Water Cooler Wednesday: The Speech That Was Never Given

Meet the future and it's bright

Meet the future and it’s bright

A few weeks ago, my good friend Beth Johnston, asked if I would speak with the students in this year’s YEA class.

YEA stands for Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a national program sponsored locally by the Boca Chamber of Commerce.

Entrepreneurship is a passion of mine and I am always thrilled and honored to speak to students. I find that I get more from them than I can ever give, so selfishly I agreed in the hopes that I could soak up their energy and enthusiasm. I always like to prepare for speeches, but I rarely follow the script. The best talks are interactive dialogues where you go in directions you never anticipated. Still, I always like to work with a net, so I prepare remarks.

Well, as soon as I went to FAU to meet the budding entrepreneurs, we launched immediately into their ideas, which to be completely honest blew me away. If I were Mark Cuban and this was Shark Tank, I would have happily invested in several of the ideas. The students had worked for 30 weeks on their plans and they were solid, well thought out, innovative and very exciting. And I see lots of pitches.

I am in touch with a few of the young business leaders I met that day. But I never did get to deliver my speech. I thought I’d share it here, but the main take away is we have so much talent in Boca-Delray that we need to mentor, nurture, fund and develop. It would be the best economic development strategy we could ever imagine. Spend an afternoon with young entrepreneurs and you will be sure of our future.

First I want to congratulate you for being entrepreneurs at such a young age…

You have made a very smart and very brave choice…and you are to be congratulated for “getting it” so early in life. Your decision to be an entrepreneur and to participate in the YEA program will pay dividends for you today and throughout your life.

Today, I want to share with you some of my experiences and where I see entrepreneurship going and why I think it is so important for you to continue on this path…

I was 32 before I launched my first entrepreneurial venture—a whole lot older  than you are today and I knew a lot less than you.…I started a publishing company in my living room that I later sold to a media company six years after I launched it… without money, a business plan, or an exit strategy.

I made a lot of mistakes….struggled some months to pay the bills…but was never happier in my life and it was then that I realized in my 30s with two kids that I wanted…indeed I needed to be an entrepreneur. But I wish that I had the training that you had…I was a reporter for 12 years before I started my business….and so I thought I know a lot about publications…well I knew how to write and design them…but I knew nothing about sales, circulation, production, advertising or business.

I literally jumped off of a cliff and tried to build an airplane on my way down…

Since that time, I have learned what you have been taught..that it’s helpful to have a business plan and at least some seed capital to get started…that it’s important to know where you want to take your venture before you start…is it something you want to grow and sell or do you want to own and operate the company for a long time? You can always change your mind, but you should have an idea before you start.

I also learned that it is critical to surround yourself with good people…people who work hard, are willing to take risks, people who understand what it takes to succeed, are not afraid to fail because making mistakes and failing is all part of the process of success.

If I can teach kids one thing or if I could change one thing about society it would be that we should overcome our fear of failing…we should celebrate those who are willing to take a risk and value those who make mistakes because that is how you learn…that is how you grow…

 In business, it’s important to be with people who are honest…people who will respect your customer’s and your company…people who will be there for you when the going gets rough and it always gets rough…

So how do you do all of this…how do you find key partners, how do you find customers, how do you build a great company…

I think it all starts with culture…you have to treat people well, by respecting them, listening to them and making them feel a part of your mission….when your mission or cause becomes theirs….whether they work for you or they buy from you…you can’t help but succeed.

I am a big believer that learning entrepreneurial skills will serve you regardless of what you do in life.

So if you take this opportunity and go back home and create a business in your garage or your living room like I did, or if you take another path…what you learn here is invaluable.

When I sold my publishing company to BRN Media Group  I stayed around for two years to run the business and the Boca News before I helped to sell that newspaper to an investment group.

At that time, I decided to go into local politics and ran for the City Commission in Delray…

My background in business enabled me to approach politics in an entrepreneurial fashion. In fact, I said that we at the city should become civic entrepreneurs…because I believe that government can and should be entrepreneurial.

How can government be entrepreneurial….well it can fight bureaucracy, it can take some risks, it can try to be more business-like in its operations and it can try to deliver services in a more innovative way…

I can argue that government can’t afford not to be entrepreneurial because entrepreneurs are always trying to solve problems more efficiently, less expensively and in a better way.

So we tried some things…we teamed up with local businesses and residents to imagine a better downtown and came up with policies…rules that would encourage businesses to open their stores and restaurants downtown. We learned that parking rules often discouraged businesses from opening so we made them more flexible and the businesses came. We worked with the restaurants to allow tables on the street and it encouraged more restaurants to locate downtown. We took risks on events and festivals to market our city and added career programs to our high school using city employees as teachers to give our kids more options and opportunity.

We also changed our mindset…where sometimes cities are afraid to say yes and develop an attitude of how may I stop you…we decided to partner with businesses and say how may I help you…this sounds simple and it is…but it’s also powerful because it sends a message to people like you…entrepreneurs that Delray is a friendly place to do business and that we want to see you succeed and will help in any way we can.

So entrepreneurial skills are really helpful in any part of your life…the skills work in public service, they work if you go into education or the non-profit field and they work even if you’re an employee because an entrepreneurial employee will find new ways to profit, new ways to problem solve and new ways to delight customers.

So I am confident you will look back on this experience as being a reason why you succeed in the future.

And speaking of the future, it is my dream that some of you will build great entrepreneurial ventures right here in Boca or Delray…I hope you will take what you are learning and apply it to solving problems all over the world, but also here at home and that you will base your businesses here and give back by serving the community, donating to worthy causes and creating jobs for others.



  1. James eaton says

    Thank you for your service to Delray /boca, great speech

  2. Congratulations. Great presentation Interesting that you got so involved in Q&A that you never delivered your prepared remarks.
    Well done my friend.

  3. Patsy Westall says

    Nice talk Jeff! Tis nice to hear one talk about entrepreneurship as a good thing – the mainstream media seems to spend a lot of time bashing it. And there are many of us who believe your years of “running Delray” were good ones and we miss you.

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