7 Lessons Learned from 20 Years in Entrepreneurship

Article by Frank F Lunn, Founder and CEO of Kahuna Business Group, the parent company of Kahuna Accounting.

Celebrating 20 Years with Kahuna Business Group – 7 Lessons I’ve Learned, Lived and am Honored to Share

Time flies when you’re growing.

November 2015 marks a personal milestone as I am blessed to be celebrating my 20th year in business. Like most things, my business and I have both changed dramatically in those twenty years.

In 1995, while still working a full-time job, I co-founded Community Merchant Services (CMS) with a friend from college and a friend of his I barely knew (a different lesson for a different day). I was a district manager for a convenient store chain and spent most of my days driving all over Central Illinois with early mornings, nights and weekends reserved for working on CMS. This was essentially two full-time jobs while providing minimal help to my wonderful and very understanding wife who was raising our toddler while pregnant with our second child.

The name change from CMS to Kahuna Business Group started more as a joke than a planned name change. After kidding with our lawyer about this next opportunity possibly being the “big kahuna,” he crossed NEWCO off the paperwork and wrote ‘Kahuna’. As a lark, we started using the Kahuna logo with the wave and surfboard combination and the theme quickly caught on. At tradeshows and industry events people started identifying us as “the Kahuna guys.”

As I learned, I started seeing the mistakes I was making and how I wanted to change as a business and as an entrepreneur. I didn’t want to learn and create something just for myself and family, but rather to learn, live, and then share the knowledge. It didn’t actually start out that way, but it has now developed as an integral part of Kahuna Business Group’s identity. Instead of trying to make ourselves “the big kahuna,” our focus is to help our clients and partners be “the big kahuna.”

Even though CMS started in credit card and merchant services and added ATMs a few years later, I was never as passionate about the industry we were in as much as I loved business and the entrepreneurial journey. I found my passion and calling in helping other entrepreneurs achieve their victories and accomplish their goals.

In 2005, although still in the ATM business, we officially branched out beyond the ATM portion of our business. We started a transition into a managed services company to support the journey of entrepreneurship and business — what is now Kahuna Business Group, Inc.

I’m blessed with a great team and we’ve learned a lot along the way. We are still learning today. Reflecting back over two decades of entrepreneurship and business building, a few lessons stick out more than others. Below is a highlight of seven significant lessons I’ve learned over the past twenty years.

#1. Brand Intentionally

Today we continue to grow and evolve as an organization, but more importantly, as enTREPreneurs. The name Kahuna was born out of a flippant “big kahuna” comment, but now it powers our mission and intention as a business. Kahuna has meaning for our team and our responsibility in our mission to serve our clients.

Our brand is obviously much more than just a name. On our bright yellow wall that each employee walks past every day, we have this message:

 

This branding starts with our employees and resonates through everything we do. We’re in this for the people we serve. Although it may have been born by chance, Kahuna Business Group would not be where we are today without building a brand intentionally.

#2. We Are NOT the Hero

I had the pleasure of attending Donald Miller’s StoryBrand Marketing Workshop earlier this year. It was practical and it was powerful. One of the main takeaways is in teaching entrepreneurs that we are NOT the hero. Our customers and clients are the hero. If we are to be successful, we need to be the trusted guide and let those we serve be the victor. Yes, we can still be in the movie, but as Yoda rather than Luke.

Branding and self-promotion often come naturally to entrepreneurs. Still, many of us lose sight of why we’re in business in the first place – to serve others. This needs to be reflected in all aspects of our business, especially marketing. Our customers are our heroes, and we should treat them as such. This transition, important it is.

#3. Know Your D#@& Numbers! — The Importance of Keeping Score

As a sports fan, one of the most annoying parts of listening to a game on the radio is not knowing the score. It’s what sets the tone for the entire game and tells you if you are ahead or behind and what you need to win. It isn’t a lot of fun to watch a sport, or participate, if you don’t know how to keep score.

For many years, I really didn’t know our score – our financials. Sure, we had financials done and would check out the P&L and balance sheet, but I really didn’t know what the numbers meant. From theft to poor accounting systems to not knowing what actually created profit and about 50 other things, I am embarrassed with how long it took me to realize the importance of accounting and keeping score.

Not making this a priority was essentially “stupid tax” I voluntarily paid; ouch! My joke with our team (only to mask the pain) is that I am convinced we actually lost a million dollars long before we ever made a million dollars.

