John Henry is a an entrepreneur, founder of the non-profit incubator Cofound Harlem, and a Venture Partner at Harlem Capital Partners. At 2017 Propelify Innovation Festival, he offered his entrepreneurial wisdom and observations about pursuing passions up to the crowd. Here are John’s three mantras that will inspire you to go after your own dreams with passion, integrity, and hustle.
John’s parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States, and his father worked as a presser at a dry cleaner to pay the bills. At a young age, John recalled visiting his father in the dry cleaner, and his father showing him a blazer with wrinkles in a hard-to-notice spot. His father told him he could send the blazer out as is to the customer. Instead, he took the time to press the hardly visible wrinkles out. Why?
“The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”
Whether you’re in the throes of launching a business, or cranking away at a a day job to save money for a passion project, your approach to tasks both big and small sets a precedent. Take your time, do great work, and put your best foot forward in everything you do. Doing your best will not only make you a better person and business owner in the long run, an excellent work ethic will attract the right people, partners, and opportunities to your side along the way.
John sold his first business, an on demand laundry service catering to the film & television industry in New York City, for $1 million at the age of 21. But, before that, John worked as a doorman. And in the early days of starting his laundry company, John exploited his connections with fellow doormen to build clientele and gain relationships.
When a resident at a building learned John did dry cleaning, he took John to the set of the Wolf of Wall Street film. After entrusting John to handle the laundry needs for the film, this resident introduced him to more client leads in the film industry – and business blossomed. By using his personal network, John not only discovered an underserved niche, he eventually built up his entire business around that niche, eventually earning $100,000 a month in revenue.
“It doesn’t make sense for me to go toe to toe with someone who’s 6 ‘5 and 300 pounds,” John said. “Instead of trying to compete with bigger, faster companies, find your own niche. What’s a small area you can focus on?”
Untapped areas in otherwise crowded markets abound. What’s the small niche your service or product could serve? And how can you use your network to find and tap into that niche?
When you’re just starting out, or attempting to do something you’ve never done before, it can be extremely tempting to ask anyone and everyone for their feedback. And although the advice of accomplished mentors and trusted friends or colleagues can be invaluable, it’s also vital to learn to trust your own intuition for your business.
“I’m a V.C. now, and after 20 minutes, I can give someone the best feedback I can in that pocket of time. But does someone you sat down with for 20 minutes really know your business better than you do?” John said. “No one’s been through the exact same collection of experiences, and met the same people as you. No one’s had your path. What you bring to the table is fresh. Do it your own way.”
Asking for advice to validate decisions is a waste of time for you and your mentor. Your perspective, skills, and experiences are unique and valuable, even if they aren’t backed up by years of experience. Own who you are, trust yourself, and the “right” business decisions for will naturally follow.
Watch highlights from John's talk at the 2017 Propelify Innovation Festival:
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