Serial entrepreneur: Raising Eyebrows by Dal LaMagna

Over the years I’ve participated in several surveys aimed at determining the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. Finally now, after reading Dal LaMagna‘s brutally honest memoir about his long, eccentric business career, I understand the one truly essential attribute an entrepreneur needs for success: chutzpah.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

It was chutzpah that led Dal to organize a petition campaign about the oppressive noise overhead from the airport nearby — at the age of 8. It was chutzpah again when he set up a computer dating service as a college freshman, and when its collapse reflected poorly on the priests who ran the Catholic college, set up what apparently became Europe’s first computer dating service in Switzerland, where they had exiled him for a year. And it was chutzpah when he applied to Harvard Business School with a long, detailed accont of the 16 unsuccessful businesses he’d started. And it was certainly chutzpah when he ran for President — of the United States! — in 2008. There is no end of chutzpah in this outrageously enjoyable story. And many of the anecdotes about the misadventures of this perennial class clown are downright hilarious. Dal himself even laughed about some of them!

Raising Eyebrows: A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets It Right by Dal LaMagna ★★★★★

Dal, who has been a friend of mine for several years, is best known to the public — at least to the eyebrow-tweezing public — as Tweezerman. By Dal’s account, the company of this name that he founded as he approached middle age, was his 17th business venture. The failure of the previous 16 caused him endless grief, lost friendships, and considerable debt. However, Tweezerman grew from a one-person operation in his 400-square-foot bungalow on Long Island into the leading brand in the beauty implements business, a staff of more than 100, a large wharehouse on Long Island, and a manufacturing plant in India, eventually resulting in a sale that made Dal a millionaire many times over.

Dal LaMagna practices what he calls “responsible capitalism.” In eschewing the more familiar term “socially responsible business,” which is widely used in Social Venture Network, of which Dal and I are both longstanding members, he seems to be emphasizing that running a business in a socially responsible manner is just good business and really not anything out of the ordinary. Except that it is, in an era when the ghost of Milton Friedman haunts Wall Street and Main Street alike.

Books of this sort are rarely so well written as Raising Eyebrows. Dal was wise to work with the partnership of Carla Reuben and Wally Carbone, whose mastery of organization and style is enviable. This book is not just instructive and insightful. It’s also fun to read.

Oh, and by the way: I’m way out of Dal’s league when it comes to chutzpah, but I’ve practiced it on many occasions by starting businesses or investing in companies on the spur of the moment based on instinct alone. And you know something? It’s served me well.

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