Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur“ we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ian Peterman, CEO of Peterman Design Firm.
Ian Peterman grew up surrounded by design, engineering, and entrepreneurs. He started his first business at the age of 12. After working as a designer for over a decade within startups and companies like HP, Mr. Peterman started the Peterman Design Firm to help visionaries develop disruptive products and brands through his conscious design process.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Ian Peterman: I grew up surrounded by design, engineering, accounting, and entrepreneurial people. I started my first business with my brother when I was 12, and while that one didn’t last longer than a couple years, it sparked the capacity to continue working for myself alongside my day jobs. After working as an engineer and designer for over a decade within startups and companies like HP I decided to start a design firm with several partners. A couple years later the partners all went in different directions and I found myself still not having the company I wanted, working with the visionaries of the world helping them create thriving businesses from their exceptional ideas. So, I founded the Peterman Design Firm. I am passionate about green-tech, the outdoors, space, and developing new technologies that can help humanity move on to better things. The firm began with just me in my garage and now we have a team of designers, engineers, artists, business consultants, and marketing experts helping my clients and their companies reach their full potential. We enjoy supporting existing companies in evolving their brand and developing new products that serve their clients and we pride ourselves in offering visionaries and startups full-service support in the launch of their company from early ideas to their first sales. My mission is to be the global leader in the design and launch of innovative and sustainable technologies, products, and brands and we have the team to do it.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Ian Peterman: My “Aha Moment” was when I was a kid. I wanted to change the world through inventions and developing new technologies and knew that without a doubt by the time I was twelve. At 16, I began to make plans for a design firm, and that eventually lead to my founding the Peterman Design Firm where I help develop new products and technologies daily.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Ian Peterman: I think that I was given a lot of really great opportunities and was surrounded by entrepreneurship growing up that has given me the ability to be an entrepreneur. There are some skills that do help individuals in this area, such as a strong will, determination, and being less impacted by fear. I think that these can all be trained and grown, but you can also start out with a healthy amount of these and other skills and mindsets that will make it easier to be successful as an entrepreneur.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Ian Peterman: My parents have always inspired me and lent their wisdom to my ventures, including this one. My fiancé also played a huge part in helping me launch my current venture, the Peterman Design Firm. One of the things I remember from being a kid was my dad working on a side business or project almost constantly. Seeing his dedication, (he sometimes worked very late into the night after his day job), was definitely a huge inspiration and instilled in me the desire to do the same and never settle for “just a job”. My fiancé helped me create the life balance I have now, without which I would not be able to run my firm, be the chapter chair for IDSA LA, and be able to take over my family’s small educational publishing company.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Ian Peterman: In the beginning, I was what stood out. When you are an entrepreneur and starting a company, you are really the UVP, the special sauce, or however else you want to call it. As I’ve grown, what has made my company stand out is both the people I have brought on and the skills, talent, and passion they bring along with myself. We all share a huge focus on legacy building. I think a lot of design firms have done the first part, getting good talent to work for them. However, my focus on building a legacy and helping others do so, has attracted people. I’ve had people contact me and say, “I want to build a legacy, no one is talking about that except you, can you help me?” I love that. The building a legacy part is huge for me, and one of the pillars I’ve used to develop the Peterman Method, which is a conscious design approach to developing products and legacy brands.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Ian Peterman: The three character traits I think are most instrumental to my success have been perseverance, ability to listen to and take advice, and my unstoppable “get it done” mentality. My path to launching my current design firm took over 13 years to go from a solid idea in my mind to where people would say it first materialized and the company came into actual existence. I worked for different companies, started a couple businesses, took what steps I could, and then finally, overnight I had the company I had really been aiming for. Without perseverance and a bit of stubbornness, I would not have done it and my firm would not exist and I would not be helping people like I do now, let alone helping bring the idea of Conscious Design to people.
The ability to hear advice, use it, and make that information my own has definitely propelled my businesses forward much faster than if I hadn’t. I’ve had the wonderful experience of having some great mentors in different areas of business and have been able to learn and watch from great people. One of the early propellors of the Peterman Design Firm was getting my previous clients to share their stories. I only got a few who were willing to get on video but being able to get those and then have that content to share with potential clients was a huge thing when I started out.