Whatever your goals are and wherever you want to take your business, you have to know how to play the game, how to keep score and how to always know the score at all times if you want to win. Don’t volunteer to pay stupid tax!

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#4. Build a Team of Inside Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs by nature are intentional, bold and resolute! An individual can be an entrepreneur without quitting their job, but it takes an intentional mindset to create an environment willing to allow employees to do that. Not everyone is a natural entrepreneur or identifies as such, but everyone can learn the skillset to be entrepreneurial in their life and in their work. Noun versus adjective is a small distinction with big impact.

At Kahuna, we bring in entrepreneurs to work with us. We hire great people expecting them to learn and grow in their profession. We teach and expect them to think in creative and unconventional ways to improve our ability to deliver value to those we serve. Our team practices inside entrepreneurship in helping our customers and clients understand what “victory” looks like in our business relationship and then in creatively delivering on our promise.

Instead of trying to compete against entrepreneurs, our goal is to recruit and develop them – many times disguised in the role of an employee. This is not a simple process — it is a constant process, leading to the next lesson.

#5. 3 Keys to Achieving Fulfilling Success: Learning, Living & Sharing

At Kahuna, we believe in “learn, live, share” as three core ingredients as well as a strategy for leadership and entrepreneurial success. We are constantly seeking information and resources for improving ourselves, our team, our product/service and our overall business. We do this on a daily basis (learn). We then apply the information and resources to the delivery of value and the practice within our business (live). The most important aspect of this process is the transfer and teaching of others (share) – using real-life knowledge and experiences as we help others.

This applies to our customers and clients as we distill knowledge and information into practical application, resources and service. We also apply it to our team and in our own understanding of what it means to be an entrepreneur and/or entrepreneurial. When we fall short, make a mistake and even when we have the epic fail, we can still apply the “learn, live, share” methodology to improve for the next opportunity.

This has served our business well and continues to improve in each new addition to our team. Learning, living and sharing is also a practice ensuring we leave a legacy for providing real value beyond products or profits. We want our legacy to be in the people with whom we align; equipping them to be entrepreneurial in the workplace as well as in their life journey.

#6. Learning to Discover & Develop Talent

To find talent you can develop, you sometimes have to look in odd places and be willing to do things others aren’t.

We affectionately refer to our leadership team as the “Island of Misfit Toys”. Within our core leadership team we have some eclectic backgrounds including a journalist, karate instructor, legal secretary, music major, corporate pilot, construction worker, Bobby (British Police officer) and even a CPA. Ok, that may be the exception to prove the rule. Developing talent takes patience and thinking differently about the roles and positions needing filled.

The truth is talent is not just what you find, it is what you choose to develop. We all bring baggage and our fair share of good, bad and ugly to our career and workplace. Finding hidden gems and even diamonds in the rough is an intentional mindset. It is the long game without shortcuts.

#7. The “Why” Behind Capital

We started this journey 20 years ago with no capital other than what we could borrow from 11 credit cards in my wife’s name (another story for another day). We had four cards for month one, four for month two and then three reserved to pay off month one. This was dicey and not recommended, but we cycled beyond this into earned income, yet the need for capital become more intense at every turn. Over the past 20 years we have been in about every conceivable situation related to capital and I’ve spent most of my entrepreneurial career with capital as a constant challenge.

Although a slow learner, I finally began to realize I was focusing on the wrong thing. I worried more about the mechanics and how we would raise money than the “why?” behind the need. Knowing “why” you’re raising capital with the risks and opportunities involved along with consequences of debt will help you avoid mistakes.

Bonus- Enjoy the Journey!

I’m a vision guy and think often about the future. I reflect fondly on the past and twenty exciting years. I’m not great, but I like the idea I’m getting better about living in the moment; enjoying each day.

I’m incredibly grateful for the journey I’ve been on since 1995. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this wonderful grand adventure of learning, living & sharing the journey of entrepreneurship in life, business & legacy. I’m proud of our team — thankful beyond measure for the companies we are building together within the brand of “Kahuna” as well as “TREPX” (enTREPreneurial X-Factor) – I’m ready and excited for the next 20 years!

Photo credit for flowers: www.irw.co.uk/media/120233/dynamics-crm-flowers-growth.jpg

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