3 Tips for Entrepreneurial Success from Bill Rancic

When the first season of The Apprentice aired back in 2004, I remember tuning in each week to watch the aspiring apprentices from across the country take on different business challenges, all in the name of entrepreneurship. It was mesmerizing and inspiring. I remember how lucky I thought Chicago-native Bill Rancic was when Donald Trump told him “You’re Hired!”

I was fortunate to finally have the chance to hear Bill Rancic speak at the Small Business Expo held at Navy Pier on April 9, 2015. Bill has lived through some of the most interesting entrepreneurial experiences, from launching a cigar of the month club, to being on reality TV, to constructing Trump Tower Chicago and being a restaurateur. Bill is the definition of an entrepreneur, and his insight lived up to every expectation I had.

Here are the 3 key lessons to entrepreneurial success that I learned from Bill Rancic’s story.

1. Practical Execution

Actions speak louder than words. Unless you’re actively doing and executing, it doesn’t matter what you say. Bill’s father used to tell him that it’s okay if you make a mistake, but it’s never okay if you don’t try. To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to go the extra mile. “Be the first guy up and last to leave. When you’re tired, make that extra phone call.” If you don’t take action and don’t execute on your ideas, then it doesn’t mean anything.

2. Be a Conductor 

One key lesson Bill learned from his mentor Donald Trump was that to be a successful entrepreneur you need to be a conductor. An orchestra conductor is not an expert of all instruments, but instead a conductor knows how to get all of the musical experts to work together to make beautiful music. In fact, if conductors tried to play all of the instruments and do it all themselves, it wouldn’t work.

The same applies to entrepreneurial leaders. To be successful, you need to let go of your ego and rely on your team of partners, employees and mentors. You should orchestrate all the pieces and lead rather than micro-managing or trying to do everything yourself.

3. Convert Risk into Success

In reference to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bill said to always do what you’re afraid to do and success will find you. He spoke to reverse engineering your life – twenty years from now, will your future kids or grandkids be proud of who you are and what you’ve done?

It’s important to avoid telling yourself what you want to hear. Make sure you are honest to tap into your potential. Just like when we listen to our voices recorded back on a message or video, it’s a shock to hear what we actually sound like. In our minds, we believe we sound a certain way, but it can come as a surprise to hear that our voice doesn’t sound quite how we imagine it. Only when you accept reality will you be able to be successful.

When Bill was first launching his cigar of the month club, he was struggling to get exposure, and customers. In a clever marketing move, he shipped a letter, cigars and a pair of coke bottle glasses that he taped a note to which referenced taking a closer look. He sent this to radio shows and eventually got the exposure that brought in the customers needed to ensure the success of his company. Bill had to hustle and execute to get things done, take risks and coordinate the success of all the moving pieces. Take a lesson from Bill’s experience and be on you’re on your way closing deals and paving your own entrepreneurial journey.

Originally published on LinkedIn. 


Studying Entrepreneurship Doesn’t Make You An Entrepreneur

Doctors go to school to be a doctor. Accountants go to school to become accountants. Entrepreneurs go to school to…start a business? Unfortunately, graduating with a degree in entrepreneurship doesn’t come with a great business idea or LLC hidden inside your diploma.

Every year, tens of thousands of young bright-minded students enter collegiate entrepreneurship programs. Here in Chicago, there are three of the top 25 entrepreneurship programs for graduates in the country: DePaul University, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago. Less than a three-hour drive away, there are strong programs at Bradley University, Illinois State University, Northern Illinois University, and Millikin University. The value of an education is tangible and proven, but how do entrepreneurship programs help students actually start a business?

While it’s not a guarantee that school will create entrepreneurs, university-based entrepreneurship centers and programs provide opportunities, resources, and an ecosystem that needs to be taken advantage of by students in order to maximize the value of their entrepreneurial education.

I studied entrepreneurship in college. While going to school, I was very involved on campus and in the Peoria community. I worked with several startups and spent time in the local innovation center, which was also a startup incubator. I graduated from Bradley University’s entrepreneurship program in 2008. Later that year, I enrolled in the MBA program at DePaul University in Chicago to focus more intensely on entrepreneurship. Having six years of higher education in entrepreneurship is valuable, but it doesn’t guarantee a career as a successful entrepreneur.

After graduating from DePaul, I took a position with the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization to work with young entrepreneurs and business faculty across the country. Now as Director of Community Engagement for the Future Founders Foundation and by leading the development and launch of its collegiate division, College Founders, I’m able to work with the most passionate and successful young student entrepreneurs in the Chicagoland area. After nearly a decade, I know the true value of an entrepreneurial ecosystem within a university setting, as supported by the community. While you can learn many trades in the classroom, true entrepreneurial lessons are learned through experiences, trial and failure, and taking advantage of opportunities.

An investment in an entrepreneurship education only pays dividends if it’s fully utilized both in and out of the classroom. Whether it’s through internships, competitions, mentorships, networking in the community, hackathons or startup events, being in a club or professional society, or even just pursuing an idea, students need to experience as many entrepreneurial opportunities as possible to complement the lessons learned in the classroom. Although it can lead to launching a business, studying entrepreneurship in college is no guarantee. Entrepreneurs have to overcome obstacles and work tirelessly to achieve their dreams.


See the original version of this post on LinkedIn here.


“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.”    – Keith Ferrazzi

Networking goes beyond meeting people and collecting business cards. It’s more than meetings and getting coffee. Networking is making friends and building real relationships. It can happen in unexpected places and doesn’t always involved “business.” At the heart of it must be your willingness to help others and expect nothing in return.

The Reward of Learning: What’s Broken In Our Education System

I was recently inspired by Daniya Kamran’s TEDxIIT talk on “Ideation as a Reward in STEM” (you can watch it for yourself here). Daniya is a very intelligent and passionate female leader and her talk went straight to the heart of why education is failing, in particular for STEM-based fields – science, technology, engineering and math. Essentially, she explained that the process of learning, exploring, and discovering needs to become the reward of pursuing education; students need to “fall in love with the idea of creating ideas.”

Listening to Daniya’s talk really resonated with my experience and beliefs as to how entrepreneurship is and should be taught. Entrepreneurs are typically classified as having an extreme amount of passion, tolerance for risk and uncertainty, a unique vision of the future and most importantly the tendency to break rules and go against the norm. However, if we are to teach students to be and act like entrepreneurs, why do entrepreneurial courses force these students to stick to rigid curriculum structures bound by typical grading scales that train students to think within the system? Where is the innovation and creativity? If we expect students to become entrepreneurs, then we need to train them to act like entrepreneurs, and this requires creating environments in classroom settings that don’t treat them like average employees. As Daniya said about STEM, it is the process of learning, creating, and actually doing that needs to be taught. By giving students ownership of this process, they will be excited to learn and excited to pursue their career, which in turn will lead to passionate people being internally inspired to impact the world.