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Entrepreneur vs CEO

By Shari Spiro

Generally you start a business of your own because something happens. You get fired.  You quit.  You have had it with corporate business.  You get an idea. You fall into something and love it.  Someone closes down the place you are working and hires you to finish the work.  Any number of things can happen.

In my case I fell into printing – loved it – and then they closed down the place I was working and had me finish some jobs.  That’s how I started my first company, IMAGICS.  It wasn’t long until I met a Macintosh computer and was lost to my love of Graphic design and printing forever.  With 1800.00, a MAC CLASSIC and a laser printer I designed my first professional item – a deli menu for the Full Belly Deli.  Then I embarked on a NJ Diner Menu – with no paste up or layout skills and elmers glue on a large piece of oak tag – I laid out one of the most difficult menus ever – and most of it printed straight!

Then I printed a bunch of promo items for years – sandtimers and magnets and all kinds of things – if you listen to the first (and only)  Ad Magic radio jingle which I will try to attach here – you can get an idea of the variety of things I was making right from the beginning of my business.

Then I fell in love (an appropriate amount) with playing cards which morphed into manufacturing large scale corporate playing cards for everyone from Applebees to Ford – and finally it turned into card games and then board games and then prototyping and then publishing and now warehousing and worldwide shipping.  It’s been a lot in a short amount of time.  There were years of traveling and then people – first 4 then 5 then 6 and now 20.

20.  25.   26.  And that’s when you have to shift into a version of the thing you maybe did not like that much when you were starting it all – a company that has clear rules – boundaries – strategies – bottom lines – managers – Human Resources – in other words – entrepreneurs wind up building companies – not free spirited idealistic bands of world wanderers.  Which – when you get down to the work of it – becomes – hopefully – a version of corporate that is somehow better than anything you ever worked for – has all of the things you always wished for (bosses that listen – a company that cares more about its people than most- a culture of caring and a culture of feeling secure and safe in your Job even when functions change.  Man that is a high mark to shoot for.  Every day the mark gets higher and every day it takes a ton of energy to get out the mental weapons to even shoot for it.  Add in major league honing of interpersonal skills – being a good listener – having patience – working when you don’t feel like it – spending quality family time – and the result becomes a puzzle of the highest complexity.  Dealing with clients whose perception of what you do for them is sometimes  inaccurate at best – dealing with employees whose sense of self worth ranges from high to low  – dealing with prima donna behavior, ineptitude, brilliance and amazing perseverance in people all require adaptive skills that somehow, somewhere, I needed to pick up along the way because I know that I never studied this in school or read exactly this in any book.

Then everything that made you innovative is examined and some of it – well a good bit of it –  doesn’t even fly anymore. And that is what this is all about.

I don’t think that people get to keep utilizing every skill that earned them the entrepreneurial title – they somehow have to change their skills to become CEOs. It’s like someone saying to you – I am going to clip your wings now – but they will grow back longer and better.  Yeah – about that, honestly I am not so sure.  I am looking at choices now that will change how we grow and it’s a bit different and yet somehow the same as I might have guessed it would be.  There are choices.  When you are growing fast and “entrepreneuring” (so to speak) it seems like there are no choices – you just do what you have to do.  When you are CEO’ing – there seem to be harder choices.  But if I am being honest – I do feel capable of making them – just not alone and not in a vacuum.  I can not do any of this alone.

So now I have to learn compromise too.  For example – I did not initially care much for “all in” company meetings and now clearly those are a necessary thing.  Now I look forward to them.  I don’t like to tell people no but with people – no is going to happen.  I have thought about it  – and I guess I simply want to grow into a role I like.  I like it right now – because I still get to do the crazy stuff for CAH, design boxes with our artists – design rules and pick new games for publishing.  I still get to go to cons – and I still enjoy them.

Most of all I still enjoy playing games.

I try to keep the managing of people from taking out the fun.  I try to be fair – but sometimes I have to do things that people may question. Mostly I still love everything about working with  the art the most.  Watching it turn into products.  That’s my thing.  I love that and I want to never stop doing that part.  And finding games and helping them become products.  Seeing them on shelves.  Wow that is seriously the best.

Last year I went to a young robotics team meeting – kids in middle school –  where they were developing a game – and some of them were even Breaking Games clients – which means they played Poop- and some of the other games -besides our client games – like Exploding Kittens.  And we worked on their game together – (I worked on the rules with them because the rules are my thing) – and its going to be a good game.  I even donated to their club for this year.  And I saw young designers in Chicago last week who were amazing – hell – the big guys are looking to the kids for game ideas now – its an exciting time to be in games.

Hanging out with the kids – that was fun- and helping them develop a socially conscious game.  I think I would have been in that club  – if we had that when I was a kid. But I was lucky enough to fall into it in my second childhood 🙂

I think that an entrepreneur can become a CEO – maybe even a good one – but I need data now in order to make good decisions in ADDITION to my gut.  The data is part of the difference (to me anyway)between being an Entrepreneur and a CEO.  I had nothing but a gut feeing of what to do in the beginning but now that work has produced data.

It kind of reminds me of writing songs (everything about this industry reminds me of music)  – sometimes you get the melody out of thin air and its good just like that.

And sometimes you use your theory to craft a song.

Entrepreneurs use their passion to ignite growth.  CEO’s use theory to craft and grow a  scalable business model.

Combining the two is probably the best anyone could hope for.




Leave A Comment

Nancy Haberstich on 2018-12-02 13:39:28

This is why I love you, Shari- when you blend your entrepreneurial spirit with mine, it becomes more than a product - it becomes a dream realized. You are an inspiration!

Lorraine & Frank Yelinko on 2018-11-28 14:10:28

Great Job Shari, So Proud of all that you do.