At one point in Oliver Stone’s ’80s classic “Wall Street,” the lead character declares he’s not content with his lot in life. He’s thinking bigger. He’s angling to be “an entrepreneur in the Italian 15th century sense of the word — a mover, shaker.”
The entire premise of “Wall Street” is that of a young, smart, hard-charging American businessman looking to get rich, quick. But these Upstate entrepreneurs tell the Upstate Business Journal the entrepreneurial life is about humility and a whole lot of hard work, most of it while no one’s watching.
‘A humbling road’
Eric Cooperman had been thinking about it for years — a solution that would help eliminate alcohol spoilage wrought by a supply chain that is poorly designed to transport beer and wine across vast distances. In July, 2021, he launched Bottle Titan, a Greenville-based startup that, while getting a lot of positive attention from the Upstate’s startup ecosystem, is still just a startup.
“This is a whole new world to me,” says Cooperman, whose background is in the hospitality industry. “It’s definitely a humbling road to be on.”
Far from the idea of the “self-made, boot-strapping individualist,” Cooperman says entrepreneurship is not for the lone wolf.
“It’s easy to bring out your ego and power through — put your nose to the grindstone — and get things done, but you have to turn outward and relinquish that ego. You have to be vulnerable enough to raise your hand and say the one word a lot of people are afraid of, which is ‘Help.’”
He said even he has to remind himself he’s an entrepreneur from time to time.
“We see the ultra-unicorn entrepreneurs and they have a certain air to them and I don’t feel like I have that swagger, that air. I still feel like a fish out of water. Even now, people say I’m an entrepreneur. I still don’t feel like that’s entirely true and it may take a while to feel that.”
NEXT Upstate’s Eric Weissmann says a big part of demystifying the idea of entrepreneurship is in telling the stories that quite often aren’t told.
“People tend to think it’s easier than it is because they only see the end product,” he says. “But the end product didn’t just happen. People don’t see all the iterations of that business, all the work going on behind the scenes that made it happen.”
As executive director of NEXT, Weissmann is in a unique position to hear those stories, which, truth be told, involve as much failure as they do success. But it’s the willingness to go through the failures that help successful entrepreneurs thrive.
“Embracing failure is key,” he says. “Which is always a tough thing. But, it’s okay to fail, to have the mindset of ‘let’s see what happens.’ And it’s a very liberating mindset.”
Strong mental game required
Dionne Sandiford, owner of custom embroidery and screen printing company Corporate Stitch, says entrepreneurs rise and fall based on how well they fight the battle of the mind.
“You’ve got to have thick skin — you can’t get your feelings hurt, go home and lick your wounds,” she warns. “You can’t let mistakes cripple you.” Instead, she says a founder must be willing to do the homework, do the research, know the competition, and adjust.
Not only that, she says being an entrepreneur is about believing in something bigger than oneself.
“My story is so heavily filtered and layered through my belief in God, it has to be part of my story, because when the bank account looked rough and I wondered why I’d left my corporate job, it was ‘Okay, God, it’s me and you, we gotta make it happen,” she says.
Oh, and money? Not the motivator many think it is.
“You cannot do this for the money, alone,” she says. “There’s not enough money. It doesn’t work that way. In the end, it’s knowing your purpose, what you were put here to do and doing it.”