I sat down next to this beautiful girl.
Her name was Nicole Spotswood.
I had seen her on college campus but never met her.
We chit chatted.
She was a golfer and an athlete.
She was smart.
I really liked her.
I wanted to date here right then and there.
I had to figure out a way.
I convinced her that Saturday night she and her friends needed to come on one my Washington DC nightclub bus trips I was running.
This was my first venture. I solved the college drinking and driving problem on campus by busing students to bars on Fri and Sat nights.
I’d comp her and her friends and take care of all their drinks.
There was no way she could say no.
A few days later, I asked her on our official first date.
Our first date was on the golf course.
I was a member of the George Mason University golf team.
That golf round sealed the deal.
We have been together ever since.
Nicole Spotswood Zito is my wife, friend and #1 business advisor.
Bobby Glass a financial adviser near George Mason University helped advise me on how to start my first business.
He guided me on how to become a legal entity, to incorporate in the state of Virginia and create a corporate operating agreement.
Every time I went to see him it cost $250 for 1 hour of his time. I was 22 years old at the time.
His advisory service included a follow-up letter sent by mail, two weeks after we met, summarizing what we discussed with a few bullet points acting as a mini call to action or business execution strategy.
Without him I don’t think I would be where I am today.
During my 20’s early in my entrepreneurial life he was very valuable and he taught me how to be a better entrepreneur. As I got older I moved away from working with him.
I don’t know why I did this.
In hindsight it was a mistake.
The more successful you become the bolder you get.
You start to think and feel that you know everything.
Don’t make this mistake.
When you find an advisor you can trust that creates value for you hold onto them and pay them what they are worth.
I am working with an entrepreneur who had success out of the gate. He has been focused on one travel product. He succeeded because of his focus and commitment to the core product. Only a handful of entrepreneurs get as far as he has in such a short period of time.
When you are in the trenches and focused you can become isolated.
I am advising him to take a step back and to open his eyes to the possibilities for what he can do next. I am providing him with advice, research, and knowledge about the market and how he has an opportunity to move towards building a global travel brand.
Surround your self with people you can trust that can help advise you in your business and life. Create an inner circle.
You have to have people around you that you trust.
They know how you operate and what makes you tick. People who understand how you think and except what you believe.
As entrepreneurs we are a rare breed. It takes a special kind of person to deal with us.
I am fortunate to have my best friend and wife as my number one advisor.
She is an entrepreneur buts acts more like a technician.
She manages the money in our businesses and life. I make it.
Without her I’d be nothing.
Today when she is advising me our business conversation starts like this.
“Nicole, I have an idea for something. Yeah, I know, you want to know how it makes money.”
Before I get her support I need to show her the business model and how it makes money.
She is a great listener and provides me with feedback. Her value as a business advisor is her talent in sniffing out business ideas that have limited success in making money.
In my early 30’s I failed at two business ventures.
One was technology startup MaineCreates.com an online marketplace for the buying and selling of Maine made products. I couldn’t get traction past 200 paying members.
I spent two years of my life entrenched trying to get around the corner.
It never happened.
I successfully sold the software platform to a former executive of Red Envelope. I also raised $12,000 in seed money to build the technology through the Maine Technology Institute a state grant for technology startups so it wasn’t truly a bust.
The problem was that I stayed in the startup too long.
My wife told me in the very beginning that it wouldn’t make money. Every 6 months she told me to hang it up.
MaineCreates.com was my first business failure.
It was a hard pill to swallow.
In the end she was right.
The other venture was a $20,000 investment I made in the Block Hotel in Lake Tahoe. It was a great idea, a boutique hotel catering to snowboarders.
The first year was a success and the hotel was making money like gang-busters. Maybe you saw the reality TV show on cable.
Then the founder got greedy, turned crooked and started siphoning off money into his personal account. I lived a real life Bernee Madoff story.
My wife originally had told me not to invest in the deal.
She was unsure about the founder.
Again she was right.
Look your going to fail at some point. You’re going to loose money on a bad investment. It’s inevitable.
My entrepreneurial path just happened to be success out of the gate. I batted 2-2, 1000%. Then I went 0-2, so now I am 2-4, batting 500%, not bad.
My current project TravelStartups.co is going well but it’s still too early to know.
My wife has green lighted the project and she thinks I am onto something so I’ll keep going forward.
Today my Inner Circle is getting bigger by the day.
I have around 3,000 travel professional contacts in my database, mainly travel CEO’s, entrepreneurs and founders.
500 I have personally met or done business with and the others have reached out to me through my writing, an introduction or we met at one of the many travel conferences I attend each year.
A dozen are very, very close friends, entrepreneurs that I rely on for advisement. These guys know me, know how I think and have worked with me on prior ventures.
What does your inner circle look like?
Here are steps you can take today to start building your inner circle or polishing the dust off your current network.
- Find 1-3 entrepreneurs that you respect. Ask them if they will help advise you. Tell them for now you just want to be able to call them on the phone and ask them what they think about your particular situation.
- Find 1-2 business advisors that have experience in the travel industry that will advise you. You pay these guys on a monthly basis and kick in a small percentage of equity if you have limited cash resources.
- Reach out to one or two of the CEO’s or founders of your major competitors. Introduce yourself and just say that you want to talk about your industry, market or something new that is taking place. Try to share some knowledge that maybe they don’t know about. When running our OTA I routinely talked to the CEO’s of three of our major competitors. The relationships were beneficial for all of us. Someone has to start the conversation. Why not you?
- Approach your inner circle with the idea of giving first and receiving second. Create value for the people in your inner circle and give first.