By Paula Burkes
Copyright ©2018, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Oklahoma City veteran restaurateur Heather Paul said she’s amazed lenders accepted her business plan when she and her husband, Keith Paul, opened Cheever’s Café 18 years ago.
In reviewing her budget line items, one banker noticed there was no mention of linens, Paul said. “Don’t you think you’re going to need linens?” he asked her.
“Oh, yeah,” she said.
Paul, whose Good Egg Dining company now includes 12 metro restaurants, joined fellow entrepreneurs Robin Smith of WeGoLook tech firm and Jeff Ragan of KiZE Concepts healthy lifestyle company in a panel discussion at the annual luncheon of Junior Achievement of Oklahoma last week at the Embassy Suites Downtown/Medical Center.
Junior Achievement’s mission is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global community through workplace readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy, Darcie Henderson, luncheon co-chair and CrossFirst Bank executive, reminded the some 225 in attendance.
This year, the organization’s goal is to serve 16,000 elementary through high school students across greater Oklahoma City, Henderson said. Last year, some 800 workers across all levels voluntarily taught Junior Achievement-prepared curriculum, and this year more volunteers are needed, she said.
Emerson High School student Brizelda Hernandez told guests how she, through Junior Achievement lessons, “learned a lot about choosing your target customers, where to sell your products, marketing and other needs.” In hands-on lessons, Hernandez switched her product from “finding that perfect pair of jeans for short girls like me” to bulletproof backpacks in light of the school shootings in Florida.
Growing a successful business takes, among other things, organization, delegation and mentors, according to the entrepreneurs on the panel.
“It takes not listening to negative speak … and staying completely and insanely focused,” Paul said. She makes a list every morning and if, at the end of the day, “there are less things on the list than when I started, I feel I did pretty well,” she said
Good Egg Dining employs roughly 500 across its restaurants, which include Iron Star, Republic Gastropub, Tucker’s Onion Burger and The Drake.
“We’re transparent with our employees, and let them help us reach our dreams,” Paul said. “A huge amount are still with us.”
Smith said she started WeGoLook in 2009 after a friend wished someone could go look at a high-end projector in another state and on sale on eBay, to ensure it was valid and in good condition.
“Our initial goal was to help individual consumers mitigate risk, but we pivoted to business-to-business services in 2012 after Superstorm Sandy,” Smith said.
Today, the firm combines tech with “lookers” who can augment or support a company’s field force to gather and validate information anytime, anywhere. “We’ve revolutionized many industries, from insurance and mortgage banking to automobiles and heavy equipment,” Smith said.
The company employs 140 and, across four countries, contracts some 40,000 lookers who are licensed drone operators, multilingual, ex-military, stay-at-home moms and more.
“I’ve learned I don’t have to be an expert in technology to be a leader in the tech industry,” Smith said. “It’s the same as with Uber or Airbnb — companies that disrupted huge industries over night.”
Smith said she’s learned to delegate and hand off $15 tasks, so that she can focus on $500 tasks. Meanwhile, she has found dedicated employees in her son’s former day care teacher and at the wireless phone store, the coffee shop and in restaurants.
Ragan, whose flagship products are energy bars with a giveback component to feed children in Haiti, said everything about staring a business is “brutally painful because you don’t know what you don’t know. But I don’t regret the process,” Ragan said. “I had to learn the hard way.”
“Finding mentors can help minimize mistakes with your time and money,“ Ragan said. “You can learn from them when you’re losing your mind and have no clue about things,” he said.