The following blog was written 11 years ago but I like it so much, I decided to republish it today in this forum with updates over the past decade. I hope that you enjoy it.
Growing up in New Canaan, Connecticut., the “Land of the Fortune 100 CEO” was not exactly conducive to becoming an entrepreneur. Yet, even at the tender age of 7, I was out by one of the local country club’s water holes, ostensibly peddling lemonade but really wading into the water and then selling the duffers’ balls back to them.
The enterprise ended abruptly when the club’s manager called my father, one of their members, and asked to have me removed from the course.
“Peter is just a child,” my mother said to my father. “Don’t worry, he’ll be like the other children.”
Numerous other entrepreneurial ventures sprang up over the years. “Boogie at the Beach” became an annual summer even where I rented out the beach club where our family belonged, throwing a huge keg party with hamburgers and hot dogs galore and a live rock band — all for an admission price to my “thousand closest friends.” I learned about supply and demand, inventory control and the pluses and minuses of an all-cash business.
“He’s just trying to find his place in the world,” mom told my dad.
Meanwhile, I barely made it out of high school. And when one of my “sure thing” business deals soured and my dad couldn’t take me anymore, I found myself with the unenviable choice of paying for college myself or joining the Army.
Off to basic training I went, and after four months in the swamps of Ft. Polk, La. (the only hole above ground), I found myself the proud and somewhat surprised recipient of a Secretary of the Army Appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Since the Academy had started for the year, I was placed at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School, where I met another cadet candidate whose father was the colonel in charge of the Army ROTC Scholarship Program. I learned that it was much better to be an officer than an enlisted man, and I surmised that going to a civilian school and coming out a full-fledged officer would be more fun than matriculating to “The Point.” I was regular Army and the ROTC program was for civilians. Still, I persisted and to everyone’s surprise, I won a spot.
I started at the University of Virginia in the fall of 1976. I relinquished my West Point appointment to some deserving alternate, and off to college I went. The university was great fun. I spied a second semester course that really caught my interest — entrepreneurship. The challenge this time was that I was a freshman and the course was a senior elective. After filing my petition with the professor at the business school, I was forced to verbally defend myself in front of the entire class with why a “lowly first year student felt that he merited the honor of being in a fourth-year course.” I was admitted into the class, where I seemed to fit in as I had never before.
The course required us to come up with a potentially viable idea and draft a business plan to make its case for funding. I had a cool idea and convinced a couple of the business school nerds to help draft the pro formas and put the plan together. That brainstorm — the importation of mopeds from Europe to the United States, with the plan of establishing rental operations at select resorts — became the subject of my class project.
I got an “A” and decided to go for it in the real world.
In May 1977, I rented a dirt lot in downtown Nantucket Island, bought a folding table and cash box from the local thrift shop for 50 cents, unloaded my 15 new mopeds and started my first official business. I quickly threw away the class business plan, since nothing we researched and forecasted had any resemblance to the “rough and tumble” world of real life business ownership. I learned many invaluable lessons that summer and after counting my pennies ($55,000) at the summer’s end, I tendered back the three remaining years on my ROTC scholarship, wrote my professor to tell him that he’d been right about me, and set about on my expansion plans for world domination in the recreational rental industry.
Thirty years later — and 100 businesses, from renting mopeds and exotic cars to e-mail marketing, cost segregation, dining cards, destination clubs, magazines and more — my parents were still wondering when I was ever going to get a real job.
I managed to return to the University of Virginia each of the next 10 years to lecture in that same professor’s class until he retired from academia. Along the way, at the age of 29 I was accepted to Harvard Business School’s Owners and Presidents Program, the youngest member in its history. That same year, I became one of the original members of the Young Entrepreneurs Organization (now called EO), a collection of independent business owners that could be considered the world’s 52nd-largest economy with $100 billion in annual sales among 6,500 entrepreneurs in 40 countries.
