Becoming a successful entrepreneur requires many of the same traits needed to
be a skilled athlete….in my case, an accomplished amateur equestrian
showjumper: hard work, a commitment of time, dedication, listening to your
team, knowing your audience, and great timing.
A small North Carolina business (DisposeRx) with a national footprint that was
founded less than five (5) years ago, introduced its patented medication drug
disposal solution, and as President of DisposeRx, I am reflecting on my path and
how my lifelong love of horse sports has given me the foundation needed to be
an integral part of building a company whose product is now distributed to all 50
U.S. states and over 60% of U.S. pharmacies.
The world is filled with aspiring entrepreneurs; however, research shows that 75%
of all startups fail, with a little more than 22% of small businesses failing within
one (1) year of launching and half within the first five (5) years. (According to the
Harvard Business School and the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of
In light of these statistics, what was our road to success at DisposeRx and what
lessons did I personally learn from my life as a showing jumping equestrian?
First and foremost, our success started with identifying a problem and an
opportunity to solving it. Our founder, Dr. John Holaday, identified the lack of a
simple to use and environmentally safe medication drug disposal solution that
would help mitigate at-home risks, and reduce unwanted or unused medications
left in the home for potential misuse and abuse. He devised the simple, and I
would say elegant, idea for DisposeRX based upon the packet of flower food
provided with many flower arrangements.
Yes, it was a revolutionary idea that the national marketplace did not have, but
how does a revolutionary idea become a widely successful business? I will tell
you it starts with dedication, passion and, above all else, a commitment to an
Luckily for me, Dr. Holaday too, was an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. He was an
educator dedicated to a mission with the desire to encourage and defend his
team. We understood each other implicitly, and many times, knew what the other
was thinking. We both had a passion to bring simple elegance to a complex
community and national issue.
Unfortunately, Dr. Holaday tragically passed away a year ago, but in his place, he
left us all with the foundation we needed to make this company a success. What I
learned from Dr. Holaday, combined with what I learned from my lifelong love of
equestrian show jumping has brought me to this point.
First of all, equestrian sport, much like starting a business, takes a relentless
dedication of time, hard work, grit, passion and focus. Taking care of horses is a
24/7 yearlong endeavor.
If you’re not mucking the stalls, feeding the horses, handling veterinarian needs,
developing fitness programs, riding, training, etc., you are thinking of all the
things you need to do in order to compete in the next horseshow, finding the next
prospect (horse), or help the horse in the barn that needs just a little more time
and attention to develop.
Like running any successful business, there are absolutely no breaks. Being a
horseperson takes precisely the same dedication, commitment, and focus
necessary to be a successful entrepreneur. Success requires you to fully commit
to your idea and to do whatever it takes to nourish the idea, thus bringing it to
Day and night, night and day….you are thinking about your business, missing
family engagements, working all hours of the day and night, and devoting all your
time and energy to achieving your goals, and your supporting your customers. To
build a ‘recipe’ of success is a dedication to commitment coupled with a dash of
timing and a pinch of good luck.
Secondly, being either a successful entrepreneur or passion driven equestrian,
takes great skills as a team builder and communicator. When dealing with horses,
a living, breathing animal that often times wants to do its own thing, takes a
specific set of skills and patience that all truly successful horse people hunger to
As an equestrian, you and your horse are a team. If you listen, they will tell you
everything you need to know, much like in business. When we listen, we learn
and we can instantly react to problems, develop solutions and contribute to the
Horses will tell you when they are ready, when they are sick, and when they are
scared. However, you have to be keen on recognizing their unique characteristics,
signals, and mannerisms. Like in business, you MJST learn to read the signs. Once
you know how to interpret their signals, you are on the path to success.
I once had a horse that would hold his breath walking into the “competition
arena” and over time I learned, if I paused, once in the arena, and allowed us both
to relax it was going to be a good day. Times where bad for the both of us when I
missed the signal and did not listen. As a horseman and as an entrepreneur, I
have learned that it takes courage to ask for help, but I have also learned that by
asking for help, by asking for the moon, you are one step, one stride closer to
your goal. It does take time, but the secret for many successful entrepreneurs, is
if you’re going to ask for the moon, you also have to be willing to give it back
when someone in turn asks you.
The same can be said for listening to your clients, your company and your team.
Thirdly, know your audience and the competition environment. For me, few
things were as nerve-wracking as the last few seconds before picking up my
canter in the Grand Prix Arena. Despite all the practice and training, it can be
extremely stressful just before the bell, even when you’re an experienced rider.
It’s important to be able to read the environment and consider the feedback you
receive from your team, in this case your horse, trainer, and trusted ground
Just like in the show ring, an entrepreneur must have a good handle on the
environment and know how the market will react to your product. At DisposeRx,
we experienced quick growth because we identified a problem—the lack of an at-
home medication drug disposal solution that was both simple to use and
environmentally safe— an elegant solution that helps mitigate risk of unused
medications in the home. We worked hard to educate our customers, and once
established, we worked even harder to provide consultative service, proving to
our customers again and again that we can be trusted.
Knowing the market, listening to your clients and their needs, and following the
advice of trusted allies will ensure that you can place in the top of your class when
you’re either showing in the arena or bringing your business to market.
The fourth lesson to share is to have both good luck as well as good timing. To be
a successful equestrian show jumper and a successful entrepreneur, you must
have good timing. Horses possess the stamina and power, but it’s the rider
who knows the course guiding the team through each turn and over each
obstacle. Being able to act quickly, when the time is right, is essential for
success. Often entrepreneurs are in a hurry to be the next big thing, but if you
look behind the curtain of any successful person or business, you will see that
those “next big things” took a lot of development time, patience, and timing.
And when it comes time to pick up your canter or launch your product, it can be
risky: Is the market ready, is the idea a good one, is the timing right, have I
practiced enough, are we ready or is it a bridge too far, is the market not ready
for my idea, is the product not ready for the market or is the timing off?
Successful horse-people and successful entrepreneurs get smarter by taking
educated risks and learning how to be more prepared and calculated for the next
class, the next horse, the next product or the next business.
And finally, know at some point that you are going to fail and fall off the horse…
and for various reasons. Every person who has ever spent time riding horses or
building a business, has gotten dumped or failed.
Sometimes there are things you could have done to prevent it, but often it’s
because of something that’s beyond your control. Not all horses and riders are
made for each other; every rider can't ride every horse and every horse isn't
made for every rider.
This happens every day in the business – crises both small and large occur and we
need to know how to react, how to hang on and how to stay in the tack, even if
we get knocked around or spooked.
But all successful entrepreneurs and equestrians know the saying – when you fall
off the horse, you have to get up, brush yourself off, get back in the saddle and try
again. Resilience both in business and in the ring are essential traits to success.
Competitive show jumping presents challenges that are not seen in any other
sport, but the skills you gain as you listen, learn and practice are especially
applicable in business. Dedication to your product, resilience after failure, and the
right timing are essential for success.
My business advice is to be patient, build the right team, listen and trust your
team, and with enough luck you will enjoy both the right timing as well as the
William Simpson is the president and co-founder of DisposeRx, a simple, convenient and effective solution for the disposal of unused or expired medications. DisposeRx spearheads programs that encourage behavior change and educate consumers and communities about medication management and at-home medication disposal. The company’s market-leading, patented drug
disposal packets and education programs are available at more than 33,500 pharmacies in all 50 states, spanning 70% of the nation’s counties.