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Bob McKnight’s business tips

By Tiffany Montgomery
October 15, 2007 5:42 AM

During my interview with Bob McKnight last week, I asked him to share some business advice for entrepreneurs. He teaches classes on the subject at UCI, USC and other schools around Southern California.

During 30 plus years, he's built Quiksilver's business in the U.S. and globally to $2.5 billion in annual revenue. Bob's only other jobs besides Quiksilver were working as a bartender at The Cannery in Newport Beach and a waiter at the Red Onion.

Here's his advice, in his own words, for anyone who wants to start their own business:

Be the best at one thing

"If you have something - a product, or service - you've got to make sure it's really unique and can stand on its own. Make sure you are really passionate about what it is and that it is different and unique. If it has it's own little vibe and aura, then just do it, and do it well, and be the very best you can be at that one thing before you start introducing other things around it. Like Izod with it's alligator shirt. For us, it was boardshorts. I really believe in a single product mentality when you are an entrepreneur without a lot of money, without a lot of people. Just do it right, and do it well, and be the best at it. And prove its uniqueness and its power and recognition in the marketplace."

Be cautious of adding partners

"Don't take on partners unless you absolutely have to. Nine times out of 10, partners don't work. There's ego clash, there's power clash, there's money problems. Eventually a problem will arise, then the true spirit of the partner will come out. If you need financing, borrow it from family, the bank, before you take a partner. Another reason for bringing on a person is if they bring a skill set. Say you are a product guy and you need a finance guy. You can also pay that person and then watch him over a year or two, then you can give them some ownership. I don't care how much you think you know this person, you don't. Take your time. Don't do it out of the gate."

Overcoming obstacles

"Obviously, there's going to be problems and issues, and you've got to learn how to get through it. If your thing is that good, you can overcome any problems. Head down, hit the moguls, and keep going. Stay true to your heart and vision and your willingness to succeed. It all comes back to your thing, what you have. If it's BS, then as soon as you hit a mogul, you'll say, ‘I'm out of here.' Is this really something great? Then go for it, be all it can be. If it really is the best, it can overcome anything."

Learn the ropes somewhere else

"Say you have this idea in your back pocket, and it's the best thing. Go to work for somebody and learn all about that market, that product, that industry, on someone else's dime. It's not even a bad idea to be honest about it with them. Say ‘One day, I want to be a founder of own company, I'll work my ass off to learn the industry.' Most bosses will like that. They like intelligent, entrepreneur type people that are thinkers, and have passion, and have spirit, and want to kick ass. That was Richard Woolcott (Volcom CEO) here. Instead of wasting your own money, it's not a bad idea to go through the learning curve somewhere else. You'll save yourself a lot of money."

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