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Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato

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To build a business, have an attitude

Former student discusses entrepreneurial success.

2012-09-27
Dan Linehan, Mankato Free Press 9-27-2012

MANKATO — For someone who likes starting business­es, Matt Ames makes it sound, well, masochistic.

“Entrepreneurship is hard,” the 28-year- old said.

“It’s harder than you can imagine.”

If he had known that it would be this grueling when he started his first paintball business in 2002, he might not have started at all.

And Ames said more than once during his Wednesday talk at Minnesota State University, where he spent three years, that starting a business is “not for every­body.”

Given that Ames is the state’s 2012 Young Entrepreneur of the Year, there is a “but” coming.

He called the joy he derives from these sacrifices an “awkward pleasure.”

And it is this act, this will­ing payment of the toll — that Ames paid in lost girl­friends, credit card debt and flunked classes — that defines an entrepreneur, he said.

“A professional mindset is not wearing a suit to work,” he said. “It’s a concept that everything is done for love, and for a purpose.”

He called that attitude an entrepreneur’s “single great­est quality.”

That mental discipline is exercised in several specific ways.

“Set goals and hold your­self responsible.”

“Preparation is a must.”

“Appreciate failure. You must learn from failure.”

“Get organized.”

“I don’t make excuses. I get the job done no matter what.”

These have become clichés, but it is the will to accomplish them more than innate ability that is important, he said. Ames’ talk, part of the College of Business’ Big Ideas series of speakers, was at its best during his off-the- cuff stories about life as an entrepreneur, when, in his words, he “did what (he) had to do to keep the dream alive.”

“I was kicked out of St. Thomas and am no longer allowed at the Fleet Farm in Lakeville.”

After some brown-nosing and apologies, he got back into school and graduated in 2007. But not the Fleet Farm.

He was banned from that store after stuffing flyers for his business into boxes of paintballs.

“I blamed it on the boss,” said Ames, who lives in Bloomington.

This summer, he started a food cart. The night he opened was the night he learned how to use the deep fryer.

After Ames finished his story about muddling through fry cooking, Brenda Flannery, dean of MSU’s College of Business, appeared to recognize something that Ames took for granted.

She asked Ames why he, not an employee, was the first one behind the counter.

He said he didn’t want to give a worker a task he didn’t understand himself.

And it is this initiative that Flannery admires about Ames.

“You can talk yourself out of anything,” she said, but Ames doesn’t. “He’s also just fearless,” Flannery said. Dan Rasmuson, an MSU sophomore who attended the talk, said this boldness, especially from a humble beginning, was motivational.

“ The idea that I had from him was ‘just go do it,’” he said.

Ames didn’t go into detail about his business except to illustrate values, like perseverance. He started his first business in high school — leading paintball groups in outings — and lost his first business partner the summer he graduated. The partner had found a girlfriend and somehow lost enthusiasm to run the business. Ames bought him out by placing $2,000 in an envelope — the partner’s share of the venture — and giving it to him during his graduation party.

He lost more business partners over the years, but noted they’ve gone on to successful careers. They were fine people, he said, entrepreneurship just wasn’t for them.

As for that successful mindset, Ames said it is something like a natural law — a truth forged by the rigor of starting a business, not a philosophy he invented.

And it seems to fit him.

As he noted, anyone can play basketball, but it helps to be seven feet tall.

In Ames’ case, it helps that he’s suited to the punishment and pleasure of entrepreneurship. After his talk, Ames told a student about a bad experience at another business.

Instead of grumbling and moving on, he got home, did some research, and decided he could do it better.

“The idea that I had from him was ‘ just go do it.’”

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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