action, they can forget it. Success does not meander up to the front door and knock. You have to take a certain degree of risk by taking action.

2. Vision — the best entrepreneurs on the planet see things others don’t. Now you don’t have to be a Steve Jobs, but you do have to have some kind of vision to create something different. Which is what entrepreneurship is really all about.

3. Tenacity — having the drive to not quit–to not give up when things get rough–is a must. Believe me, everything rarely goes as planned and failure runs amok. Those who succeed do so by tenaciously pressing on.

How do you maintain focus on a day to day basis to achieve your business goals?

For me, it comes down to first understanding what my top 3 key activities are to move the needle. If I don’t know what these are, then I have nothing to focus on. But once I have these, then it becomes about the discipline to avoid distraction. As an example, writing is a key activity for me to move my brand forward. So when I write, I go to our loft and the house better be burning down for anyone to interrupt me.

If you could go back in time and give one piece of business advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?

I think the biggest mistake I watch entrepreneurs make today is the same I did when I was younger. You get an idea. You lock yourself in a room and build the equivalent of the Taj Mahal. Then you release it to the world–which then slaps you in the face by telling you they don’t care. So it’s these 3 steps instead:

1. Information — you engage your prospective customers first. Learn pain points. Have dialogue (not monologue).

2. Innovation — you take what you learn from your conversations, and then build something on a very small scale. A minimum viable product, as they would refer to it in Silicon Valley.

3. Experimentation — you then take what you’ve built, and go back to that same conversation and say; ‘will this solve your problem? Is this what you were talking about?’

When you do it this way, you continue to get better information (step 1) from which to innovate (step 2), and then further experiment with (step 3). A never ending cycle.

If you could spend an evening socializing with three entrepreneurs (past or present) who would they be and why?

Easy answer and I will just choose one. Steve Jobs. Of course, it seems the likely answer. But as long as he would open up, I’d love to spend time delving into his mind. 100 years from now he will still be the legend in entrepreneurship he is today.

What is the most effective way to grow a profitable business quickly?

Great question. I sat down with Seth Godin last year and asked him why so many entrepreneurs fail. Basically, he said because most are not in it for the long game. They want the quick buck and thus won’t make the right decisions which pay off in the long run.

However, having said that, those entrepreneurs who do find success in scaling their companies do so as follows:

First, they understand what their ‘secret sauce’ is and they don’t try to scale before nailing it. Second, they recruit, build, and leverage good ‘teams’ to focus on scaling their secret sauce. And third, they implement automation and ”repeatable systems’ around that secret sauce. Simple in theory, but of course, not easy to execute…

What advice would you give to an entrepreneur who is experiencing major challenges and setbacks?

Look to the core. So what do I mean by that? Simple. Most entrepreneurs understand their craft, or industry. But where many struggle is in not understanding that entrepreneurship is also a craft. It has certain rules and methodologies to follow. Certain core principles. For example, having an understanding of your business model is key to your success so you know what to focus on. Also, do you have a process for innovation like I described previously (information, innovation, experimentation)? When someone comes to me in trouble with their business, I always get them out of it by drilling down to on their core.

What is your secret to success?

Wow. Tough one to answer. But I think it comes back to the 3 most important elements listed above. My attitude of ‘no fear’ (risk tolerance). My ability to see gaps in the market that other’s don’t (vision). And finally, my sheer resilience to never stay down, even when I’ve been knocked up side the head with a club (tenacity).

You can sign up to receive Eric’s best wisdom on entrepreneurship and also grab his new book Walk Through Fire – Rise Up, Face the Inferno and Build Your Dream Business.

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