We caught up with the brilliant and insightful George ( Ted) Chittenden a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Hi George ( Ted), thanks for joining us today. Quality control is a challenge almost every entrepreneur has had to focus on when growing – any advice, stories or insight around how to best ensure quality is maintained as your business scales?
Businesses and careers if managed right, will grow. Being able to deliver high quality and high value serves to a larger customers base is a critical consideration for any businessperson. I believe there are two critical factors in achieving this. The first is the development of systems. Systems give the business owner or the careerist the opportunity to streamline their efforts achieving more while being effective and efficient. The systems should be designed so that they can be replicated, so they can be taught to subordinates. This will enable us the option to delegate as needed and gave us the ability to achieve more. The second critical component, in my opinion, is the constant pursuit of efficiency in everything that we do. We must regularly inventory our actions to see if we’re wasting any time or energy in the wrong direction. This analysis enables us to focus our efforts towards achieving our goals and avoid distractions that don’t generate forward momentum.
George ( Ted), before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
My current life direction for all intents purposes happened by accident. When I retired from the Army, I had planned to storm corporate America and conquer the almighty dollar. However, when I reentered the civilian world, I realized I was not a good fit for the private sector. As a former Army officer, I was used to duties and responsibilities that surpassed the age range of my peers in the civilian world. I earned a great deal of education during my military career as well as a significant amount of experience with regard to personnel management, leadership, multimillion-dollar budget analysis and stewardship, complex problem solving, and global logistics. I found in many cases I was overqualified for the jobs I sought. I also found that many of the people who would have become my supervisors were less experienced than I was. As a result, none of the jobs I investigated really seemed to be a good fit for me. It was at this point I decided I was just going to be retired. That was great for about five months, and then basically I got bored, and according to my wife, I got a bit cantankerous. I’d always discussed the idea of opening my own martial arts academy and I even drafted a business plan but it just sat safely away on a file on my computer. It was around this point my wife suggested that I go ahead and start the business. In the beginning, I didn’t want to bleed my savings dry with startup costs and the initial projections to generate profits so I looked for an income source beyond my pension and savings. That is when my two master’s degrees started to pay off. This educational background coupled with several professional certifications I had acquired landed me a job teaching in the business department of one of the local colleges. So shortly after all started, Mad Science Judo and Jiu-Jitsu came to life.
We are unique in our area because we’re the only academy that has both certified Gracie Jiu-Jitsu instructors, as well as United States Judo Association, certified instructors. We are the only Academy in the area that has a standalone Judo program and one of the few academies that teach actual kickboxing versus cardio kickboxing. There are other martial arts schools in the county but we’re the only one that has certified Jiu-Jitsu black belts who have been trained to be instructors. Some of our advantages come from the fact that I’m older than most of the other Academy owners in the county. I have actually been studying martial arts longer than any of them have been alive. Although I have retired from competition, I was competing before most of them were even born. I have also learned that the sporting approach it’s not always the most effective and efficient means for self-defense. Although I support competition wholeheartedly, I believe your ability to defend yourself should come first. that isn’t to say that some of the sporting techniques cannot be effective, I would just argue they’re not the most efficient. I watch a lot of the other Academy owners navigate the martial arts industry, not fully understanding the difference between true conflict and sport. In my previous career, I deployed to combat five times, and I saw first-hand the brutality that man can do to a man. It is through this experience that my priorities, my focus, and my diligence are rooted. I have fought in the ring and I have fought on the battlefield and I will tell you with no uncertainty it is not the same thing.
Can you open up about how you funded your business?
Starting a business that takes capital. Depending upon your tolerance for risk the amount of capital you need on hand will vary. I alluded to it in the other question, but I sought to generate additional income prior to the start of my business. I realized that it would take 12 to 18 months on average for a business to generate enough profit to sustain itself. Although I had the resources on hand, I didn’t want to deplete them getting the business up and running. So I found additional income streams to offset the starting costs of the business. I believe many business owners underestimate how long it takes to develop a business that can be self-sustaining, and as a result, they do not allocate appropriate funds to achieve that first mile marker. Tolerance for risk is another thing, starting a business is for the bold. you must be willing to fail and lose it all or you will never have any growth. The concept of “fortune favors the bold” holds true as does the concept of “risk versus reward”. you must find the balance of how much you are willing to risk/lose in pursuit of the reward you’re trying to gain. If you are too cautious you will never achieve your goal, if you are too reckless you will crash and burn. In hindsight, I probably erred a little too much on the side of caution. Although we achieved the sustainable point much sooner than anticipated, I think we could have had faster growth had I been willing to take more risks.
Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?
The COVID pandemic was certainly a test of resiliency for all small businesses. when we were forced to close, in our case for three months, I had no idea if we would recover. I sat at home like most people during that time wondering how long the lockdown would last and how long I could sustain the business while being closed. I also wondered if the business failed if I was going to put the effort into just starting over. Our survival was truly a matter of the exceptional clientele that the Academy has. many of the clients continued to pay their dues despite the Academy being closed. Yes, we lost some people, but to be honest, the ones we did lose were the type of clients that would have eventually quit anyway. This industry quite often has a high turnover rate of clientele. I’m truly grateful for the steadfast inconsistent clients that we have maintained since the beginning. it is because of them; I will continue to work to grow and develop the academy to its greatest capacity. I will seek more and better ways to continue to provide the best instruction in the most effective and efficient ways available. I will continue to educate myself to become a better instructor as the years roll on. The lockdown was certainly a time that tested the resilience of the business and my faith in its success, but we survived relatively unscathed and once it was over we
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