My Alma Mater, Nazareth College, has created a Center of Entrepreneurship to help students and alumni learn more about becoming an entrepreneur and supporting them in the process. As part of it, they interviewed me on my experience as an entrepreneur.
Current Title and Company:
Founder & President, Warsaw Wine & Spirits
Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Sylvester Enterprises
Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Perry Housing
Software Development Project Lead, Paychex
I received my undergraduate in Computer Science from SUNY Oswego. Afterward, I began my career as a software developer for Paychex. During that time I realized my passion for entrepreneurship and started two real estate investment companies. My most recent venture was opening a boutique wine and liquor store. I have a passion for creating value and helping others achieve their goals.
Provide a description of your business?
Sylvester Enterprises/Perry Housing – We specialize in purchasing run down, vacant or properties otherwise in need of care. We then renovate them and either sell to home buyers or lease them.
Warsaw Wine & Spirits – We offer a selection of wine and spirits, focusing on many local New York State wines.
Why did you start your business?
I tried investing in the stock market but was not very successful. I did not like the fact that I had very limited control and that my success was largely based on the actions and feelings of others. There are a lot of different ways out there to invest and it felt like I had more opportunity and chances of success if I invested in myself. Additionally, I really like being able to help people and make a difference in their lives. Improving a community and providing people with quality housing is very fulfilling.
What made you believe that you could be an entrepreneur?
When I looked around, I realized that our country was built by entrepreneurs. Every business was started by someone. My then and current employer, Paychex, was started by Tom Golisano with “just $3,000 and a good idea.” I was not afraid of hard work and knew that I would fail, but through failure I would learn a lot and would eventually succeed.
What was the biggest challenge(s) starting the business?
It was tough to have people take me seriously. I started Perry Housing when I was 24. Most people I talked to did not think I had the experience or background to succeed. They thought, “Tom is a 24-year-old recent college graduate who writes computer software. What does he know about investing in real estate?” I really had to work to show people I knew what I was doing and could be successful.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting a business?
Find someone who is successful at doing what you want to do and learn as much as you can from them. Buy them lunch, pick their brain or work for them. It will be a great use of your time/resources and you will get a firsthand account of what it takes. You will hear a lot of people tell you why you can’t do this or that, but these people are most likely not successfully doing what you want to do. Additionally, you will fail at some point. Understand that the most successful people have failed, but have picked themselves up and moved forward.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
Take some time up front to plan your business, but don’t get caught in analysis paralysis. The best way to know if something will work is to try it. I really like Eric Ries’ “Lean Startup” concept. Understand your “why,” meaning what drives you, and use that to remember why you do what you do. Most important, make sure your business does not take over your life. Put aside specific time for family and friends.
Check out the original interview here – Nazareth Alumni Entrepreneurs