At an event titled Scaling Your Business & Getting Acquired (Twice!), it was surprising and unexpected to hear the guest speaker utter this phrase:
“Don’t start a company to sell it. Start a company because you believe in it and believe it can be sustainable.”
Ross Petersen, currently Chief of Staff at Rx.Me, shared this advice to an intimate audience at the VisualFizz office in downtown Chicago. Around a dozen individuals from various backgrounds and industries attended the November edition of VF’s free monthly Growth Series event.
“We love the leaders and strategists that we invite for the growth series. Industry expertise can be difficult to come by, and we all have a lot to learn from those who have worked towards and found success in their own ventures. We’ve learned lessons in 2 hours that would take years to learn. We know we’re truly creating value in this industry by sharing success stories and revealing the path to get there. ”– Marissa Ryan, VisualFizz Co-Founder
The night began with 20 minutes of casual networking over beverages and snacks as members arrived. Next Petersen took the floor to share his experience as an entrepreneur navigating the ups and downs of starting, growing and selling businesses – in his case, ScrapHD and Blitsy of the retail crafts space – with refreshing honesty and dashes of humor that had listeners at the edges of their seats.
Specifically, stories of investor pitches and a tape-recorded board meeting were entertaining, and offered glimpses into the technical knowledge but also emotional skills it takes to succeed in the business world. (The October Growth Series event on Psychology of Presentation, Pitching, Negotiation and Influence with Jonathon Pritchard provided some great insight into the emotional factors relating to business, FWIW).
“Many events that we attend speak to a very high level of growth. Panels with 3-4 people never let us drill down to the core of success. What we’ve done is dig down to the core of what made 1 individual the best at what they do.”– Dan Salganik, VisualFizz Co-Founder
Before even getting to his business pursuits, Petersen began with his youth and family background. He credits having a twin brother, who has been involved in his companies, for instilling a healthy sense of competition, along with compassion for others at a young age. Their father was an entrepreneur himself, and even became a vendor of Petersen’s company. However, there came difficult time where the parties had to part ways from doing business with each other.
While this was certainly a tough decision, it was the right one for Petersen’s business and his father respected him for making it. Developing a strong support group, family and otherwise, has been key for Petersen, who also emphasized the importance of hiring the right team.
Speaking of team, Petersen was a successful lacrosse player in high school (earning All-America honors) and in college at the Division III level. He has no doubts about the advantages that sports can have on an individual, namely understanding that proper preparation builds confidence, as well what it means to be part of a team to achieve a collective goal.
Petersen was once asked by a board member: Do you ‘love to win’ or ‘hate to lose’ in business? After some consideration, he realized that, for him, this is not a binary question. To answer using a sports metaphor, Petersen believes developing a business is not about chasing each individual moment on its own; it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, one of the most beneficial experiences of Petersen’s career came in his first job selling cars as a teenager and directly after college. He shared with listeners how having sales experience is helpful in any role, having seen it benefit him first hand later on during many business negotiations.
Personally, I quite liked this anecdote from Petersen: that job titles can sometimes be bullsh*t. During his rise, he noticed that different titles did or did not allow him to get through the door of companies or to book meetings with investors. He was treated differently depending on who or what company he was representing as either a vendor or distributor. It’s something that he keeps in mind now that he’s in a more fortunate position.
The evening finished with a Q&A session from the audience as well as VisualFizz co-founders Salganik and Ryan. Overall, the free-flowing conversation struck the perfect balance of heavy-hitting info and light-hearted fun.
Attendees left with some simple final words of wisdom from Petersen: Always be nice and treat people well, he said. In business, it’s inevitable to be presented with difficult situations and tough conversations, yet we all should strive to handle them with class and respect.
Cheers to that!
Whether you’re looking for business tips, leadership lessons or just wanting to connect with like-minded and passionate professionals of Chicago, join us for the next VisualFizz Growth Series event coming in January 2020! Speaker to be announced soon.
Robbie Lehman is a freelance copywriter based in Chicago. He can be contacted via email.