Family Business Speed Bumps

Business venture basics

You are most likely a seasoned professional with some sense of what is necessary to run a business. So sharing with you the problems I faced as a young and inexperienced businessman certainly isn’t meant to help you crush the next quarter, but on the other hand, it may help you become a bit more sensitive should you become a mentor.

My father had decades of experience being self-employed in several businesses: commercial roofing, cleaning products sales, electric vehicles, imported art goods and he was also quite active in the community.

Having grown up in that environment, I thought being self-employed in a home-based business was an ideal situation. My parents both worked hard but they seemed to enjoy their lives while being busy. I never heard my parents complain about work.

When I left the Navy, I believed unhindered decision making, self-confidence and the ability to learn by daily experience would lead to business success. And given the seemingly boundless future, “success” would be an eventuality.

Immediately, I was able to take over my father’s role as the repairman in the field, customer service and delivering parts, I would often be working in our little shop at home or in the back of this quanset hut behind a sports bar called “The Old Pro” in Palo Alto.

I learned how to do auto paint, bodywork and welding, which added more opportunities to service our customers and renovate old electric cars, but it was quite a lot of work to do by yourself.

My first years back, we made more income from parts and service than ever before.

However, I did not have experience in sales and marketing, and a sense of how I was going to build a sustainable business for myself. After about two years, it became pretty clear that I couldn’t expect my parents, at retirement age, to be part of an ongoing effort in a way that seemed practical for me (getting myself run over by an electric car in 1988 didn’t help either).

Moreover, being a low overhead, loosely organized, home-based mom’n pop business, it was quite risky to consider hiring anyone to do anything.

One of the personal questions I also had to ask myself was, “Am I ever going to find a girlfriend who wants to end up helping me like my mom helped my dad?”

With his free time, my Dad, the consummate entrepreneur and jack of many traits, ventured into his publishing business to rally his Army veteran community. This was another area where my mom and I helped him. So there was no lack of work to do, but there was no clear plan for my future.

If I had expected my father to take me through a step by step process in how to build sales, it wasn’t going to happen. Teaching is a separate skill and it is not necessarily something you develop just by having work experience, especially if you are often working independently like my Dad was for decades (on occasion would hire out some work, especially for roofing jobs).

I ought to have been wise in understanding his limitations before placing any expectations upon him.

One of my faults was not being a serious student of the business.

Three things would have created clarity:
1) Studying the key aspects of business to the point where I could develop a clear strategy and vision.
2) Studying the mindset of an entrepreneur.
3) Finding an additional mentor in the profession.

I have heard some adult children first working for an established competitor for a few years then coming back to their family business. Sometimes you’ve got to go outside of your family to learn all aspects of a mature organization in your field of choice.

Being a serious worker but not a serious student of your business is a recipe for failure or an ineffective attempt at taking advantage of an opportunity.


Featured Photo: My father, Dale, and I at my farewell party before going off to the Navy (1980).

On the next post, I’ll share with you a story of how it was for me and my parents to let go of a dream. Plus the personal development messages, of course.

I’ll see you… on the next page


Challen Yee

Challen Yee

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