Experience is the best teacher. In this Entrepreneurship Interview Series, we’re going to share stories from your peers about their lessons learned as successful entrepreneurs.
Enjoy this inspiring story about courage, challenge, and staying true to yourself in our interview with Shaun Trudell. Shaun is the President of Automation Arts, an AV technologies firm in Madison, Wisconsin.
We ask him three questions about his entrepreneurship story and what people can learn from it.
Triumph Wealth: If you could give the “you of 20 years ago” one piece of entrepreneurship advice, what would it be?
Trudell: It’s important for entrepreneurs to not be afraid to fail. A lot of people who are close to you will tell you that it can’t be done. “Why would you want to give up a good job to start your own business?” people asked me. Don’t listen to the people who tell you that you can’t do something.
Figure out if and how you want to work with your business partner. There are positives to going into business with someone else. You’re not the one strapped with all of the late nights. You’re not the one coming up with all the capital. You aren’t the only one putting sweat equity into the business to get it started.
Very much like a marriage, there has to be total transparency between business partners. You have to have very specific expectations set forth when you go into business with someone. There has to be complete clarity as to where the money is going. Define the roles right in the beginning. What’s your role, what’s my role, what are we both responsible for?
Money is the biggest thing that will drive a wedge between people. In one of my early ventures, I caught my business partner embezzling money from me. If you have doubts about the person, remember you can always go into business by yourself.
Triumph Wealth: What was the biggest “crossroads moment” in terms of your success as an entrepreneur? Would you have done it differently if you could relive that moment over again?
Trudell: I am a minority business owner at Automation Arts. When I started there as an employee seven years ago, they had just come out of the recession. I was approached as someone who could put the pieces together and start rebuilding the reputation, brand, and processes that were missing within the company.
I was working for American TV at the time. Being very entrepreneurial in mindset and a risk-taker, I saw the opportunity. I had worked for Automation Arts as a technician many years before. Everybody I talked to, even my employer at the time, said I was crazy. How could you leave a $300 million business and go to a small business with only four people?
But I saw the blank slate. I saw it as an opportunity to take what I’d learned from my last 14 years in the industry and use it to build the business back up. The new owner was not from the industry, but he saw potential in the company’s longstanding history and reputation and believed in it. The excitement for me was that I could make a huge difference.
With everything in my career, I’ve always wanted to be challenged. I’ve always wanted to do more. I’ve always wanted to provide more, to grow. I knew I could fall flat on my face and take away valuable experiences from it, or it could be wildly successful, and I could be a part of it. I was all in.
Triumph Wealth: Do you think ending your business will be as hard as entering (or starting) it?
Trudell: This is a work in progress as I’m not expecting the current owner to exit for ten to 15 years and then myself in another ten. So that would give me about 20 years to get this all figured out. I have already begun thinking about the plan.
I have a unique scenario where I’ll get to process a lot of the succession planning through the current owner. It depends on their exit strategy and how it involves me. If in a decade or so, if I become the 100% owner, the question will then become how I repeat the process of handing down with the successor that I appoint.
I’d like to back out slowly and enjoy those retirement years while still being involved somehow in the business. I don’t sit well. A lot of my hobbies, unfortunately, are work-related. I’ll need something to be involved with instead of sitting home. You can only fish so much before you say, “enough’s enough.”
What’s your entrepreneurship story? Contact us if you’d like to be interviewed as the next guest in our blog series.