John Douglas Steuart: “Entrepreneurship is hard work”
Entrepreneurship is hard work. As an inexperienced entrepreneur, you will initially need to do much more work than people who have been doing it for years such as planning tasks out creatively and delegating effectively as well as keeping track of the business’s day-to-day operations personally rather than delegating responsibilities to an assistant.
As a part of our series called “My Life as a TwentySomething Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Douglas Steuart.
John Douglas Steuart is a venture capitalist and entrepreneur. He co-founded Savvy Properties, Cybergold, and Claremont Creek Ventures. He also mentored students at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology as an industry fellow and as an advisory council to the Lester Center’s Berkeley Entrepreneurs’ Forum at UC Berkeley.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What is your “backstory”?
I co-founded three businesses, and I could go on and on about how I got those businesses off the ground. One thing these businesses have in common is that I founded them with a partner. We were able to start these businesses through hard work and dedication. Working with different people and companies taught us how to do business in an orderly and timely manner. We researched the technique further and put it into action as a group.
We considered investing in start-ups because we wanted to provide chances to business-minded people who can’t implement their ideas because their funds are quite restricted. We attempted to make it as accessible as possible, but there are other factors to consider; it’s business, so we have to study the business idea, then we invest in firms that have great potential to succeed.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company? What lessons or takeaways did you take out of that story?
The story I’m going to tell you is not funny or interesting, but I want to share this because I’ve learned a lesson from this experience.
This happened way back 1990s. While working with an innovative company, we had a project in St. Louis. We built a portal imager that was hooked up with a camera. It was used in radiation therapy. We sold a couple and we thought, “Oh! This product is salable.” We fast-tracked everything and made a sales team for this product. Little did we know that the companies that bought our portal imager were organizations that did researches. The company went down until I had to file for bankruptcy. From that, I understood how important it is to know your market. You don’t only make and sell things; you also need to know who buys them and what they do with them.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believe that our mission makes our company stand out. We strive to “inspire innovation, foster creativity, and cultivate success.” Our team is always available to help entrepreneurs succeed. We learn from each other and we teach one another how to be better entrepreneurs. We teach each other about business or our own experiences. We are always growing together.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
One of the most influential people in my life that helped me achieve success is my dad. He was also an entrepreneur and has always been an inspiration to me. He started many ventures in the past and was always available to help me with whatever I needed. His advice and guidance have brought me success. It is because of these qualities that I believe he is a great role model. One experience in particular that has stuck with me was when I asked where he got his inspiration from to start so many businesses. He replied, “I just see a problem, and try to fix it.”
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It’s important to share what you’ve learned with others. This is one of the main reasons that I mentor students at UC Berkeley. I want them to learn from my successes and use them as stepping stones for their future entrepreneurial endeavors.
I try my best to make sure my presence in the community creates more than just economic prosperity; I believe that it is my responsibility to help rebuild the community and make them a great place for people to live in.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I have a favorite book that made a deep impact on my life. It’s called “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller. The main protagonist Bill is always asking himself, “Is this all there is?” and feeling dissatisfied with his life. He meets someone who encouraged him to make the most of every day and to think about what he wants to be remembered for when he dies. I love how it started slow but evolved into this great story that resonates with me every time I read it. It taught me that that life can be improved by making an effort to live life and make a difference. If you have a problem, don’t wait until tomorrow; fix it today.
Can you share 5 of the most difficult and most rewarding parts of being a “TwentySomething founder”. Please share an example or story for each.
1. The biggest struggle for a young entrepreneur is finding investors who have faith in you and your ideas. Venture capitalists are typically looking for experienced entrepreneurs with a proven track record of success or those with secure high-level investments from family members, private equity groups, wealthy individuals, etc. Inexperienced entrepreneurs often spend years building their track records by running smaller businesses before eventually attempting to raise capital from venture capitalists.
2. Entrepreneurship is hard work. As an inexperienced entrepreneur, you will initially need to do much more work than people who have been doing it for years such as planning tasks out creatively and delegating effectively as well as keeping track of the business’s day-to-day operations personally rather than delegating responsibilities to an assistant.
3. There are many important skills that entrepreneurs need to have to be successful. These include speaking confidently, writing effectively, knowing how to manage other people’s time well, understanding the ins and outs of finance, etc. Entrepreneurship depends on having these skills but if you don’t have them yet it is unlikely that you will be successful as an entrepreneur. It takes years of hard work, commitment, and patience to build up these skills which cannot be learned overnight. However, it is possible to develop your skillset over time by working on small businesses with friends, taking classes at your local community college, etc.
4. Managing money is inherently hard and the only way to become better at it is through experience. I would recommend reading as much as you can about finance and setting up a system that makes it easy for you to keep track of expenses and revenue from every month.
5. Managing people’s perceptions of you as an entrepreneur is one of the hardest parts of being a young entrepreneur. It takes time to build up your reputation as someone trustworthy and credible so be patient with yourself and those around you as they learn more about what it means to be an entrepreneur.
Based on my experience, one of the perks of being a young entrepreneur was that I got to do what I love and work on my terms. I was also able to meet interesting people along the way, be it mentors or clients.
My favorite part of being a young entrepreneur was building new businesses from scratch with the people who were as passionate about it as I was. We always spent time talking about what we believed in and how we could change the world through our respective products.
The most rewarding thing about entrepreneurship is the feeling of accomplishment when you see your idea come to life every day. With every deal that I closed, I knew that my company was growing and succeeding. And there’s nothing better than knowing you’re making people’s lives easier and more convenient.
What are the main takeaways that you would advise a twenty-year-old who is looking to found a business?
I would advise a 20-year-old to start their business with the following in mind: Think carefully about what you want your business to be and who it is for. This will help them prioritize their learning and focus on only the most critical skills. Also, I would advise them to network and build connections. Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith and make mistakes early on. I made my fair share of mistakes early on, but I haven’t looked back since. If it wasn’t for the risks I took early on, buying that first property or co-founding Savvy Properties would not have been possible.
I think it is really important to be true to yourself and your values when you are running a business. This will help you make decisions more easily because they aren’t based on money alone; you are doing something that you truly believe in. You need to be able to sleep at night knowing that what you are doing is good and right. If you aren’t, then it’s time to reevaluate your strategy and goals and try again.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to have breakfast or lunch with Elon Musk because I find him fascinating. He’s one of the most innovative entrepreneurs our world has seen. I would take that opportunity to learn from his success, ask for advice about how I can make my own business to the next level. I also admire his passion for changing the world through clean energy, and I would love to chat with him about how I can contribute.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!