John Harms: 15 Things I’ve Learned as an Entrepreneur [Part 1]

January 07, 2019  /  By John Harms

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My main stage talks are always created by relaying real life experiences and letting people learn from my mistakes. I presented these snippets of advice at our most recent Millennium Experience conference and thought it would be beneficial to any business-minded individual. Here are 15 things I’ve learned in my journey from building software in my basement, to becoming temporarily homeless and then moving forward into different levels of success.

Never forget where you came from.

I grew up very modestly in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with 5 brothers and sisters. My family didn’t have a lot, but we never thought about it. We enjoyed the dynamic of a big family and had food on the table and a roof over our heads, which was successful living in a simple community in the Midwest. One of the comments I hear that I’m most proud of is, “John’s a regular guy.” What that really means is we should always be approachable, real, authentic, honest, and down-to-earth.

My upbringing ingrained in me that family matters and you work hard in life to get what you want. We all aspire to have more, be successful, and provide more for our kids than we were given. Yet, at some point in your life, you will look back at the simpler times, remember where you came from, and realize the blessings. Success isn’t based on dollars and objects – it’s a state of mind.

Adversity bring focus and creates drive.

When I was 14 years old, my parents decided to move to Pennsylvania to pursue an opportunity. We packed up two cars with what little we had and drove across the country. When we arrived in Pennsylvania, the job fell through, and we became homeless for six months. We had no heat, ate only hot water with dumplings, and had no TV or radio. So, I read. I read a lot about computers and programming. I begged for a job next door at an arts and crafts store to help make money for my family.

During that time, I truly became an entrepreneur. I wanted to control my destiny and make sure what I was going through would never happen to my kids. Having said that, I truly believe adversity brings focus and creates drive. I worry for my kids that they have it “easy” or feel financially comfortable. I truly thank my parents for taking a shot, even though it didn’t work out, because those six months made me a driven man and a dreamer of possibilities.

Don’t wait for things to happen…make them happen.

Once we were able to rent a home again, I found a job at Radio Shack to be around computers and books. I was a sponge. I spent every moment reading and typing code from books into computers. Then, I would slightly change the code to see how that affected something on the screen or in the data. I saved up my money, and with some additional help from my parents, I bought my first computer. It changed my life.

By the age of 17, I was writing office automation software for a local company called Service for Product Development in Tannersville, Pennsylvania. The owner went to a salon across the street called the Village Salon and told them a kid was writing great software for her. As a result, they wanted to meet me. The rest is history.

The owner, Linda Starner, agreed to pay for my first semester of college that my scholarships didn’t cover, and in return, she would get lifetime updates to the software if it worked out. 31 years later – we still release updates every 6-12 weeks! The lesson: I didn’t sit around and wait for an opportunity to come to me. I reached out, worked hard, and found opportunity. I believe there is nothing wrong with hope or believing in a higher power but let’s agree that something puts us on earth – the rest is up to us to seize the moment and make things happen.

Don’t worry about being the smartest person…be the best listener.

Focus and listen. It’s kind of funny, but I’ve had multiple people say to me, “you’re smart…but not that smart.” I agree! I’m very good in math and used to code as fast as I could type, but I couldn’t get a VCR to record on time and always have extra screws left when I’m putting something together (which most likely will fall apart). Don’t worry about being the smartest person in the room or in the company. The key to success is being the best listener. Listening is a dying art. You try to speak to someone and within 30 seconds, they are looking down at their phone, looking around the room, or barely listening.

Listen to your client. The number one reason Salon Manager, then Salon Solutions, then Millennium, and now Meevo 2, are successful is we listen to the needs and challenges of our users. In my opinion, we listen better than any competitor, which is why Millennium is used for their research and development. Listen and be the best at understanding what your clients want and need and you will be on your way to success.

GRIT is the leading factor in successful people

Studies have been conducted to determine what trait is most common in successful people. Many believe it is level of education, grades, family upbringing, or financial status, yet the universal trait of successful people turned out to be GRIT; People willing to work hard, not give up, and persevere towards long-term goals. People with grit focus on getting things accomplished today that fit into the longer-term goals that bring them success. They are not focused on short-term, quick wins.

I believe I was born an entrepreneur, but certainly, that six months of homelessness taught me grit and the value of working hard towards a goal without giving up. I believe much of the early success at Millennium (then Harms Software) was around the type of people we hired. I didn’t care about resumes. I hired based on character, work ethic, and grit. Most of those hires are still with our company today.

Want more? Stay tuned for part 2 next week and learn 5 more pieces of advice.


John Harms, Founder & CEO of Millennium Systems International, has been designing award-winning software and educating the beauty and wellness industries for over 30 years. John’s passion for helping spa & salon owners has helped him understand what they really need to streamline and grow their businesses. John’s commitment to educating owners on Millennium’s key growth indicators and why software is more than a front desk tool is unmatched throughout the industry.

In 2004, John was awarded one of the Top 40 Entrepreneurs under the age of 40 by NJ Business Magazine and Millennium was profiled on CNN and CNBC during the “Pulse on America” segment, which discussed innovations in technology. Today, Millennium is utilized in thousands of businesses in over 42 countries. Millennium’s corporate headquarters is based in New Jersey with 200 employees and its international office is based in the U.K.

About Our Guest Blogger

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