When Opportunity Knocks, Answer the Door – Quickly

They say “He who hesitates is lost”. In business, nothing is more true. Let me give you a recent example.

I get asked to speak at a fair amount of events. Audiences vary from large ballrooms to smaller, more intimate round tables. I really enjoy speaking at these smaller events because it gives the participants the chance to ask questions that are important to them instead of just listening to me drone on about what I think is important. Recently I had the opportunity to speak in front a great group of business owners in one of these smaller settings. There were only about 50 people so it was a real dialogue about their struggles and what advice I had or what experiences I had that were similar to theirs.

As the night went on, I was particularly struck by two young friends that decided to go into business together a couple of years ago. Their business was doing well and gaining a lot of loyal local customers. They were considering taking the next step and trying to sell their products online – opening themselves up to a larger customer base. Being that Wicked Good Cupcakes has seen great success selling online, they had a lot of questions for me. As they asked their questions and listened to my answers, I could see that they were both like sponges. They hung on every word. The passion in their eyes really impressed me. They loved and believed in their product and more importantly believed in themselves.

As the evening wound down to a close, I approached these two budding entrepreneurs with a proposition. I told them I was very impressed with their energy and thought they had a great product that would sell well online. If they were interested, I’d be willing to help them navigate the ecommerce waters and mentor them through the process of bringing their products to market. For those of you who aren’t aware, prior to joining Wicked Good Cupcakes, I spent nearly 20 years in the technology field, specifically in web technologies and ecommerce systems. Without sounding vain, I was offering them 20 years of technology experience as well as all my experience in bringing Wicked Good Cupcakes to a national audience. They were both thrilled at the offer. I gave them my card and told them to email me the next day and we’d set up a meeting.

Now, the last thing I have in this world is time. I work seven days a week, often times late into the evening. Taking this on was going to be difficult, but I believed in them. I also know that I didn’t get to where I am without the help of many others. I’ve never forgotten that, and have always tried to help others when I could.

The next day, I sent them both an email. I told them how impressed I was with them and that my offer of helping them get into the ecommerce world still stood. I proposed that we set up a meeting at their location so I could better understand their business before we put together a strategy. I hit the send button, feeling very proud that I was going to be helping these soon to be successful entrepreneurs.

A day passed and no response. Two days passed, no response. Three days…nothing. At this point I was a bit disappointed. A week passed and still I heard nothing from these two. Now I was annoyed. Sadly, I had misread them. Even if they weren’t ready or interested in my help, they should have at least taken the time and respond back letting me know just that. Call me old fashioned, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things.  Three weeks passed and finally I heard from them – they apologized and said they had been very busy and hadn’t had a chance to email me back. At this point, I felt I needed to do something that was very difficult to do. I turned them down. I wrote them a very kind but honest email. I told them that in business timing was everything, and that opportunity doesn’t often present itself, but when it does, you need to react and react quickly. I explained to them, that the “too busy” excuse is never a good one. Unless you haven’t slept or eaten in the past three weeks, you’ve had time to send an email. I told them that although it might seem mean of me, the best lesson I could possibly teach them would be the lesson of lost opportunity. My hope was that the next time an opportunity arose; they would remember this and not hesitate.

Some of you may find this heartless and mean. You might think I’m a pompous jerk. Maybe you’re right, but I don’t see it that way. The real world is a harsh and difficult place. I had many mentors growing up that taught me similar lessons. I’ve had many failures that were of my own doing, and today I’m glad I paid a price for all of them (although I may not have been glad at the time). I think that all too often we coddle people (particularly our children) because we don’t want to hurt them or see them fail. Trust me; I’m the guy who cries during those commercials showing sick and injured puppies. I don’t like to see anyone or anything hurt either, but I know that sometimes you need some hurt in your life to prepare you for the inevitable rough times ahead. I’d rather give you the tools do deal with the difficult times than shield you from them (ask me sometime about how I repossessed my own step-daughter’s car).

In reading this back, I realize that I admittedly sound a bit arrogant. After all, I’m saying that I was the great opportunity that they missed. Who knows, maybe I couldn’t have helped them at all. The point is, in my life, some of the best partnerships or relationships I’ve made came to me as “not so obvious” opportunities. Others that seemed really promising turned out to be duds. Regardless, I always try to investigate each one because you never know when the next big break is standing right in front of you.

I wish those two the best of luck. I truly hope they succeed. More importantly though, I hope that the next time opportunity knocks, they answer – and quickly.