Copperfield in Conversation: Jim McCann, Founder & Chairman of 1-800-Flowers.com (Part 2/2)

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Below we share the second part of our inaugural Copperfield in Conversation interview with 1-800-Flowers.com Founder & Chairman Jim McCann. In case you missed it, click here to read the first part of this Q&A.

Entrepreneurs often speak about the challenge around talent – finding the right people to join a business as it grows, especially when it’s very small and unknown. How did you navigate this? 

I would say it’s not a question of “navigated” in the past tense, it’s how we’re navigating it in the current tense too. Employers like us are challenged to find new and interesting talent wherever they can. We’ve been fortunate over the past 15 years to have a lot of people come to us if they want to be in digital marketing – we’ve been told by our own people that you want to have 1-800-Flowers on your resume because we are a big brand in that respect. People recognize that we are a very creative and innovative shop, and we’re always trying to do new things, whether it’s robotic delivery or chat bots.

Today, there is a challenge for labor of any kind, because unemployment is under four percent, and perhaps even less in some cities. The good news is, we are having meetings with our HR team across the country and are setting up special recruitment, training, and access programs for including veterans and senior hires – retirees who want to re-enter the workforce – and we’re looking into how we can hire people with different kinds of disabilities more frequently. We’re looking at how we can deal with the population I used to work with at St. John’s Home for Boys. We’re looking at how we can tap into our relationships in the police department or in the District Attorney’s office, because they come across kids every day who have something special, and maybe if they got a break in life, they could change the path they’re on. When we talk about diversity, we’re thinking of it in the broadest possible sense.

One of the things I’m delighted by is that we created Smile Farms three or four years ago, which is a charity that offers career opportunities to people with developmental disabilities. I’m thrilled to see how successful it has been for us, and one way it’s been successful that we hadn’t thought of initially is how the young folks within our own company absolutely love the cause and provide us with an inordinate amount of their time, energy, and creativity to volunteer for our programs at Smile Farms. It has had a cultural impact that I hoped would be there, but I didn’t dream that it would be as powerful as it has become.

What are other challenges facing founder-led businesses today? 

The biggest challenge that a founder faces is the question of what they want their business to be: Do they want to take a shot at going for the financial brass ring, or do they want to build a business that they’re proud of, that they can manage the size of, and that can provide for their own but not take the “go big or go bust” kind of approach?  

At first, entrepreneurs have to decide what it is they want out of a business. In my case, it could have been that I wanted to be the best reputation florist in Manhattan and focus on parties and events. But I wanted to build a business and was thinking, “Why isn’t there a McDonald’s in the flower business?”  

Knowing what you want is a big challenge, and sometimes you get pushed in directions just because others want you to do certain things; but if it’s not in your heart, it’s probably not the right thing to do.  

On the other hand, I think being an entrepreneur today is more interesting and more challenging than it was for me being a small business person 40 years ago. That’s because financing is available in all different ways, and it’s more socially “cool” to be an entrepreneur or small business person, whereas back then, it was seen as the alternative if you couldn’t get a job at a big company. I had a terribly hard time recruiting people to work for me because they wanted to go work for a big brand. Today, half the graduating class of Harvard Business School wants to go to work in an entrepreneurial environment – that’s a sea change in a couple of generations. 

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from founding your own business?  

When I look at all of the people I admire and respect, I think the difference between them and the people who aren’t successful is that they made at least as many mistakes, maybe more, but they all had this unique ability to recover quickly. They picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got on with it.  

One of my heroes was a gentleman named Wayne Huizenga, who was one of the country’s great entrepreneurs. He created five different Fortune 500 companies – it’s beyond amazing. He would have this knack for telling you about a mistake he made and would turn it into a story where he laughed at himself and pointed out what a dumb thing he did. But also, in telling the story, he owned it, and he showed you that everybody makes mistakes – you can make a mistake, but you should own up to it, pick yourself off, dust yourself off, and get on with it. If the boss is making fun of all of the mistakes he’s made, then people will think, maybe it’s O.K. to take a chance that might result in a mistake too.  

So, the most common characteristic I see in successful entrepreneurs and leaders is a willingness to make mistakes, own them, and recover quickly. 

Who are other entrepreneurs you looked up to as you were building your career? 

I’m still looking up to people – there’s this guy, you may have heard of him, his name is Andy Whitehouse. I think he’s a good entrepreneur – a first-time entrepreneur – but I’ve seen him go through the lessons, I see how he has a maniacal focus on delivering real value to his clients and will not compromise to do things that he doesn’t think he can do well or his firm can do well. Being privileged to invest in his company, I’m really enjoying watching and cheering from the sidelines as he’s become an entrepreneur with uncompromising focus on delivering great value and product to his clients.  

I also met a woman last week, her name is Lisa – she and I joined the board of a company last week… Not quite four years ago she started an e-commerce company in China, and this year she did $1.4 billion in sales, and she’s interested in partnering with me on bringing the flower and gift business to China…

Every day I get to meet interesting entrepreneurs – and look how much better our country and others are because they unleashed the power of entrepreneurship.