What is entrepreneurship today? This is a broad question, so perhaps we can narrow it by asking what does entrepreneurship look like today? Historically, there has been a focus on self-taught and self-made entrepreneurs. The laundry list of great American entrepreneurs – people like Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Madam C.J. Walker – contains few names that studied extensively and went to major business schools before creating the companies that made them famous. While these business owners were creating industrial businesses focused on manufacturing, some look at this auto-didactic entrepreneurialism as the ideal against the modern hyper-focus on education.
This is a question that ought to be quite interesting to Marketing Move’s audience. Writing from the business school here, we know people that want to be entrepreneurs, people that want to be MBA’s, and people that want to be both. What does entrepreneurship look like today, and what is the best route to success? Is business school just a waste of time or does it still have value for those that want to own their own businesses?
Asking a Few Questions
All of these questions were at the forefront as we spoke with Travis Baker, founder of Heartland Recycling Services, a Wichita Kansas based dumpster rental service. Travis founded Heartland Recycling just five years ago and has already seen it grow by an order of magnitude. His is a great entrepreneurial story. What motivated him to enter this segment was not just a strong commercial sense, but a desire to fix real problems as well. He told Marketing Moves that he had always been interested in the environment and environmentalism from an early age. Travis said that he is a very clean person in his own life and always considered sustainability to be common sense. He was frustrated to see things thrown away that could easily be reused and repurposed because he knew that it would have a direct impact on the planet’s land and oceans. After all, while steel is the most recycled material on earth, containing up to 90% recycled content, most of us are now recycling more products than ever.
While Travis did receive some early counseling on his business, it was by and large not helpful for him. Instead, he spent a huge amount of time researching, thinking, and experimenting on his own with his business. While he did this with every aspect of the business, he particularly focused on teaching himself how to create websites for his business and advertise it. Travis told us that he built my first website using a simple drag and drop page builder, but it looked horrible. After learning more about websites and SEO he built his second version using another drag and drop website building called Weebly. His new site looked clean and ranked surprisingly well. As the company grew and he started offering more services it was time to update again. This time he decided to hire a web design company to build out the third site but was not satisfied with the work they did. He didn’t have any more money to spend so he was forced to learn HTML and CSS coding online. He described it as similar to learning a new language with all the hills and valleys that entails.
His current site is a WordPress site that he recently built out. This ability to self-teach has been critical for Travis’ success. His business has certainly been successful, growing 987% in the past five years. We next asked him how he manages this massive growth and how his ability to learn influences that. Travis told us that he doesn’t really see it as a thing to be “managed”, he just goes in and does his best every day with his business. He learns from the past performance of his company. Looking at how things have gone in the past year, Travis takes these lessons and uses them going forward. This adaptability is what he credits with his company’s impressive growth.
Travis is a great example of how experience is the best teacher. His advice for students is to never stop learning. While the classroom is useful and some things can be picked up there, Travis said the best way to learn is simply by doing. Trial and error is what built Heartland Recycling Services.
Looking back at the question that inspired this conversation with Travis in the first place, it is clear that education has its place and can make things easier, but there will never be any substitute for experience. Your business is just that, your business, and it is extremely specific to your unique situation. Education can provide a broad overview of how business is done and things to know, but it can never make up for the ability to test things and learn as you go. Programs that provide lots of internship and entrepreneurship training are ideal, since they try to mix the two together. It was a pleasure to speak to Travis and get to know more about his business and his story. This is exactly the kind of story that Marketing Moves and our readership needs to hear as we head out into the real world and consider starting our own companies. Keep on learning!