ME: THE SHORT VERSION
People ask me: are you a lawyer? A coach? A consultant? An investor?
My answer: yes.
Another common question — is The Startup Shepherd you or your company?
My answer: yes.
ME: MUCH LONGER VERSION
I’m always tempted to say that I try hard not to define myself, which is true, but may sound a little pretentious (unless you write it on a website, in which case it’s entirely okay). Instead I usually answer “yes, I am all of those things.” Plus, an entrepreneur, financier, husband, father… a dreamer and a doer… I am The Startup Shepherd. If you want to take an idea out of your head, determine if it has legs, and take it to market, I am your first phone call. I aim to be your trusted business partner, someone who has your back and cares about your success just as much as you do. How you want to work together, well that’s up to you.
It started early
From the time I was about 10 until my mid-teens, one of my favorite pastimes was sitting on my bed in my room and throwing a ball back and forth to a friend who was sitting across the room. Every few throws, one of us would muse, “How can we make some money?” Back then, I suppose it probably was at least somewhat about the money. It’s nice to have a little coin in your pocket as a teenager – it represents opportunity and freedom.
Even then, though, my primary motivation went beyond the money. I was driven to create things – initiatives, businesses. I always favored action over talk and I was drawn to business in a big way. When I was 13, I rearranged my room so it looked like an office and I made a little ticker tape and I would post the closing Dow Jones Industrial Average every night. I’m sure my parents, brother, and sister appreciated that. And, I was that kid who would go around the neighborhood knocking on doors and selling greeting cards, vegetables, whatever.
When I was 15, I wanted to start a business selling baseball cards. I asked my mom how to do that, how to actually start a business. Do you need a license? Do I just ask permission of someone? My mom didn’t know what to do or whom to ask. Our public library didn’t have any good, practical books on the subject. So, that baseball card business never got going. But, the fire in my belly never went out.
Business as distraction from life
I can recall dealing with a failed relationship when I was 20. I was on summer break from college and I was working a lot, in a job that had a lot of downtime, time for reflection – exactly what you don’t want when you’re a heartbroken young man. I was sad, the breakup was tough. The thing that most sustained me that summer was thinking about entrepreneurship. At that time, I wanted to start a coffee shop / bookstore. Thinking, reading, talking business – that’s where time has always stopped for me and it’s part of what sustained me and pulled me through that tough summer stretch.
And then, there was law school
Somehow I ended up in law school. I know, why law school and not business school? My unsatisfying answers to that question used to be because I was great at logic puzzles (hence, a good LSAT score) and my older brother was a corporate lawyer. As I’ve grown older and (maybe) wiser, I’ve come to believe that God (you may say “Source”) played in a role in that move. The ability to speak the legal language and to understand the nuances of the legal documents that paper every business deal has been invaluable. I continue to believe business is a little more art than science, but law, and I’d also add in accounting, are technical languages that are so heavily ingrained in business that speaking one or both of them is a huge advantage.
Lost in a sea of information
Back to 15 years old Brett… as I said, there wasn’t a lot of information available back then about how to start a business. The Internet as we know it didn’t exist. There was something called Compuserve that I messed around on at times but it was chat boards and very primitive. Now, all the world’s information is available, almost all of it for free, with just a click and it’s super easy to find information. So, the problem is no longer a lack of information. Today, the problem is there is too much information. As they say, “too much of a good thing is never good.” Making sense of all the information out there is a huge challenge. There is some excellent advice on the Internet about why and when you’d choose a corporation over a limited liability company, for example. There is also a lot of misleading or just unclear information about the same topic. Determining who to listen to… well, you don’t have to have a Harvard law degree … But it helps.
Making sense of all that information
If you know what you’re doing, know who to listen to and who to filter out, the world of startup and business isn’t that tough. Yes, as I said earlier, it’s more art than science and some of it takes time and learning, but you can get a whole lot more right than wrong even with your first startup if you can figure out who/what to turn up the volume on and who/what to tune out. And, that’s where I come in.
I will help you filter the voices out there and make smart startup decisions.
I’m sometimes asked why someone would work with a generalist like me. In other words, how can I be really good at law, finance, strategy… isn’t that like the restaurant that sells pizza, Mexican food, and Chinese fare? Not much of a wait at that place. My answer is simple and two-pronged.
First, there are times when you need a specialist. However, in today’s modern economy, business moves fast and just about everyone wants to operate nationally, if not globally. Most of my clients come to me with fixed budgets. They can’t afford to run down every little rabbit hole figuring out every little nuance about a topic or challenge. They need to operate quickly and lean. In that kind of environment, you need a generalist who has operated across a wide swath of businesses, from small to medium to public conglomerates, in many jurisdictions. I am that person.
Secondly, I have spent my entire life in business – doing, discussing, reading… this trifecta of doing, discussing, reading has made me a real student of the game of business. I’m not perfect and I may not be the best (whoever makes that decisions!). But, for small and medium businesses, just starting or ramping quickly, I am right up there.
Studies show that nearly 50% of Americans dream of running their own business but the percentage of Americans that actually do it is less than 25% of the ones that want to. What’s the disconnect? There is, of course, money and time. A lot of people are literally slaves to the corporate world and more or less live paycheck to paycheck. But I think a lot of people don’t know how to get started. The whole process seems so daunting. They don’t know where to start, who to call first?
Stuff I can help you with
That’s where I come in. I am The Startup Shepherd. The Startup Shepherd is also a company – a Texas limited liability company, actually. I operate in three broad verticals – legal services, mentoring and training, and accessing startup capital. Entrepreneurs use my legal services, which are provided through The Cenkus Law Firm, to form corporations, partnerships, and LLCs. I merge companies together and spin companies off from one another. I advise on debt and equity from angel investors to venture capitalists to private equity. I review and prepare customer and vendor contracts, licensing agreements, commercial leases, non-disclosure agreements. I serve as outside general counsel to companies. Also, some areas like intellectual property, and some complex employment issues, call for experts at times.
On the coaching and consulting side of things, I help companies launch and grow. I help with creating business plans and pitch decks, developing pro forma financial models, identifying new market opportunities, investor pitch preparation, and other operational, financial, and strategic initiatives.
If you need capital, I can help with that, too. I am not a venture capitalist, although I was one years ago. I still do a little angel investing with my own capital, although that’s not a big part of what I do. Through The Startup Shepherd LLC’s subsidiary, Startup Capital & Expansion Funding, which is run by my business partner, Rudy Ramirez, we help connect entrepreneurs and business owners to money to start and grow. We provide business loans and lines of credit, small business loans, invoice factoring services, and other asset-based loan products. We are connected with angel investors, venture capitalists, and private equity groups and we are happy to make the introductions to investors that we identify as possible good fits for you. In order to introduce you to our network of investors, we always require a relationship, meaning we’ll need to work together in some capacity first – probably on the legal or consulting side. I expect you understand that.
But I don’t do everything. In the event I can’t help you, I will guide you and help you access the experts when the time comes in and, using us to do that will nearly always save you a bundle of money. Be selective with expensive experts! Well, be selective whenever spending money in business, but particularly with expensive experts!
So, there it is – all about me and the company, The Startup Shepherd. As I said earlier, I am not for everyone. But, for the right fit — entrepreneurs looking to launch or in or entering an aggressive growth stage who share my view of the world of business and want to be a force for positive change — I may be exactly what you’re looking for.
I am here. The ball is in your court.