I then found myself in the “Wild West” and in the first 12 years, I had been involved with a dozen different enterprises — some good, some bad and some great. In that time, I had undertaken one of the greatest challenges in my career and entered into the world of entrepreneurial education. After a one-year pro bono stint at ASU’s Barrett Honors College teaching some “Entrepreneurship 101” courses, I decided to start the country’s first “pure blood” college of entrepreneurship. Grand Canyon University had stepped up to the plate. In January 2007, we began offering a combination of fantastic courses taught by “entrepreneur-teachers,” offering startup capital to select student businesses and granting the first-ever Bachelor of Entrepreneurship degree from the first-ever fully accredited College of Entrepreneurship in the country.
That effort in academia resulted in a very successful enterprise. Within a year of its launch, the College of Entrepreneurship at Grand Canyon University was named #2 out of the top 5 Online Entrepreneurship Schools in the United States. Not too bad for a UVa. dropout with the remarkably “un-remarkable” 0.5 GPA. lol
Maybe I’d even finally get my diploma and my mom (God rest her soul) and dad could be proud of me. 🙂
So….11 years later is a lifetime for all of us, especially a diehard entrepreneur and I will try to capsulize this here now:
I lost my dear father 5 years ago, who died in my arms. I wrote a tribute to him on one of my blogs here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/my-dad-hero-peter-burns/edit
Both of my beautiful daughters married and I am the proud grandfather of 5, soon to be 6 beautiful grandbabies. Each daughter gave birth to twins so remarkably, I will soon have 6 grandbabies under the age of 3! Here is my tribute to my family: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/happy-fathers-day-my-fellow-out-peter-burns?trk=mp-reader-card
After the College of Entrepreneurship at Grand Canyon University merged into their School of Business, my days of entrepreneurship education ended. I was able to renew my teaching for 6 months on a stint as the Entrepreneur-In-Residence for an international NGO when I volunteered for helping out in Ethiopia. Along the way there, I couldn’t help myself and began working on literally 42 separate business ideas in that newly Capitalistic country. See my blog here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140522182702-82332-experiences-of-a-humanitarian-entrepreneur?trk=mp-reader-card
In 1987 I was one of the original members of YEO (www.eonetwork.org) which grew to the largest entrepreneurial organization in the world. Ten years ago, I started a 2.0 version called Club Entrepreneur (www.clubeintl.com) and ran it in Phoenix for 5 years, growing to 10,000 members.
From starting Club E, I pioneered the “collaborative workspace” movement by starting the eFactory in Phoenix, housing 2 dozen start-ups with a huge space for monthly gatherings of up to 200 fellow entrepreneurs. A partner and I bought and refurbished a state-of-the-art 100 year old building in College Park, (outside of Atlanta) and today it is one of the most successful incubators and entrepreneurial spaces in the country. www.clubeatlanta.com.
Taking my experience of literally meeting with 1000 of my Club E members in Phoenix for a one-on-one session of an hour each over and 8 month period…I started a capital raising business and successfully funded dozens of fellow entrepreneurs for millions of debt and equity raises. At one time we had offices in California and Arizona.
Taking from an experience as one of the early adopters as a member of the first Destination Club, I consulted for a second generation version of the concept, came up with 31 individual business opportunities for that Club and when they could barely act on 2 of them, I saw the chance for yet another start-up in the luxury vacation villa space…where I am right now at www.theassetexchangecollection.com.
Oh yeah…don’t let me forget the latest venture of flying pets by private jet…which I stumbled into and just started marketing for at www.petjets.com. See that post at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/weve-all-heard-pampered-pets-peter-burns?trk=mp-reader-card
And…then there is adopting the little known engineering application of cost segregation, (which I explored in starting a marketing company for commercial property owners some 12 years ago while teaching as a pro bono Adjunct teaching entrepreneurship at ASU’s Honors College) for our multi-million dollar villa owners… See https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/blending-old-ideas-new-profits-peter-burns?trk=mp-reader-card
I think that’s it for now. Check back with me in 10 more years and see what I’ve been up to! 🙂