#VCThoughts | Building Good Culture And Why It Drives This Entrepreneur

Posted on April 20, 2020
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By Millie Ward, President of Stone Ward and The Venture Center Board Member

I think those of us who are entrepreneurs realize, after a time, that much of what drives us to take the risks required to start and grow a business or businesses originates deep inside of us. It is something we discover sometime between adolescence and adulthood, and something we ultimately react to when opportunity knocks. For me, the opportunity came from two seasoned entrepreneurs who offered me a chance to join them in forming a new advertising agency – the agency that later became Stone Ward.

Many articles have been written about the common characteristics of an entrepreneur and always on the list, in some form, are these: motivation, determination, creativity, persuasiveness, vision, versatility, risk-tolerance and decisiveness. For me, the motivation came from a shared desire between my partner, Larry Stone, and myself to build a better ad agency than many we had encountered. The most important factor for both of us was to build our business with vision, mission and values that would survive and flourish over time.

We were confident that, between the two of us, there was sufficient talent for both creativity and persuasiveness. Risk-tolerance was innate in our decision to start our company in 1984. Determination is what kept us going, even during the loss of important clients and revenue and on days when we questioned whether or not we could make payroll, much less pay ourselves. My dad called this “dogged determination,” and it’s been a part of me since early childhood.

Through the years, we’ve adapted and honed our instincts when it comes to decisiveness and versatility. I’ve told people many times that in our 36 years, Stone Ward has been at least 10 different companies – not in our core competencies, but very much in the people, technology, tools and channels required to keep our business relevant and thriving.

Another critical lesson we learned in our experience is that no entrepreneur ever walks alone. Our faith coupled with the kindness of mentors, friends, partners, investors, community influencers, our own company leaders, and so many others have contributed to building Stone Ward into the company we are today. A company we identify as a “creative force for good, building partnerships, people, ideas and community.” Any question about what drives Stone Ward and me are answered in this purpose statement.

Why is building a strong culture with values that come from an entrepreneur’s passion so important? Many of the entrepreneurs I respect the most each started with a strong foundational belief about more than just what they wanted to do, the success they wanted to accomplish, or the money they wanted to make. They predominantly started with WHO they wanted to be, the people around them who shared their purpose, and in many cases, how that could empower others to pursue their passion and keep the circle of success growing exponentially.

This purpose-based approach to starting and running a company is trending now more than ever before. The deterioration of trust in our society and our economy makes trustworthy companies and people stand out and statistically gives these companies and brands a higher chance to succeed long-term.

According to a recent study by the Bureau of Statistics, around half of small businesses in America fail within the first four years. It takes a special kind of person to be an entrepreneur – to come up with an idea and put that idea into action, or to follow an established idea, such as buying a franchise and making it work in a given market. It is a rare talent that only between 1 and 10 percent of all working Americans have, which is why I am in awe of every one of them.

 So, what ultimately drives an entrepreneur? It is different from one person to the next. From my perspective, it is critical to know yourself, your abilities and your resources. It is also pivotal to know your own willingness to work harder and longer than the next guy or gal, and the strength and marketability of your idea(s). And it is crucial to follow your heart. My partner, Larry Stone, has a saying he likes to use when talking about the importance of starting a business based on your values. He says “it pays to be born well,” meaning that the decisions you make when founding your business often set the course for its future.

What drives you as an entrepreneur? For many, living your business purpose is at the top of the list.