My Experience with Goldman Sachs 10K Small Businesses

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In August of 2018 I joined my Baltimore Cohort 4 classmates in becoming Alumni from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program. It was a game changer.

A Little Background

After 14 years in the industry I founded Propr to be a better creative agency focused on bringing measurable brand-building results to our clients. Dedication to our people and our clients’ best interests makes us better.

I never went to business school, my parents aren’t business people. I never expected to be an entrepreneur, but in hindsight it seems obvious. I was referred to the 10KSB program by a friend and colleague, Woody Wood of Duo Graphics, Cohort 3 Baltimore. I never heard of the program, but the challenge of getting accepted was enough for me to go for it. It was a scramble to get my application in on time, and while the program doesn’t want to weed anyone out, they do want to make sure you’re right and ready to commit. Within a few weeks of applying it was on and we hit the ground running in April 2018 as Cohort 4.

Overview

The program is an intensive, four month MBA-type program with a focus on unlocking your potential and growing your business with practical knowledge while building an extensive network and peer group. We met quasi-weekly for four months; some weeks we met twice, some once, some weeks we had off. Classes were all day, about 8 hours and everything was taken care of. In our case we meet at Johns Hopkins and were treated to free parking, delicious catered meals and snacks (tons of food), and all of the amenities. We supplied our our bourbon.

The faculty and business advisors are all hyper-prepared and each class is organized and planned down to the minute. There is no wasted time or disorganization. The classes are grouped into 9 modules, each building off the last, with the goal of fortifying each scholar’s business acumen, confidence, and courage. Each scholar will have a difference experience due to their unique business, knowledge, strengths and weaknesses.

You will be assigned to a Growth Group that is diverse in every regard. The emphasis on diversity is a major strength of the program. These are the folks you’ll become closest to, working side by side every week. You will also be assigned a Business Advisor (BA) to guide and help you through the challenge ahead.

The program invites all business owners to apply. The base criteria for acceptance (and they emphasis they can bend the rules), is your business is 2 years old, has had $100k or more in revenue, and has paid employees or contractors in the last year. If you are interested, apply. Do it.

You’ll be expected to complete a thorough and lengthy grow plan that will be the catalyst for your business’ growth. It is a requirement to graduate.

What to Expect

On day 1 you’ll walk into a large conference room full of strangers. On the final day, you’ll walk out of the program as a stronger and better business person with 30-40 new friends, colleagues, and supporters. But it ain’t easy.

The overall guiding message is to work on your business and not in your business. That can be the hardest thing for scholars. The first week we had full eight hour classes both Thursday and Friday. Walking away from the business and allowing my team to run it was hard, but it was only hard for me. They crushed it. Lesson 1 learned.

Expect to arrive early for breakfast with your peers. Most weeks start with a meal and allowed time to get to know one another. Don’t be late or miss a class, you’ll regret it.

Expect to be out of your comfort zone. I don’t think they will admit it, but in my experience they intentionally want to keep you on your toes, off balance, and never quit comfortable. Also, the pressure of being in the room with 30-40 smart, clever, and wise CEOs is beyond unusual and at time intimidating, but one heck of an uncomfortable opportunity.

Work on your growth plan nonstop.

Expect to realize you’re not so different and your problems aren’t so specific and unique.

Expect to be under pressure, hold and held accountable, sacrifice time and interest, and to come out of the program with no regrets.

Expect to make friends and go to happy hour (Cohort 4 loves to party!)

Expect to get out of it what you put into it.

The Value

This is a completely free program designed by Babson College with nationwide notoriety and support from Bloomburg, local universities and institutions, and Goldman Sachs; if you only get a small part of the possible value it is worth it. For me and my business the value I received is priceless and life changing.

I no longer work so hard in my business, I was able to let go and now have a balance of working on and in the company. With confidence, brevity, and clarity I can talk about what my business does, who we best serve, why we exist, and what makes us different and better. Before the program I could clumsily explain these things in about 20 minutes. Now I can do it in seconds and so can my team.

Weaknesses can become strengths. A wise person knows what they do not know. Through the program I learned a lot about myself and business, now I can continue identifying and addressing weaknesses.

I now have a strong foundation in HR, legal, accounting, banking, and negotiations. With this knowledge I can speak intelligently and informed with my banker, CPA, bookkeeper, and attorney. And I can speak succinctly and boldly about my brand, business, services, and value.

I have a larger and stronger network from my cohort and all the other alumni.

I have a growth plan that has my business shooting for the moon. And about 7 months since I graduated we are rocking!

Not to mention I had the honor of hosting Matt Winkler, Editor-In-Chief Emeritus of Bloomberg News along with follow alumon at the Propr studio!

Takeaways

Starting a business and being an entrepreneur is the hardest thing you can do. If you can do that, you can do anything! Not to mention if you do it once, why not doing it again?

It is all about the people.

The one constant is problems and pain, but the problems and pain of today can be fixed through wise investments.

What you are experience today, many others are going through or have gone through it. You’re not alone.

It begins with your application and acceptance. The journey plays out during the program. Once you are alumni the real adventure starts!

By: Bob Gillespie

02/21/2019

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