8 lessons in entrepreneurship from Brad & Megan Bonham
Mekenna Malan interviews Brad and Megan Bonham at a Utah Business Founder Friday event. | Photo by Jessica Hinkson
Once a month, Utah Business hosts Founder Friday, a free event sponsored by BONCO that showcases the wisdom of Utah-based founders. In November, Kiln hosted the conversation between Utah Business Editor Mekenna Malan; Brad Bonham, founder and CEO of BONCO and the first entrepreneur-in-residence for the state of Utah; and Megan Bonham, founder and CEO of Twenty & Creek. Here are a few takeaways from the event.
1. You won’t find success in a book.
Brad defines an entrepreneur as someone with the “ability to continue on without regard for resources currently controlled.” Having a network of friends, family and mentors to support your pursuits in the world of entrepreneurship is vital. Becoming an expert in your chosen area of business can change the game completely. There is no book or mentor out there who has done what you are doing and can give you the perfect advice on how to find success. “You have to overcome certain obstacles where most people would stop,” Brad says. “Starting out, I didn’t know how to sell furniture on the internet. By the end, I was probably the foremost expert in the world on selling furniture on the internet. … I became that person through hard work, trials and overcoming those obstacles.”
2. Start with philanthropy, first and always.
Brad and Megan attribute much of their success to their personal and professional focuses on giving back. Megan says, “[Philanthropy] is an unselfish way to reach out, but it ends up being totally selfish because it changes you completely.” As a co-founder and the former CEO of Walker Edison, Brad says from the very first month, he and his business partner would volunteer to box food at the Utah Food Bank. Ten years later, the company leadership team decided on “WE give” as the number one characteristic of the business. “The thing that tied us together was philanthropy,” Brad says. “If you want something that is free, start giving back. The vast majority of people want to do good—they just don’t know where to go and where to start.”
3. Know what you are good at and outsource the rest.
If you run a business, you know the job is never done. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart or those looking to work 9-5. Especially at the beginning of a venture, it is easy for founders, CEOs and owners to take on too much of the work. Megan’s top tip is to figure out your strengths and focus on those, then outsource the rest. Megan explains that starting a business requires a well-rounded team dedicated to success. “I have an incredible team who excel in their own jobs—excel way beyond anything I would have ever attempted in their positions. … For me, it’s about getting the right people in the right job and letting them do their thing.”
4. Even when things go wrong, you have to show up.
Sometimes, everything goes wrong. Sometimes, it’s 3 a.m. and paint is dripping from the still-doorless walls of your newly renovated event space—where, in five hours, you’ll play host to the likes of now-former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Gail Miller. “Almost nothing goes how you plan for it to go. You can plan for that,” Megan says, describing the grand opening of Twenty & Creek as a near-total disaster. After calling in family and friends, things eventually came together. The key ingredient was showing up. “We had to show up. We had to be there,” she says. “And it paid off in the end. … You have to tough it out through the hard things.”
5. Let go of uncommitted employees.
“Can you imagine getting to the end of your life having dreaded going to work every day?” Brad asks, claiming it is in the employee’s best interest to let go of employees who don’t want to be there. Know that “not everyone is going to like you,” and “not everyone is going to work out,” he says. Megan agrees, “I kept people on for too long when they weren’t invested in it and didn’t want to be there anymore and subsequently were hurting the business because of that mentality.”
6. Take advantage of the opportunities around you (like Utah Business Founder Fridays!).
“This event is free. Why isn’t this packed? Why isn’t this standing room only?” Brad asks. While his company, BONCO, is the current sponsor of Utah Business’ Founder Fridays, Brad points out that you can either pay thousands of dollars for business consultants or you can sit in on a free event featuring Utah’s—and the nation’s—best and brightest entrepreneurs. If you need to ask someone for advice on how to run your company, Founder Fridays are the place to be. We’ll see you next month!
7. Trust your instincts.
As a founder, people look to you for leadership and answers. “You know what is best for your business. No one else can tell you that. It is you,” Megan says. You started on this journey for a reason, and only you know where you want it to go. Trust your vision and trust your instincts to get you there. “You are the person [your employees] will walk through fire for,” Brad says.
8. “Board [membership] shouldn’t be a resume builder. It should be a value add.”
Brad emphasizes the importance of creating boards filled with members who each add distinct value. When Walker Edison started selling off pieces of the company to private equity, more and more “finance guys” were added to the board. By the end, five of the seven seats were held by finance people. “What kind of value do five finance people add to an e-commerce home furnishings business? The answer is basically zero,” he says, recommending to instead build a board where every member has needed expertise in a specific area of your business.