We had the good fortune of connecting with Shawn Solinko and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shawn, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I often hear people state that they want to start and manage their own business. My first question is “What do you want to do?” followed up by “What’s your experience in that industry?
“How do I get started?” Is another common question these people ask. They immediately want to fill out paperwork and form an LLC, as if this signals they are officially open for business.
I’m not convinced these new entrepreneurs have the knowledge and skills to manage their business nor the basic knowledge of starting a business. My response is a simple “Go work for someone else for five years.”, which always falls on deaf ears.
My entrepreneurship experience began in childhood where my father ran multiple sole-proprietorships. I admired his ability to create these business entities with buildings, equipment, employees, and customers. I obviously worked for these businesses and learned valuable skills, specifically discipline and a general knowledge and understanding of the trades.
When not working these hands-on jobs for my father during my high school years, I’d spend time indoors learning how to develop websites and write computer programs.
At University I studied computer science before switching to the School of Business for a faster route to graduation. I already knew how to program and everything one needs to learn is freely available on the Internet. $X0,000+ dollars later I graduated with a B.S. in Entrepreneurship.
While attending University, I worked for a Christmas lighting company. Apparently suburbanites don’t own ladders and would rather spend their weekends doing anything other than installing Christmas lights on their homes. Where I grew up, everyone did as much as possible themselves; they mow their own grass, clean their own homes, and hang their own Christmas lights. Not everyone else in the world has the same knowledge, ideas, skills, or resources that a certain individual has. Judging others based on your own personal terrain is ripe for failure. People do pay to have their Christmas lights installed. They pay enough that I could work for two months in the fall to pay for all of my education and living expenses. I continued to work for my father in the summers and I was frugal with my money.
Armed with my website and programming knowledge, I created a lead-generation website for the Christmas lighting company I was working for throughout college. My website had a search engine results page presence in multiple cities where I sold leads.
After graduating University, I had the knowledge, skills, and resources to start my own Christmas lighting company. I could install, I knew where to buy product, I could design, quote, and sell displays, and I had leads from my website. All I needed was a van and ladder.
Rather than continuing employment with the current company, I wanted the freedom to make my own choices and implement my own ideas. Additional money wasn’t the incentive; it was the bi-product of developing good systems. I could have made more money working as an employee for a number of years.
I do continue to add products and services to my core business, in which I may have limited experience. I lack the capacity to work for someone else at this point. Instead for these services, I draw upon my own personal capital.
For example, we started renting lit “marquee letters”, which are letters with light bulbs. I learned woodworking skills from my father, invested in wood working equipment for a hobby, I had connections for factories to manufacture my unique light bulbs, I even had design experience in 3D modeling programs. Designing and manufacturing these within my realm of experience.
To the next person wanting to start their own business: Market and sell your current skills to a paying customer. If you don’t have skills, go work for someone else and learn them, and in your free time develop more skills. With your discretionary income, buy assets that can be used to make money.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
As we have limited knowledge about others, we tend to create assumptions based on our own personal experience. When this experience is lacking, it’s difficult to judge other’s competencies. We could compare our observations of one against another. Though I’ve never operated a cash register, I’ve observed many people using the machines. I can tell if one individual is more experienced than another. In fields where we lack this personal knowledge or observations, it’s difficult to decide if a person or company is competent. In my business, I’ve learned that customers have little knowledge about our service and assume that all companies in my industry are the same. “I could hire an electrician to hang lights on the building!” Good luck! Myself and my crew-leads been installing lights for over 15 years in multiple states on thousands of projects. We won’t even hire our competitors’ best installers as assistant technicians. A layperson may not be able to differentiate between different businesses, but from someone who is a professional in the Industry, I can attest we are the best.
Getting to this point takes time. I still learn and adapt each year. Easy? For me, sure. For most people, definitely not. What I do isn’t complicated. Coding a website is easy compared to the work AI researches are doing for Google. Hanging Christmas lights is much easier than designing a new SMD chip used in the light bulbs we hang. Of course our work is harder than stocking shelves. When one has knowledge, skills and resources, tasks aren’t too hard. It’s when these perquisites are lacking that the task becomes difficult.
There’s a common theme to the success in everything I do: skills. Learn them.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I moved to the Atlanta area because I have extended family here and it isn’t supposed to snow. I spend most of my time at the office and the warehouse and avoid going anywhere between waking hours and 11 AM and 3PM to 7 PM, unless someone is paying me. I go to the same three fast-casual restaurants closest to me. I don’t spend time or money going out to eat or drinking. I don’t go exploring and don’t spend money on consumable entertainment.
But if I felt obligated to entertain someone for a week, I’d give a tour of the workshop, office, and warehouse. We’d probably do a marquee letter delivery, spend some time coding, maybe work on designing or building my RV.
Since I live and work in Alpharetta, we’d go to any of the restaurants in Downtown Alpharetta or the Avalon, maybe Roswell, though I’ve only been there twice, so I’m not sure what’s there.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The Christmas Light Professionals | www.thelightpros.com