Jen Groover learned early in her career that she works differently than most people.

Known as a “serial entrepreneur” for her habit of starting several businesses in succession, Groover is so enmeshed in her current project, the Butler Bag Co., that she refuses to draw a line between her personal life and work life.

Jen Groover and Colleen DeBaise Photo by Patrick Verel

“Entrepreneurs’ businesses are their lifestyles,” she said on Nov. 18 as part of Entrepreneurship Week in the Gabelli School of Business (GSB).

“To me, the thought of going to a beach in Fiji for seven days is actually torture,” she said. “Seven days in isolation? I would go absolutely insane. Because I love what I do, I feel like I’m on vacation every single day.”

Groover appeared with Colleen DeBaise, small business editor at The Wall Street Journal, at the Walsh Family Library on the Rose Hill campus. Students in attendance received copies of Groover’s What If? & Why Not? (Ben Bella Books, 2010) and DeBaise’s The Wall Street Journal Complete Small Business Guidebook (Three Rivers Press, 2009).

Their freewheeling back-and-forth discussion moderated by Christine Janssen-Selvadurai, Ph.D., lecturer in management systems, touched on the nitty-gritty aspects of starting a company as well as the bigger picture of what kind of person starts a successful business.

For Groover, the secret was twofold: never take no for an answer, and focus on your strengths. As someone whose strengths lie on the creative side, one of her first tasks was hiring someone to handle accounting.

“I was never taught in school that you can actually make money off your ideas—but you can use them as capital. Your creativity is the most unlimited capital you will ever have,” she said.

“I became an entrepreneur because I knew I was not good at taking direction from people who had the power to tell me I could grow only as fast as they said I could.”

DeBaise said that many entrepreneurs share that trait.

“Entrepreneurs tend to have very innovative personalities that are perhaps very different from those around them,” DeBaise said. “One of the things I hear from people is that their friends and their families can’t understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

Where Groover and DeBaise disagreed slightly was on the wisdom of partnering—as Groover has—with a company to handle the actual manufacturing process. DeBaise noted that many entrepreneurs never find a business partner with whom they feel comfortable enough to cede control.

“A business partnership is often compared to a marriage, because you need to have complementary skills; you have to get along well; you need to figure out how you’re going to resolve disagreements; you have to be open about money; and you really should have a partnership agreement in place before you launch a business—similar to a prenuptial—in case anything happens,” DeBaise said.

“It can be a great way to go, especially in this economy. But I do see a lot of people who want to do it themselves because that is what is satisfying to them. It’s the company that they want to grow, that they want to eventually sell or pass on to the next generation. So I see it both ways.”


Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.