Entrepreneurship with TOTAL WINDOW’S CEO, Jesse Stolow

Jesse is an avid entrepreneur who likes working with other small business owners to help grow and strengthen their businesses. He enjoys developing business strategy and process that helps ensure growth for Total Window as well as other business endeavors.

How did your entrepreneurial journey start?

The start of my journey – I never wanted to be a lawyer or doctor which were the two other professions in my family that you could go into. From an early age I wanted to be in business, and I always thought of business opportunities in terms of having an idea for a new product or service. I never wanted to work for somebody else, or go through the corporate structure. But I never knew that it meant I was an entrepreneur. When I was at in grade school, my friend and I were always coming up with different ideas, and we opened up our own “DJs In A Box” business. It was not an incorporated business but rather just a fun business, and we did not really make good money.

At college I decided to study business and applied to Cornell University. At the University I focused on small business entrepreneurship and management, and then within that business program I took classes that were geared towards entrepreneurship and marketing. A lot of my classmates went the financial route and onto all the financial firms in New York, but I never felt like I wanted to work for a big company and deal with all its politics. I also never really knew what I wanted to focus on. I always tried to come up with new business ideas and products. As I have learnt more through my life, I have realized what I really am is an entrepreneur. I am passionate about generating ideas, managing things and motivating people. I do a decent job with getting people inspired. Being an entrepreneur is very different from being a business owner. Starting a business and running a business are very different, and I think a lot of entrepreneurs do not take time to figure out the next steps, to have a strategy or plan.

What was the reason behind pursuing a family business?

I had an opportunity to start working at our family business – Total Window. My farther started the company 30 years ago, and about 10 years ago I started working with my farther. I came to work at the family business because I was young and lazy. I quit my first job out of college, where I worked for somebody else. I did not have an income or savings, and starting a new idea or business was difficult at that time. So my father came to me and asked me to join the family business. The rest is history. At that time, I was still working on other initiatives with my friends, including T-shirt printing. It started as a side project, and at some point we we decided that we could really make this business work if we were all willing to drop everything else and focus on this opportunity full time. None of us were. Being an entrepreneur – you either are all in or you are not. At a certain point in life as you continue to develop your idea you have to make a choice and decide whether it is something you want to do. If so, do it. Otherwise, keep it as a hobby or move on. At that point, we were not willing to make that leap to run the T-shirt company. That’s when I stepped fully back to Total Window. What I do today at Total Window is very different from entrepreneurship; at times it is not as innovative and creative, it is managing people and process.

How does the idea of entrepreneurship fall into day to day operation of the company?

At Total Window we have grown tremendously, and I fulfill the position of the ‘Chief Everything Officer’ because I oversee marketing, finance, human resources, IT, strategy, sales, and operations. I am responsible for making sure that everything gets done in the right way. The role of the CEO is to motivate, inspire and hold people accountable. In my current role I have learnt a lot about inspiring and motivating people. A lot of the time entrepreneurs create an idea and strategy, and six months later they wake up and realize that they’ve been a running a business for the last half year. Many entrepreneurs lose interest because they realize they are not entrepreneurs anymore. You must recognize that there are two different parts of your brain and if you have the skills to be an entrepreneur, you might not have skills to be a business owner or manager.

We did not become immediately successful. The success that we now have at Total Window is a result of the last 30 years of hard work. We have a good foundation, a developed a process, and continue to developed the right people. Hiring the right people, identifying the proper job description for that seat, finding people who believe in your core values. These are the important steps. And if you find people who believe in what you believe – the core values of the organization, and if they get excited about the job description you’ve put together, then in many instances they can be self-motivated to do their work. In these circumstances, you do not have to provide a lot financial compensation or other incentives because they are passionate about what they are doing. For a long time I hated the fact that I worked at a window treatment company because it is not glamorous or the most romantic thing in the universe to sell blinds. And my father tried to have me recognize that it did not really matter what it was we were selling because what I am most passionate about is the art of creating the business. And as I have learnt for the past 10 years, what I do (being in a family business that takes an idea and creates a physical, tangible thing that people get value from) is absolutely glamorous and inspirational. I get the most daily enjoyment from putting together a business structure that my team can use, so they can wake up in the morning and do the things they love to do.

You’ve mentioned that it is hard to focus on several initiatives at a time. But as you further grow and structure the company, do you think that the idea of entrepreneurship will surface in other initiatives?

I am very lucky that I was able to come into a well-established business, and that I was given an opportunity to make it better. My goal over the next 10 or more years is to grow my company, so we can become the brand that people think about for providing a natural light solution in their home. My goal is to capture 10% of the entire market, and have offices and showrooms in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. We will dominate in offering a complete solution for luxury window treatments. As I’m actively working on this plan, I am also building the structure, foundation, and getting management in place so I do not have to be managing the company day to day. Then I can pursue other initiatives that I think will add value to the organization. As an example, within the next couple of years we will build a commercial division of our company.

Do you have a mentor or a person who has impacted your life greatly?

Certainly my father as we both run the family business, and I love getting his perspective on the way he has developed the business versus to what it is now. There is also a gentlemen named Arnold Goldman who is my business coach. We talk monthly and he helps to me to set and stick to goals. He also facilitates an organization called The Alternative Board, a group of business owners where we advise each other, talk about our goals and challenges, and we hold each other accountable.

Do you have a favorite book?

I am a big fan of The E-Myth by Michael E Gerber. This book changed the way I think about my business. I also absolutely love the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

What do you think of failure?

I think in our global culture today we are so keen on the idea of winning and being victorious that we do not stop and recognize that we need to fail, we need to make mistakes. I have had a lot of failures and will have many more. There was a book that I read that speaks of the idea of firing bullets before you fire cannons. When it comes to business ideas, you should really focus on how you can test the idea before you put all of your resources and energy into it. It is better to fail small than to fail big. But you must be comfortable with failing. When I am faced with a challenge, I bring people to the table who are much smarter than me. When we have a production problem, for example, I am usually not the one who solves the problem. I usually get everyone together and we figure out a solution.

Tell me more about radio initiative.

I had an opportunity to take my passion for business and talk about it on the radio which is how Entertaining Business came to be. I love the fact that I get to talk to people every week, I get to present my point of view, and I would love to turn it into something bigger. Today I have one show per week on Tuesday evenings at 7 pm. at a local radio station. We also podcast the show for others to listen to around the world. We have people who have subscribed as far away as South Korea. In the future, I would like to host a TV game/talk show where I would interview people and have a fun competition involving the mind.

Any closing thoughts?

You need to do the things that make you happy. Be sure you make yourself happy first before you make other people happy. The world of entrepreneurs is not for everybody. Be honest with yourself and recognize that you might like the idea of it, you might like the romantic concept of being an entrepreneur, but it is not for everybody. If you are an entrepreneur, embrace the quirks and the stress and the unknown and the excitement that comes from getting others inspired by your vision. If you are not, congratulations! Find your true passion and stick to it.

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