Michael Adams

Trying to make each day better than the last and writing about it.

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What I told 255 High School Students About Entrepreneurship

I recently spoke at the Vermont Entrepreneurship Week lunch in front of 255 high school students. I was one of four entrepreneurs who were selected to tell their story – how we got started, the importance of business education,  a couple networking tips, etc.

I had nothing prepared.

I ran out of time. I had no notes. Nothing. I totally winged it. And it paid off. After admitting I had nothing prepared, I set into what felt so natural to me: story-telling. I could tell the students were connecting with what I had to say.

Oh, you’re wondering what I said? Here’s the gist in a neat, organized list of 7 things:

1. Network up

Your friends only know, like, five people. But, everyone else in the room with glasses, semi-gray hair, and well, they look older. They know everyone. Network with them. It’s just more efficient. Why network with someone who knows no one when you can network with people who have already done what you’re looking to do and know the people who you need to connect with to make something happen? Seriously. Network Up. It’s going to be your best asset moving forward.

2. Done is better than perfect

This tip (which I recently learned) has helped increase my productivity ten-fold. If you know me at all, you know I’m a type-A, detail oriented, semi-control freak. But, being able to say things have been completed is so liberating. Sure, there isn’t a cherry-on-top, but it’s done. I can move on to the rest of my mega to-do list. The Vermont SBDC president loved this so much, she even wrote it down. Awesome. Now, if all the other type-A students could do the same thing, we’d get a heck of a lot more accocmplished.

3. If you don’t build your dreams, someone else will hire you to build theirs.

I ended with this quote. It’s what I have hanging in my office, just above my monitor. It keeps me motivated to never want to go back to corporate America, wear a suit every day, etc. I want to build my dream – not yours. You can certainly help achieve mine – that’s what a great team is for – but, I’m going for my dream first. The earlier you realize this, the earlier you can get started doing what you love and building your own dream. And it doesn’t mean you can’t do both. In fact, I recommend working full-time until you can break away and devote full-time resources to your dream. But, at least take the step to realizing your dream. Life is too short to not be going for your dreams.

4. Take psychology classes

Getting into the mind of your customers is so important. You need to know what pain points they suffer from (yes, even for gourmet mustard). You need to know the colors that create certain emotions. This is all consumer psychology. And it pairs beautifully with marketing. Neuromarketing is the future. If you’d like to read more about neuromarketing, this book will completely change your mind about marketing (pun intended).

5. You can’t do it alone

My parents are the glue to my business (remember this post?). For larger businesses, it’s their team (remember to always hire people smarter than you). Even solo founders have help – from family, friends, advisers, consultants, you name it. They’ve received help along the way. That’s what is so great about entrepreneurship. You build a network worth its weight in gold. Start building your network right now – oh, and re-read lesson #1.

6. It’s a roller coaster and when you go down, you go down.

A teacher asked me what some of my challenges were. And I was honest. One of my biggest challenges has been trying to keep myself emotionally balanced. I almost cried this week. I ate straight from the peanut butter jar multiple times. In the last two weeks, I’ve been over-whelmed, stressed, and pushed to my limits.  This is the bad of entrepreneurship, but I’m trying so hard to focus on the good. The good helps me grow. The good helps people believe. This is what it’s like owning a business. When you go down, you go down, but when you go back up – it’s so, so worth it.

7. Just try and make a couple hundred bucks.

A student in the back of the room (who I knew) asked a question about where we produce mustard, and I answered it, but I took the opportunity to turn it into an inspirational story about how he launched a small side project refurbishing old Nike shoes and making $450 in one week. If he could do it, any one of the students in the room could do it. Just get started. Have a small goal to make a few hundred bucks. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll achieve.

How’d the talk get received?

Super-well. I had multiple people come up to me afterwards to let me know how dynamic I was, how engaging I was, and how real it felt. I got that last comment a lot, actually. Many students appreciated how raw my talk was. How I was just so honest about my struggles. This was my response:

I used to sugarcoat everything. Things were always great – just peachy, if you will. The second I started telling it like it is, being honest, and raw, I got more respect, I built my credibility as an entrepreneur, and I got people to champion what I believed in.

Following the talk, I testified in-front of the House Commerce Committee at the Statehouse about the importance of entrepreneurship in school curriculum. I was passionately honest (if that can happen) about what I needed as a small business owner to take my company to the next level, too. All the legislators were thankful for my honesty. And that leads to the 8th tip, I wish I could have told those students:

Be honest. In fact, be brutally honest. Sugar-coating gets you nowhere. Plus, sugar is bad for you, so you should eat less of it.


Thanks to everyone who made Vermont Entrepreneurship Week possible. It was a blast speaking to over 250 high school students. I’m happy and honored I got the chance to make a difference in a least some of their lives.