Having a get it done mentality has gotten me into trouble sometimes, jumping into things too quickly, but it’s also paid off handsomely with me being able to implement things quicker or faster and just doing it instead of wasting time talking about it. I always liked Nike’s slogan, “Just do it”. My father worked there when I was a kid and I think I just internalized it, because it’s how I approach business.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Ian Peterman: There is so much bad advice out there! I think the bad advice that I’ve gotten most, and followed early on, was focused around getting advertising. I’m truly fortunate in not taking a lot of the bad advice while I’ve built my company, I tend to err on the side of caution with advice, and usually bring it back to my inner circle of people I trust to vet the advice before executing it. It’s saved me more than once from taking bad advice in business. If you don’t have a circle of close people that can advise you and help make sure you aren’t taking bad advice, you need to find that group of people as soon as you can.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Ian Peterman: Let people set their own hours and take vacations. Be collaborative and inspiring with your productivity and work/ life balance. In the creative world, there are times where a schedule is important, but often it comes down to coordinating specific short bursts of effort and project deadlines. Creativity on demand is something my industry requires to stay in the lead and keep creating new and innovative solutions. Creativity also needs a healthy person who isn’t burned out. Freedom to work in unique ways and freedom in general will produce better results with your creative team.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Ian Peterman: The way to build trust, credibility, and authority is to be completely authentic and share information around your passion. Finding a way to “blue ocean” your topic or find a super specific niche no one else is serving, and then providing content and support to that area consistently will achieve it. Don’t be afraid to write a book, write a blog, get on YouTube, put your content out there and help people. You’ll make an impact that way, and making an impact achieves all three things.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Ian Peterman: Being authentic and putting your content out into the world is essential today because it is your greatest currency and best way to make an impact. Doesn’t matter if you are a “nobody” and have a tiny audience or you are Oprah (who has been authentically putting out her own content for decades now). People are attracted to authentic, useful, and entertaining content. With the current climate and the sheer volume of content people are exposed to daily, you can really only stand out by being you. After all, being you is unique to only you since there is only one of you in the world. Competing against someone being themselves is a futile and expensive game. At no other time has being your own person been as valuable as it is now and recognized by the world as value.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Ian Peterman: I think that some of the most common mistakes I see around CEO’s and founders starting a business is worrying about errors too much. Businesses and ideas fail every day. I don’t mean recklessly failing, I mean being willing to have failure happen with the knowing that failure is success if you learn from it. This ties into one of the other things I see often is startups failing to see value in collecting data from day one. Collect everything you can possibly track. In two years when you make it big and need to analyze everything and you talk to a data company, you’ll actually have data to use. A recent conversation I had with a data scientist pointed this out very clearly when they experienced talking to a company developing a COVID vaccine. The company wanted to use data tools to create a better vaccine quicker, smart right? Well, the analysis they wanted to do required about 2 years of data, while they had started tracking data a week before talking to this data scientist. They didn’t have the data volume to do what they needed because they were busy with other things and it means they can’t take leverage what they’ve done to date as well as they could because they weren’t tracking that data.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
Ian Peterman: When you are an entrepreneur, you are the business. When you are at a point in a business where you are going away results in the company closing, everything matters. When you have a bad day as an employee, sure it can impact things, but it’s pretty unlikely that you could make a bad decision that ends the company or results in laying off everyone at the company. There probably are some decisions that could do this, but they are very few and highly unlikely. You are also emotionally connected to your company. When it’s doing well and you are in a flow state, things can be super great. You can also hit a wall that doesn’t immediately impact the company but could trigger a huge range of emotion in you as you try to deal with a potential situation that could, possibly threaten your business. As an entrepreneur, every decision you make changes the course of the business for better or worse and often rather immediately. In most “regular” jobs, you won’t ever have the decision-making power to shift the entire company and move it from almost failing to succeeding, or the opposite.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Ian Peterman: I get really excited when I see a successful product launch that I was a part of. It’s the result of usually a lot of hours and time spent, and it’s the win that I look for. There are many wins and challenges through the journey to get there but seeing a product launch is the capstone. The other end of that is the excitement in winning a project and being able to help a new client bring their new product idea to life, it’s exciting to embark on that journey with someone.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Ian Peterman: Owning a business can be quite a ride, and long with the highs of landing new projects and having successful ones, there are also times when things are not going well. One of my hardest times was when I had invested a lot of time and money in hiring and training several salespeople, and I watched as my company started to sink, clients weren’t happy, and I ended up losing over a year of growth in a matter of a couple months after handing over sales and some client management to this small team. It took almost 8 months to recover from that one mistake. It put a lot of things in jeopardy financially and it was a rough time. Happy to say, fully recovered and never doing that again!
