Juiced up about a lemon business? Think again

Cover of "We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing Tr...
Cover via Amazon

An adventure reporter with two children is widowed. He leaves his reporter’s job and decides to buy a zoo in a small rural community. Despite the misgivings of his brother and children, he goes ahead and buys the zoo.

From the outset, the new zoo owner runs into problems with everything: staff who question his motive, sick animals, zoo keeping regulations and financial hurdles.

“We bought a zoo” is a light-hearted comedy/drama family film but it has some interesting lessons for startup owners and buyers of second-hand businesses.

Benjamin Mee, the new owner of the dilapidated zoo, has to convince the small staff that he is for real. None of them are convinced that he can resurrect the zoo.

It’s important to know the exact reason why you are going into your new business venture. You need to be clear about your purpose because others will judge you on your commitment to your vision.

Benjamin faced not knowing how to run a zoo because he had no domain expertise. He had to rely on the existing staff who fortunately provided him with good advice. Venturing outside your circle of competence, as Warren Buffet calls it, can be dangerous. To bridge your skills gap you need skilled people who know what they are doing.

Benjamin faced the massive challenge of raising finance because he had run out of money. Fortunately for him his late wife had left him savings to bail himself out of any “circus” adventure he may have undertaken.

In a crisis it is not easy to suddenly raise money. This is why it pays to build up a cash kitty or pot that you can tap into to tide you through bad times.

Though the film is fiction it highlights some common failings in anyone starting out in a business they don’t know. The basics are to know why you are in business, how to operate and run it and to plan your cash requirements up front.

If you don’t know what you are doing you won’t last very long. Get a business advisor to guide you but just make sure your business advisor has run small businesses.

Starting a small business from scratch and running it is the biggest teacher. Even if you fail at it the lessons will be far more valuable than from entrepreneurial courses and experience solely in a giant corporation.

Not knowing how to run a business makes for great conflict in a movie such as “We bought a zoo” but in the real world of small business operations where every problem doesn’t have such neat and carefully choreographed solutions, it pays to have an experienced mentor or business advisor to guide you.

If you don’t, you may just find yourself being chewed up by the lions.

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