We’ve been fortunate to host the amazing Ed Mitzen of Fingerpaint Marketing, not just once but twice - first to kick off our inaugural event at the Albany Beahive and then by special request at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Mitzen, a serial entrepreneur, shared insights about making the transition from working for someone else to owning your own company, and repeatedly referred to the importance of family. In fact, it was a family incident that caused Mitzen to walk away from his job and strike out on his own.
Recounting the occasion, Mitzen recalls being exhausted with an overly full schedule, working and traveling 60 hours a week. One night, while watching his infant son, the child rolled off the bed, and although thankfully he wasn’t hurt, Mitzen recalled his eyes filling with tears and feeling like "a crappy Dad" because he wasn't home more. "If I was at work I felt like I should be at home, if I was at home I felt like I should be at work".
The next Monday Ed left that job and never looked back, going on to build four marketing companies totaling over $200 million in combined revenue.
Losing his father unexpectedly as a teen greatly influenced Ed; "Life is too short and it can end at a moment's notice". He has been intentional about creating enjoyable work environments, and at Fingerpaint there are no offices or titles. The building, a former Borders bookstore, is an expanse of open space contributing to an atmosphere of collaboration. Noting that the advertising industry can be "a tough grind", Ed has worked hard to build a "culture of appreciation", including giving away movie tickets or ordering pizza for the office. "The little things you do for people go further than a salary increase.
"We spend so much time at work; it should be as enjoyable as it can be. If you're not having fun and not enjoying yourself, you should go do something else." He even helps employees find other jobs if they decide that Fingerpaint isn't a good fit.
Some tips that helped drive Ed to success:
Attitude about being an entrepreneur
- I always felt if I worked really, really hard good things would happen; I would rise and fall on my own, and control my own destiny
- "The hardest part about starting a company is just jumping into the pool. Once you decide you're going to do it you get up, put your pants on like you have every other day of your life and you go to work and you figure it out."
- "At the end of the day it's on you - you've got to love the business more than anybody."
Something that surprised him about being a business owner?
- “The first time I hired an employee, and when 5:00 PM came she packed up her things to go and I got the realization that to her it was just a job - she didn't love it like I did; it wasn't her dream or life's ambition to own a company, like it was to me.”
Something that delights him about being a business owner?
- “Sense of pride that we’re able to give people so many jobs. It’s really very rewarding to look around and see 80-90 people that have jobs helping to pay bills, paying for their kid's school as a result of the company.”
- “Seeing people that legitimately enjoy working together.”
Ever think about throwing in the towel?
- “No - fear of failure has always been a great motivator for me.”
Finally, Ed shared the following tips for students or "wanna-be-preneurs" wanting to start a business:
- Businesses fail because people don’t understand the business; so make sure that you go into an area that you know something about.
- As a student don’t think you have to start a business right after college, in most cases you're not qualified to start anything.
- Have patience and cultivate your skills rather than attitude of 'I’ve got this really cool idea for an app that I’ll sell for $4, everyone will download, and I’ll be living on the beach.'