10 Tips for Entrepreneurs Like You

Ten Pieces of Advice for Entrepreneurs

“Think about the problem you are solving before you come up with the solution.” Those words of wisdom come from Bill Murphy, Jr., 39, who was the subject of a fascinating column by Thomas Heath in Monday’s Washington Post.

Murphy’s much heralded new book, “The Intelligent Entrepreneur: How Three Harvard Business School Graduates Learned the 10 Rules of Successful Entrepreneurship,” came out yesterday and, of course, he wanted Heath to write about it. Murphy is a former Post reporter (he worked under Bob Woodward) and U.S. Army lawyer, as well as an entrepreneur. (He co-founded and ran a legal magazine titled “JD: the law student’s survival guide”—calling that venture Mercury American Publishing to, in Heath’s words, “make themselves sound big.”) He previously wrote the heavily praised “In a Time of War: The Proud and Perilous Journey of West Point’s Class of 2002,” which spotlighted the lives of three West Point grads who fought in Iraq.

To find the subjects of his latest book, he interviewed more than 150 people—most associated with Harvard Business School (HBS)—and came up with three extremely successful entrepreneurs. The one Heath mentions is Marla Malcolm Beck who founded Bluemercury, a chain of 27 cosmetic stores. Says Murphy: “I focused mainly on the stories of HBS classmates Marc Cenedella (founder of TheLadders), Marla Malcolm Beck, and Chris Michel (founder of Military.com and Affinity Labs). I had great subjects and material to work with, and the book will inspire and instruct anyone who wants to start a successful business.”

In his column, Heath said that he had always wanted to write something about Bluemercury.

“Beck was a perfect candidate,” he wrote. “She built a multi-million-dollar business from nothing. [Added Murphy:] ‘It was a real product because you could walk in stores and see the products. It wasn’t financial Jujitsu. And she knew her customers, what they needed, and focused like a laser on meeting those needs.’ ”

Heath finished the column with 10 pieces of advice for entrepreneurs—from Murphy. Here is a shortened version:

1. “Be committed to entrepreneurship, the act of creating something, rather than a single idea.”

2. “Solve a problem. While at Harvard, Beck had to drive all over Boston to find various cosmetics.” What about everything in one location, she asked?

3. “Think big. Think new. Think again. In other words, scale up.” Cosmetics is used by at least half the population, Beck figured.

4. “You can’t do it alone. Have a support team of people you know and trust. Beck worked so well with her co-founder that she married him.” (Memo to self: next big thing is speed dating for budding entrepreneurs.)

5. “You must do it alone. Be decisive. Beck killed an idea to sign long-term leases on some stores, which turned out to be the right thing after the market crash.”

6. “Manage risk. It’s true about everything in life. Like many entrepreneurs…Beck is fanatical about maintaining a cash reserve. She also paced herself, not going for the ‘get big fast and flip it for a few million bucks’ mentality. That’s why she has 27 stores now and her early competitors are gone.”

7. “Lead.” Heath then quoted another Washington-area entrepreneur, Under Armour founder Kevin Plank: “ ‘You need to put your hands around the throat of your business, and you need to run it.’ Beck gets behind the cash register to ring up sales and for years insisted on interviewing every new employee.”

8. “Learn to sell. Bluemercury at its core relies on sales.”

9. “Persistence is everything.”

10. “Time, not money, is the key resource. Have a life outside of work, and find time to give back.”

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