Posted by Tommy Runfola | January 5, 2017
You Gotta Believe!
I remember buying my first computer. No big deal, right? Well, it was a big deal! That was many years ago, I was an early adopter, and all computer technology was extremely expensive and in early stages of development.
I remember how excited I was when I was asked to be a consultant to a company in California that was developing a software package for use in my industry – the legal support industry – that would work on a newly developed hardware system by a company from Texas called Intelogic Trace. After weeks of working with this company I was sold; I had to have one. The computer, known as a “mini-computer,” was the latest and greatest. It operated on removable disks that were about 2 feet in diameter and had far less memory than my first cell phone. We called the large disks “saucers” because they looked like a fictional flying saucer. This “mini-computer” weighed 600 pounds and cost $87,000. (Today that is the equivalent of about $400,000 – about twice as much as the home I was living in at the time.) I would be the first person in my industry in the state and one of the first in the country to own such an innovative system.
So what would drive a person to spend twice as much money on an untested piece of hardware and software as they did on their home? Friends, acquaintances, my accountants, bankers, and lawyers all thought I had lost my mind. First of all, I was really young, and although I was doing well in my fledgling business, $87,000 was almost the equivalent of my net worth at the time. I had to put at risk everything I owned to buy this system. Not only was it an unknown how well this new technology would work at the task it was designed to accomplish – processing and converting codes for courtroom technology — but there was no guidance or reference books on how to manage workflow, all staff had to be retrained to use computers, it took specialized technicians to repair the new computer technology with a $3000 a month service contract, and I had to build a special room in my office with a $35,000 specially-designed AC system to house the computer that would overheat in a normal office environment. Because it was the only computer to service 10 people who had to work on it during the day processing their work, we had to expand our office hours, opening at 6:00 a.m. and closing at midnight each day, and of course we had to remain open on Saturday and Sunday as well so that everybody could get enough “computer time” on our one and only computer. Overall, it was not only disruptive to the way I was used to operating my business, but it was costly and challenging, as it changed everything about how I operated and marketed my business, and how I would choose and train employees. This new technology turned the economics and operations of my business upside down, and it caused me to rethink every aspect of my work and business life. It was a whole new ballgame. It was before the word “webinar” was even in our business vocabulary, so there was not easily available help in learning how to tame this new beast technology. If I wanted to meet with other users and pick their brain, we had to meet up at distant location. Ultimately, we formed a “User’s Group” and collectively learned how to harness this great new technology to run our businesses better, more efficiently, and make more money.
One day a visitor to my office asked me why I had made such an expensive and innovative move in my business, why I had put everything on the line to be a pioneer in my industry, and I really wasn’t sure how I should respond. So I simply said what I felt: “Sometimes you just gotta believe!” It was a response straight from my heart and gut. That’s how true entrepreneurs operate, that is their gifting, their heart, passions and gut guides them as much as their brain. Sometimes they just feel and intuit what is right, what will work, what is the next move up the ladder of success, what is the next innovation, the next business, the next revolutionary concept. You see, there isn’t always a logical, reasoned answer why entrepreneurs do what they do; why they often risk everything to pursue a vision, a new path. Whatever this mysterious force is, it causes them to throw caution to the wind, ignore traditional wisdom, stretch themselves financially and intellectually, and take on risk that others would find unacceptable.
It would be 10 years before my nearest competitor would feel they could “afford” a computer for their operation. By that time, I would have my operations down to a science, I would have created a new economic paradigm using computer technology, I would invest nearly $1 million more in the “new technology,” and, yes, I became a young millionaire in the process! For some the money would have made it all worthwhile, but for the true entrepreneur it’s just validation of what they intuitively know, believe in your gut and you can’t go wrong. Sometimes you just gotta believe!
Memories . . . somebody should draft some lyrics. How about these:
Memory, all alone in the moonlight
I can dream of the old days
Life was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again
Every street lamp seems to beat
A fatalistic warning
Someone mutters and the street lamp sputters
And soon it will be morning.
Barbra Streisand could sing it, couldn’t she? Tommy, that’s what risk-taking is all about. Those early memories of taking a risk and seeing it through enable those of us who took the risk to then take more risks and enjoy a lifetime of achievement. When you understand the process of entrepreneurship you just want more and more of that process. That’s the kind of addiction that has a happy ending, because no matter the outcome we never regret having taken the risk. Great article, Tommy!