Why you should sword fight with friends

I just came back from San Francisco visiting friends for a few days and gorging on copious amounts of specialty foods at the Winter Fancy Food Show.

It was fantastic. Despite my travel delays, forgetting my license while standing at the front of the security line in Burlington, and getting shin splints walking three hours a day in San Francisco, it was a much needed trip that encouraged deep-thought.

Today, I’m writing about the thoughts I had on the plane home to Vermont.

The flight caused me to reflect on how important these close, intimate relationships with my friends are. But, I realized they’re important for reasons I hadn’t considered before. What am I talking about?

Friends are there to challenge you.

They want to push you – get you off the couch to exercise, apply to a new job, and get out of an emotionally-risky relationship. When you turn left, friends make you strongly consider turning right.

If all your friends did was bring you cookies and pretend everything was ok, they wouldn’t be too much of a friend (Don’t get me wrong. I’m not refusing cookies). But, take this other scenario: A friend brings over a sharpened sword and says “I want to sword fight” you’d probably run the other direction,right?.

But you can’t. You have to face the friends who present you with challenges. You can’t just run away from it.

That’s pressure. Pressure to remain calm, think about your next move and execute. Do you swing randomly or wait to make the next move? You clashed swords? Try another angle. Go for the knees. Eventually, one of you will win. An idea, trip, perspective, or opinion will be impaled. It’ll die. But, you’ll feel challenged. Challenged by another perspective – another person outside of your personal comfort zone. Challenged by the words you didn’t want to hear.

But, that’s what friends are for.

Friends help you prepare for the bigger battle.

When I hang out with my friends, conversations are deep. They’re about life, finance, relationships, challenges at work, and trying to find happiness in it all. Friends are there to help you train. To face your fears. And to help you realize something you may never have known.

I look for people who challenge me, encourage me to defend my beliefs, and stand-up for what I believe in. Friends who are there for the training and the aftermath. Friends who will go to battle.

Find friends who will help you go to battle.

Because that’s what life is. It’s a battle. And you have to be prepared.


What I Learned After Taking a Month Off From Blogging

Notice the lack of posts, lately? Yep – I took a couple weeks off, just to see what would happen (oh, and handle one hell of a busy holiday season with my mustard company). Not much changed, but I did make a couple observations:

1. One third of my blog’s traffic goes to one blog post

And it’s a blog post that I don’t even want to known for: I Give Up! 7 Reasons I’m Done With Online Dating. It has over 70 comments from people, both male and female, who have been through similar experiences. These are random people writing multiple paragraphs – literally spilling their feelings onto the web. I get 1-2 new comments a week. It blows my mind. But, it’s the only post that really drives traffic to this blog. You can see my other top posts in the sidebar. Basically, for a blog that is meant to be about continuous improvement, happiness, and an honest look at an entrepreneur’s life, the last thing I wanted was a post about online dating to make my blog “famous”. Oh well – what can you do?

2. I’m writing for myself

I totaled up my writing for 2013. I’ve written over 300,000 words across every marketing channel. From blogs to e-books, white papers to sales page copy. And it’s all helping me become a better writer. After all, that is the goal, right? Practice makes perfect. If you do something every day for a prolonged period of time logic says you’ll get better at it. That’s my take. And it’s my new outlook for this blog: I’m writing for myself. Want to read my writing? That’s cool.

3. Make time for activities that generate a return

I have a lot going on: contract work, software company, mustard company, three blogs, family, friends, gym, etc. I know I’m just like every other person out there with a “busy” life, but something has got to go. First on the chopping block are activities where I’m not seeing a return. This blog is tops on the list. While it’s great to have a professional presence on the web, other activities, like my companies, require more attention now. My shift in focus is necessary to be successful in 2014.

4. I have 11 people on my email list (ha-ha?)

And I know 3 of them. On the plus side, one of them isn’t my Mom, either (although she does read this because my posts go directly to Facebook). Back to those 11 people. You read online about “how to grow your email list” and “get 10,000 subscribers in three months!” After realizing number two on this list, it shouldn’t matter how many people are signed up to get my blog posts delivered to their inbox each morning. And I know the number will grow if people find value in what I’m writing. So, I’m letting it grow organically. If you want to sign up, throw your email in that little grey box on the right side of your screen. Thanks!

With that being said, here’s what’s changing moving forward into 2014:

  • I’m writing on my own schedule, when I have something, I feel, needs to be said. Maybe that’s once a month or three times a week. Whatever.
  • I want to encourage conversation on my blog with less emphasis on “building a list” (I have my other blogs for that)
  • And I want my blog to rank for more than just my post about online dating. (But, it is hilarious that its gotten 73 comments.)

Have you learned anything when you stopped doing something you routinely did? Let me know in the comments below — start the discussion off!

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