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A Former "Apprentice" Star Shares Strategies to Rev up Your Inner Entrepreneur


Last updated 6/23/2014

Some entrepreneurs seem to have been born under a lucky star. Perhaps they got in and out of the dot-com bubble at just the right time, or perhaps they stumbled onto some mundane product people just can’t live without. But what if you’re not one of these fortunate few? What if you’re just someone who has an idea you're really excited about? Can you still follow your dream to success?

Don’t despair—you don't have to hit the "business lottery" to make a nice living as an entrepreneur, says Wes Moss, author of Starting from Scratch: Secrets from 21 Ordinary People Who Made the Entrepreneurial Leap (Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2005). Passion and good old-fashioned elbow grease go a long, long way. "I wrote this book because I wanted to prove that ordinary people can take charge of their financial destiny," says Moss, an investment firm V.P. who is best known as a cool, calm and collected candidate on season two of NBC's “The Apprentice” reality TV show with Donald Trump. "I wanted to restore people's faith in the American Dream. There's nothing magical about entrepreneurship, but it is a hugely rewarding way to live your life."

In Starting from Scratch Moss introduces us to 21 successful entrepreneurs with net worth ranging from $2 million to $20 million. They include a lawyer turned gourmet baker, a paralegal who opened a yoga studio and a saleswoman became a designer shoe retailer. Together, these successful businesspeople reveal real-life secrets that can help entrepreneurial wannabes travel the road to financial independence.

Moss identifies a four-step process that led all of his book subjects to success. He calls these steps "the HUNT":

Harness what you have. Identify your inherent skills and apply them to something something tangible you love: a product or trade you are proud to be associated with.

  • Underestimate your obstacles. Define your vision and mentally bypass the multitude of things that can go wrong or stand in your way.
  • Notice your network. Find people who can assist you in realizing your vision.
  • Take the first step. Develop a bias toward action.

Here are some additional tips from Moss’s book:

  • Desperately seek challenge. Don't settle for a job just because it's in a field that interests you. Take your skills and use them in a new way. Dany Levy, editor and founder of Daily Candy, exemplifies this principle. She had been working in New York's fashion magazine industry for six years when she realized she was bored and frustrated. She quit her publishing job and invested the money she'd been saving for business school into her new venture: an e-zine that sends a lighthearted daily fashion or lifestyle tip (actually a cleverly disguised ad) to its subscribers. Today, Daily Candy boasts seven editions and nearly a million subscribers around the world. "Even though Dany had a job many people would have killed for, she was still willing to take a chance," says Moss. He urges, "Be bold. Push yourself. Come up with something new."
  • Keep it weird. Different is better. Look for ways to breathe life into the same-old, same-old. Steve Bercu was a 50-something lawyer smothering in a sea of sameness when he decided to change his life. He invested in BookPeople, a struggling independent bookstore in Austin, Texas. His first act was to get rid of any employees who looked down at customers who ordered mainstream titles, replacing them with outoing, customer-friendly salespeople. But just as the store was taking off, Steve discovered that Austin was about to give a tax incentive to a big chain bookstore, which was moving in across the street. He joined forces with a local CD store and started a campaign to urge customers to express opposition to the incentive package. He latched onto the countercultural slogan "Keep Austin Weird" and printed it on thousands of bumper stickers. BookPeople flourished, Steve became a local celebrity and the next year the big box competitor withdrew from its lease. "Weirdness works," says Moss. "Embrace it and promote it. Stand out from the competition in a fundamental way and you'll thrive."
  • Tirelessly pursue what you want; don't take no for an answer. Giovanni The Margarita King (his legal name!), founder of The Margarita King, might well be the poster child for tireless energy and persistence. An Italian who grew up in Colombia, Gio cast aside his architect training and came to the U.S. to work in the restaurant business. After building and selling nine different Mexican restaurants in San Francisco over 15 years, Gio became famous for his margaritas. He decided to bottle and sell them ready-made in stores. When distributors told him his margaritas were too expensive, he went door-to-door with his fiancée, working from seven o'clock in the morning until eleven o'clock at night. After trying for months to get an appointment with California's largest liquor store chain, he showed up at the head honcho's office, bulldozed his way in and forced him to taste the drink. "Successful entrepreneurs push and push and push to get the results they want," Moss says. "They just don't give up. It takes heart and energy and the ability to thrive on very little sleep, but when you absolutely love what you do, these things come as naturally as breathing."

"I found it interesting that all of these people gave me the same advice," reflects Moss. "It’s a simple formula: figure out what you love to do, envision what you want to accomplish and put in a lot of old-fashioned hard work. Sure, there's risk involved, but working in corporate America can be risky too. Entrepreneurship lets you forge your own path instead of slogging along someone else’s. It's fun. And even if you don't make millions, there's a lot to be said for that."

About Wes Moss:  Moss began his entrepreneurial ventures while still in his teens, turning his businesses into award-winning, prosperous enterprises. He appeared as a candidate on NBC's popular TV show “The Apprentice with Donald Trump.” He built a substantial investment practice and went on to become a vice president at one of the world's largest investment firms after just five years. Along with his partners, Moss manages more than $100 million in investments for high-net-worth individuals, entrepreneurs and corporations. For more information, visit wesmoss.com.