Doug Mellinger began his entrepreneurial career at age 13 when he started a lawn mowing service. Never one to think small, his business quickly grew to encompass a small army of neighborhood youngsters as employees. A few years later he purchased a broken soda machine, fixed it, installed it at a local swimming club and found himself in the concessions business.
Mellinger describes an entrepreneur as someone who will do anything they have to do to keep from getting a real job.
The soul of an entrepreneur requires that you open your eyes and your mind to the possibilities around you and break away from preconceived notions of what ‘should be’ and laser in on what is. What product or service are people willing to part with their hard earned cash to get? When you answer that question, then you could be on your way to a successful business. Of course, it needs to be the right product or service, in the right place and at the right time.
He learned this lesson the hard way. In college he and a buddy noticed that boxer shorts were the ‘must have’ wardrobe item and they decided they could make a killing selling them at spring break in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. They created an impeccable business plan and developed a design so extraordinary it was sure to fly off the shelves. Fate unfortunately had not read their business plan.
First the printer had a problem and delayed their departure for the sunny shores of Florida by a day. This was not in their business plan. The first day in town – it rained. The second day in town – it rained. This was not in their business plan. On the third day the sun finally shone and they were out peddling their wares. Another business plan glitch – either they were politely asked to stop blocking their sun or the people on the beach didn’t have money with them. OK, students on spring break should have been a clue to spending power and where they planned to spend their resources, but their plan overlooked that possibility.
The pair decided to try their luck selling their amazing boxers in local hotels but security took a dim view of their enterprise. Finally one hotel gave them permission to sell but the police showed up asking for their sellers permit. They rushed off to city hall but purchased the wrong permit and were informed they needed liability insurance. It was time to cut their losses on the boxers.
But all was not lost. If people didn’t want great boxers, what did they want? Sunglasses! They found a supplier in Miami where they paid $0.50 per pair and were able to sell them for $7 on the beach. They managed to make a small profit but learned a second important lesson – your plan needs to be flexible. The third lesson was stick with what you know. They knew college campus needs but knew nothing of the Ft. Lauderdale spring break environment.
His advice to all entrepreneurs:
- Embrace failure. Most entrepreneurs you have heard about probably did not succeed on their first try. The company that made them famous is generally their 5th or 6th attempt.
- Create a business plan but stay flexible.
- Be a keen observer of the people around you. What do they wish they had, what would make their lives easier and what existing products or services might have new applications that would appeal to them?
- You can’t ever achieve more than your dream!
Doug Mellinger, Vice-Chairman and Co-founder of Foundation Source, is responsible for development of strategic alliance partnerships and serves as a member of the company’s executive committee.
Prior to assuming his role with Foundation Source, Mr. Mellinger was a partner with Interactive Capital Partners, an investor and investment banker for early-stage technology companies. Previously, he founded and served as CEO of Enherent, a global software development and services company. Enherent was twice listed as an Inc. 500 company and was featured on Deloitte & Touche’s Technology Fast 500 and Fast 50 Lists.
Mr. Mellinger was active on the campaign and technology committees for Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk, CT. Additionally; he has served on a number of advisory boards to government agencies, universities and public charities. He was the Chairman of the National Commission on Entrepreneurship, was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Clark University, and has served on boards of The Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and the London Business School.
Mr. Mellinger has served as both the national and international director of the Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs. The organization’s scope encompassed students, professors and young entrepreneurs from more than 300 universities in 76 countries. In addition, he helped found the Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization and served as its international president in 1997-98. He also holds membership in the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), where he is the Education Chair for YPO Fairchester and helped establish the YPO Social Enterprise Networks to advance philanthropic discussions and global action. Mr. Mellinger is a graduate of Syracuse University.
-Bonnie Phelps, Dean of Institutional Advancement