Alec Bowers is currently CEO at Abraxas Dynamics, a cleantech project integrator focused on Mexico and Latin America, and Partner at Abraxas Ventures, a strategic investment arm of Grupo Abraxas investing primarily in the medical and cleantech spaces. Follow him @Alec_Bowers.
Who is your hero?
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
It's better to do now and apologize later. Your gut generally leads in the right direction, particularly when augmented by the right analysis. You should follow your compass rather than getting paralyzed by indecision and red tape. Generally, you will regret the things you did not do rather than the things you did do, especially in business. Blaze your own path rather than following the paths everyone else makes, even if it seems unconventional.
As someone starting out young, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to be professional – which is important. But being young and being able to think outside the box is also part of the inherent advantage we have as young founders. Sometimes you alienate people this way. More often than not, however, people see your tenacity and they work that much harder with you. If you believe enough in your vision to go out on a limb, people will notice.
What's the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
I was 19, and had recently started futures trading. After a couple of learning experiences, I became good at it (very quickly) as I devoted myself religiously to a 20 hours/6-day schedule. This resulted in over 5000 percent gains from August 2008 to September 2008, and continued to accelerate going into late September. In late September, the TARP vote came up and I took a very strong, short position on a Friday -- one which I knew was certain to pay off given the impossibility of the TARP bill passing on Monday. I ended the day with a decent sized paper loss.
I panicked and started questioning my strategy, talking to people (respected businesspeople) who told me my strategy was correct. On Sunday, when markets opened, I saw an even larger paper loss. I resolved to put a protective order in if it went over a certain price. The order triggered. After that, the S&P tanked. The trade alone would have netted over a 120 percent gain over the next 12 hours. That hurt.
Allowing emotions to take the pilot seat ended up killing me. Your strategy can be perfect, but emotion can get the best of you when stress is high, and it can become hard to distinguish if things are stressful enough. It helps to try to take a step back, look at the strategy, and ensure you're still heading in the right direction.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
I read my emails quickly and figure out my schedule. Then I get oriented. If there's something urgent in the inbox, everything subordinates to it, including my morning routine.
What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
Don't get paralyzed looking for capital. There are a million ways to generate cash flow without money; pre-sell, find suppliers who are on the cutting edge, do a Kickstarter, use scalable solutions that require miniscule starting cash. If you have a long development pipeline, find the right partners to augment you so you have a great story to bring to potential investors. And never lose track of your on-hand cash.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Stop just thinking and start doing.
What's your definition of success? How will you know when you've finally "succeeded" in your business?
I don't believe in any final stage of success, just successive stages. Success is creating real value for others and being able to see that impact realized. It's reaching milestones. Ultimately, it's about changing the world in a (hopefully) positive way. There's no one success point in business, as the world is constantly changing and evolving. A good business builds a great product. A great business builds a great product that's undergoing a continual process of improvement.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.