I believe that one of the biggest reasons that I've been successful at a relatively young age as an entrepreneur, has been my determination in simply knocking on as many doors as possible, until someone actually opens the door. Gary Vaynerchuck would call this "hustling your face off" and that's basically what I did back in the day.
I've got a story to tell in this regard, but first I need to say that life is hard for a young entrepreneur; it's hard to find the trust, capital or partnerships needed to launch a business. I only knew one way to get a leg up in my entrepreneurial journey and that was to beg and borrow. :)
The Story of *the* South African Pin-up Girl
Towards the end of my first year at varsity (2004), I created Akkerliefies (translated to Acorn Lovelies, where the "acorn" was symbolic of Stellenbosch University campus where I studied), a website which featured a few pretty girls from campus in the type of "girl next door" photoshoots that were (and probably still are) popular back then.
This was in the days before WordPress & social media, so none of the "easy" tasks existed back then; the site was hand-coded with text files used as databases and the only distribution / marketing channels available where a handful of South African bloggers that had built up a bit of a following. Yet I managed to run the site for 2 years, having built up quite a cult following on campus. Heck, I wasn't the most popular guy ever at varsity, but I was well-known on Campus for being "that Akkerliefies" guy. Maybe that's due to those incredibly awesome parties that we threw...
During the 2 years that I ran Akkerliefies, I begged & borrowed my way to the following:
- I never paid $1 for hosting the website, which was admittedly quite bandwidth heavy with all the high-res images.
- We got Red Bull to sponsor some insane parties with loads of freebies and a massive bar tab to boot. Who is going to say no to that?
- I managed to convince some really pretty girls to get into their bikini's & allow us to take pictures of them. We never paid them, normally required them to pay their own transport and use their own make-up etc.
- I wasn't into my photography as much back then and if I remember correctly, I wasn't responsible for one shoot. Instead we got some really talented (and established) photographers to help us out for free (they could use the photos for their portfolio too) or we simply borrowed proper DSLR's from people we knew and I then got friends to take the photos.
- We got loads of big name clothing & accessories labels to sponsor clothing, accessories & make-up for our shoots. They sometimes trusted us with stock worth more than $3000, which I would've never been able to pay back had something happened to the stock.
Heck, this was an awesome period of my life. I loved every single moment of the 2 years that I tried to grow Akkerliefies into a profitable & sustainable, but eventually decided to sell it in the last year of my Bachelors degree (it was either Akkerliefies or passing and finishing my degree; I couldn't handle both anymore).
Akkerliefies was never profitable, but I broke even after selling it. I learnt though that by knocking persistently on as many doors as possible, you're increasing the likelihood that your efforts will be rewarded. Someone is bound to open a door some time.
I meet too many younger entrepreneurs who aren't willing or interested to be this persistent and show the determination needed to establish a new business. Having to cold call someone or beg for something when you know you can't offer reciprocal value is helluva embarrassing, but I needed to do that to survive.
Moving on from Akkerliefies, this same "knocking on doors" mentality has served me incredibly well. The initial doors that got opened accelerated my personal development as an entrepreneur and I've met some incredibly people along the way (I first my WooThemes co-founder, Mark, via Akkerliefies when he was one of the bloggers to give us some publicity).
To this day, I still believe in firing off the exploratory e-mails, knocking on doors and hoping that someone responds. Most of the time this hasn't panned out as I would've hoped, but I've had just as many favourable that has contributed to the big success we've had. Keep knocking on those doors.