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Have a supportive group of mentors and friends. I have some really great mentors and friends that have helped me, guided me, and just been there for me through some of the worst parts of owning a business. Quite a few of them are business owners themselves and so can actually understand the highs and lows an entrepreneur goes through.
- Meditate. I can tell you the times in my business where I took the time to mediate and otherwise focus on myself daily, and when I didn’t. It makes a difference and if you don’t do it, start now. There are so many stories of how good meditation is for people, and anything that helps you mentally deal with stress is something you should probably do.
- Always be learning. Reading and hearing the stories of other entrepreneurs, learning about the rise and fall of businesses, and learning new skills has absolutely helped me both stay mentally sharp and be able to deal with situations I didn’t have experience in. Knowing more always helps and knowing that you aren’t the only one who’s dealt with a certain situation can be very helpful, especially if you find the person who made it through and benefited from their experiences.
- Play more than you work. I often hear the “play hard, work hard” chanted by people. Really though, play more than you work. Time and time again I’ve slipped into the work more mindset, and it’s honestly a terrible trap. My business and life have always gone so much better when I spend more time enjoying life than just trying to work on something. Even if you absolutely LOVE what you do for work, you should have something else you do too, a hobby, a creative outlet, something to switch to. It’s like Einstein playing the violin and then going back to work on his equations. It works.
- Learn to accept ambiguity, and change. Uncertainty is part of being entrepreneur, and if you fight it will only cause you more pain. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort in making myself comfortable with these things, and I’m not as comfortable as I want to be, but if you aren’t comfortable with these things at some level, entrepreneurship will be harder on you than it needs to be.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Ian Peterman: In this case, I was lucky and had all the personal skills to take over those positions and since my business had shrunk enough and was able to simply take those roles back and began hiring for other positions.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Ian Peterman: I think resilient people are able to adjust to the current situation and are more flexible than rigid. If you are rigid all the time, you won’t be resilient, you’ll snap. To be resilient, you must be flexible, but it doesn’t mean changing with every whim that comes around to you or your team, just sometimes having creative solutions. I also believe that having a singular huge goal to aim for gives you something to anchor to and with determination will make you resilient to everything that may happen on your path to your goal
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
Ian Peterman: I think that my experience watching my parents have multiple businesses, never give up, and be flexible to what was happening to them created an amazing role model for me.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Ian Peterman: I try to stay positive and succeed a good amount of the time. Taking a break, stepping back from the situation, changing tasks, and my daily habits all help me to keep a positive attitude. I also don’t really focus on “just be positive” as much as trying to make sure I’m balanced. Anyone that says they are positive all the time, or really even most of the time, is probably lying. We experience such a wide range of emotion, and I think each one is valid, so I aim for an average. There are going to be really negative times, and attitudes, and really positive ones. Usually, I gauge my attitude more by its effectiveness, rather than positive or negative, and it just so happens that being negative about problems doesn’t resolve them as quickly as I like to.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Ian Peterman: This is absolutely the case with being both a parent and a leader. My children give me so much proof through experience that it matters. When I’m not having a good day, my kids pick up on it, so do my clients and team. Emotions are contagious, and you should be always aware of where you are at. I think that the best example I have, and one I try to follow, is when I’ve had a manager simply be honest about where they were at, then move forward. Being honest with everyone, and I’ve seen it done with clients, teams, and family, is important. You can be in a bad place but hiding it and trying to lie about it is the worst idea. Putting it out in the open and saying “this is where I’m at” is such a powerful thing and let’s people around you know that you know you aren’t having a good day, but you are still here and trying. That’s leading by example and owning your situation, so you retain the power to change it.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Ian Peterman: A great quote from Winston Churchill is “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” It really speaks to what we all know, success isn’t just success, it’s a lot of little successes and failures combined with not quitting. Quitting is the only way to really fail.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!