An Excerpt from the Book:
“There is a common misperception that entrepreneurs
are gamblers, or like to take risks.
I very much dislike risk.”
Cliff Holekamp is the founder of Foot Healers, a retail-based podiatric center, which he sold in 2007. He has served on numerous boards, including Arch Grants, City Academy, LockerDome, and TopOPPS to name a few. He is a founding General Partner at Cultivation Capital. In addition, he serves as the Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and is the founding Director of the Entrepreneurship Platform for the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.
In one of my first jobs, I found out that opportunity was literally at the corner of the front desk in the office – and the experts were walking right past it.
Growing up, I would try out a new job experience every summer. When I was seventeen, I answered a classified ad in the LA Times (when there still was such a thing) to sell “educational products.” I soon found out that this meant World Book Encyclopedias. Some might have turned their nose up at this,, but I thought this was a perfect way to learn about sales and leadership. I embraced it.
After presentations to students at schools, World Book would send slips of paper home, requesting that parents return these slips if they were interested in educational products for their home. These became our qualified leads.
After a few days, I noticed there was a stack of these slips on the front desk that no one wanted. I soon found out why: the addresses were in some of the roughest parts of South Central Los Angeles – Compton, Inglewood, Watts. It was the height of the LA Gang Wars. Perhaps I was too young to know any better, or that I should have been more cautious of my personal safety; regardless, my ambition and curiosity outweighed any reluctance, and I took the leads no one wanted. I made a few phone calls, set the appointments, and kept an open mind.
One of World Book’s primary messages is that parents need to take personal responsibility for their children’s education. It turned out that this was a perfect pitch for moms in South Central LA: for $25/month, a mother could make an investment in her children. I grew up with the World Book: I was able to speak earnestly and authentically about the “look-it-up habit” and how much it did for me personally. In a matter of weeks, I was able to close two out of three sales, and had the highest close rate of any World Book Encyclopedia salesperson in Southern California.
More than just closing sales, World Book gave me the opportunity to genuinely connect with people who were different than me. I spent literally hundreds of hours sitting at South Central LA kitchen tables, primarily with single African American moms, and spoke with them about something very important and intimate: their children’s educational path. I developed an ability to get beneath the surface, to listen closely and bond with them; this ability to learn about people who are different than I was benefited me for the rest of my life.
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