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Key Takeaways: Futureproofing Your Business

Last week, 1871 CEO Howard A. Tullman spoke in front of a packed room at UNIQLO’s Michigan Avenue flagship store to kick off Chicago Made: Innovating for Tomorrow, a free four-part series covering topics on sustainability, global tech trends, social impact, and retail. Chicago Made is a joint effort between 1871 and UNIQLO and will run every Thursday from 6-7 p.m. (CDT) at UNIQLO’s Michigan Avenue store through March 1st.

Main UNIQLO.jpgHoward A. Tullman presents "Futureproofing Your Business" at UNIQLO on February 8. 

A few decades ago, if you asked someone to list their dream job, you’d probably hear the following: professional athlete, rock star, celebrity -- but today, you’re likely to hear another word: entrepreneur. After dozens of Steve Jobs biographies and years of Shark Tank, it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs are now synonymous with cool. But here’s the thing, an idea without execution is nothing more than a passing thought.

So the question is, how do you execute?

You have to ‘futureproof’ your business -- which was the topic of 1871 CEO Howard A. Tullman’s talk last week at UNIQLO’s Michigan Avenue store. If you weren’t among the ambitious innovators and entrepreneurs who attended, don’t worry -- we’ve put together some key takeaways.

  • Put in the Work

It sounds obvious but surprisingly, many people just don’t put enough work into their business. Maybe they lost their vision, maybe they started to make small excuses that later ballooned into larger ones; the point is, your business cannot survive unless you have a good work ethic. We get it — work isn’t always the sexiest part of running a business, but like broccoli, it’s what’s best for you. Tullman suggests that, much like rock stars rehearsing the same songs for hours at a time or athletes practicing the same play for hundreds of hours, entrepreneurs must also be willing to roll up their sleeves, jump into the trenches, and get things done.

“You get what you work for, not what you wish for. That’s why the most important skill if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur is to keep your butt in the chair and apply yourself. It’s a process that you have to learn to love if you want to be an entrepreneur, because when you get to the end of one mountain, there’s usually another mountain waiting for you.” —Howard A. Tullman, CEO, 1871

  • Tell Your Story

All of us know how important it is to present ourselves in the best light. That goes for your business
HAT_UNIQLO-1.jpgas well. Much like how you would talk about yourself, you should always be able to succinctly and simply tell your company or product’s story. If you’re an entrepreneur, you also want to ensure that you clearly communicate your vision and goals to your team and, just as importantly, how you intend to meet them. But even if you have a strong story to tell, Tullman says that even the most articulate messaging doesn’t mean anything if you’re not telling the truth.

“When you are asking people to sign up, to go on a journey with you, it’s really important for them to understand what your expectations are, what they’re going to have to give up, and what success looks like. If you want to succeed, it’s real simple; you just have to be the person, the vision, or the business that you are.”

  • Focus on What’s Important

You can’t be all things to all people and that’s why it’s so important to spend your time doing the things that will actually add value to your mission. There’s not enough time or resources for even the most hard-working entrepreneur to do it all -- that’s why Tullman says entrepreneurs should put all of their effort behind the things that they can do better than anyone else. 

“Multitasking doesn’t work, multitasking is actually doing a bunch of things badly. And remember, doing things is not the same as getting things done; rather, it’s better to focus on one thing, or just a few things, and spend your time on things that are actually going to help you grow.”

  • Keep Raising the Bar

There’s a saying in the entrepreneurial community and it goes like this: 'You want to keep getting better or faster -- or someone else will.’ No matter what industry you’re in, no matter which products you offer, there are two business truths that you should always remember; that there is absolutely no finish line, and that someone is always right behind you.

“What was fabulous yesterday is just ‘so-what’ today. You always have to ask yourself, ‘how can I get better?’ I always think that if there’s one person who ought to be pretty comfortable and resting on his laurels, it’d be Mark Zuckerberg -- and yet, he’s the one saying if we don’t keep raising the bar, then someone else is going to come along and do it better. You should always find ways to make iterative improvements — that never stops.”

  • Shoot for the Stars

There’s no question about it -- you’re going to feel down at times and you’ll wonder why you even started your business or built your product in the first place. That’s why you need to truly believe in your mission because if you don’t, you can be sure that no one else will. Tullman says that, all too often, the only limitations that entrepreneurs face are the ones that they set upon themselves.

“These days, the barriers to entry are very, very low; the technology is cheap, the tools are available, and the opportunities are everywhere. Think about the rule of restaurants; there’s always a best seat and while you may not always get it, shame on you if you don’t ask for it.”

  • Keep Moving Forward

Many seasoned entrepreneurs share a common trait -- perseverance. While there are many HAT_Facing_Left_UNIQLO-2.jpgqualities that make a great entrepreneur, the ability to put one foot in front of the other when times are tough is often the difference between a failed and successful business. One of the best ways to keep going in the midst of chaos is to remember that you’re doing something that’s bigger than yourself; remember, building a business is often just as important for your community as it is for you. It’s also important to keep in mind that things are never perfect. In fact, many businesses fail because they wait too long for the perfect moment to get the ball rolling.

“The idea is that you can’t wait around. There has never been a case where all the stars have aligned at just the same time. You have to be ready to deal with the bumps in the road because they will always be there, but you’ll never get ahead if you don’t get started.”

  • Make Room for the Right People

When you’re building a business, the worst thing you can do is surround yourself with people who are just going to agree with everything that you say. Instead, it’s far better to hire people who have diverse opinions and backgrounds. Tullman also suggests hiring -- and listening to -- people who have more expertise than you in certain fields.

“When you’re building a business, you have to decide whether or not your skin is thick enough to hire people much smarter than you. If you do that, your business will grow.”

  • Some Businesses Just Aren’t Going to Make It

In business, it’s just as important to know when to stop as it is when to proceed. If you spend a lot of time and resources going nowhere, that’s generally a sign that you need to shift gears. The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who can be honest with how their business is doing and, Tullman says, when to say ‘no.’ 

“Time is your scarcest resource so the best decisions that you make will be the things that you say ‘no’ to; in fact, we have a sign at 1871 that reads, ‘don’t say maybe if you want to say no.’ You need the courage and conviction to do the right thing, to say ‘no,’ even when it’s difficult.”

  • It’s Okay to Change Your Mind

Many entrepreneurs are often embarrassed to change their mind, or they have a blueprint that they’re not willing to deviate from -- often to their own detriment. The best leaders are the ones who are flexible and can roll with the punches. Remember, what worked one year ago, or even one day ago, may not work today.

“We’re all products of our past, but we’re not prisoners of it. When you write a business plan, it’s not concrete because circumstances and technologies change. What you wrote a year ago may not have anything to do with what you’re doing today.”

  • Make a Difference

The most successful entrepreneurs aren’t the ones who want to make a fortune; rather, they’re the ones who want to make a difference. While there are many setbacks that entrepreneurs may face in their journey, the worst of them is when an individual or a team wastes their time doing something that really doesn’t matter to them.

“We act as though comfort and luxury are the most important requirements, but really, the most important thing is that we need something to be enthusiastic about.”

These takeaways are from the first event in a four-part series. There are three more events -- all hosted at UNIQLO’s Michigan Avenue flagship store, that will be held from 6 p.m. - 7 p.m. on the following dates:

The event series marks the second collaboration between UNIQLO and 1871.

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To learn more about the Chicago Made series or register for an event, visit

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