In the lead up to Labor Day, we have put together a Q&A series we're calling "Q&Aid" with some of the top entrepreneurs and city/business leaders to get our volunteers' creative juices flowing.
Our introductory interview is with Tulsa native Elliot Nelson, founder and CEO of McNellie's Group, which includes 10 unique brands spread across 20 locations, 4 cities and 2 states.
Editor's Note: McNellie's Group is a sponsor of the Lemon-Aid Project and we are grateful for their support.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Tulsa. After going away to college, I came to home to pursue my dream of opening an Irish Pub. McNellie’s opened in 2004, and in the 15 years since I’ve been fortunate enough to grow our company to 20 restaurants and 1,000 employees, as well as play a significant role in the redevelopment of Tulsa’s downtown.
Who is your biggest role model or mentor and why?
I have a lot of mentors and people I rely on for advice. I think it’s important to seek people out, to constantly learn and try to improve. It’s important to get other perspectives on life and business that can help you grow as an entrepreneur. That said, I think the person who had the biggest effect on my life as an entrepreneur is my dad. I learned by watching him at work and his management style affects how we run our business every day - he treated all his employees with respect and care. No matter their position or title, everyone matters to him. It’s the people that matter most, and we always try to prioritize them.
This Lemon-Aid stand is my first entrepreneurial venture… any advice or suggestions?
Work hard and don’t give up easily. Often times the thing that separates successful entrepreneurs from failed ones is determination and the ability to carry on. Things will be hard at times and that’s when you must work even harder. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of marketing. Whether you’re selling lemonade or cars or clothes, people need to know you’re there. They can’t buy what they can’t find or see. Put together a marketing plan to drive the most people to your business and constantly work on it.
What did you wish you knew when you were a kid that you know now?
Maybe that nothing is easy? There’s a shared experience amongst entrepreneurs that we all go through. It all takes hard work. From the smallest business to the biggest one, somewhere someone took some risks and worked very hard to make them happen.
What drives you to keep going when things get difficult?
Purpose. I’ve spent most of my career trying to make Tulsa a better place to live. I think that’s why I’m here. And it’s a determination to see that through to the finish that keeps me going, knowing that I’m working towards a greater goal.
How do you feel you make a difference in the world?
Hopefully people’s lives are just a little bit better because McNellie’s Group exists. We hope our restaurants and hospitality improve lives one meal or a drink at a time, and we like to think our cities are better because we’re here. Also, I hope we’re making a difference in the lives of our employees by providing opportunities.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Good luck! Entrepreneurship can be a lot of fun, but it takes hard work and determination. Don’t get discouraged, and don’t be afraid to celebrate the success along the way. Set some goals and go achieve them!
When we first decided to bring Lemon-Aid back for its 25th anniversary, we had so many amazing ideas but knew we had to start on the smaller side and grow into some of the activities we had brainstormed. But sometimes you also need to leap into the deep end head first, especially when you get repeated requests.
The first of those requests will be back this summer by popular demand: the original Lemon-Aid Stands and Kits. In nearly every conversation we had, someone would ask about the Lemon-Aid stands all over Tulsa. We originally felt it would be too much for us to take on, especially in our first year back. But then we went back to the drawing board and realized it was do-able. So we jumped right back in, offering up to 100 Lemon-Aid Kits for volunteers to set up around the City of Tulsa over Labor Day Weekend.
But not surprisingly, the requests from Tulsa's very entrepreneurial youth didn't stop there. They wanted to learn as a part of this experience. Teachers, parents and youth themselves have reached out to us, asking for advice on what it takes to create the best Lemon-Aid stand possible. Since we don't have a one-size-fits-all answer, we thought this would be a great opportunity to gather tips and tricks from some of the most business-savvy, community-driven and entrepreneurial people we know.
Introducing "Q&Aid," our new on-going interview series. We will ask a series of questions to some of the top entrepreneurs and city/business leaders both in and outside of Tulsa. We hope their answers and advise will get your creative juices flowing!
Comment below with any leaders that you'd like to hear from.