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O’Neill speaks on pianos and passions at entreprenuer lecture

Robert Singer | Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Notre Dame alum and member of The O’Neill Brothers piano duo, Tim O’Neill did not start his career by visiting the Career Center. Instead, O’Neill found what he loved to do and opened his own business, he said as he spoke to an audience at the Mendoza College of Business Tuesday evening about “Turning Your Passion into Profit.”

“You’re up against a lot to start your own business,” he said. “But you can do it.”

O’Neill shared his own story as a self-employed musician, while giving advice on how others can succeed as entrepreneurs.

He invited the audience to think about three questions: What do you love to do? Who else would love that? And, are you willing to take that risk and put that passion into action?

“Your mom and your brother don’t have the answer,” he said on finding your passion. “Someone else might tell you what your passions are, but only you can answer it.”

O’Neill said he made a mix tape of his piano music for his mother to listen to when he studied abroad in Austria during his sophomore year at Notre Dame. When he returned, he learned that she had made fifty copies and passed them out to friends. He had found other people who loved his passion, a consumer base of people in their forties, fifties and sixties.

O’Neill said he decided to make a thousand tapes and distribute them to all the local gift stores he could find.

One of his tips on making sales was that it was “no risk” for the stores.

When starting a business, he said you should frame your proposals to buyers in terms that will benefit them with little risk.

“Sit in their shoes and ask what’s the risk for them,” he said. “If there’s no risk, they’ll probably try it.”

Although he had both a talent and passion for piano music, O’Neill said he declared a marketing major his junior year because he was still unsure about a career. However, he said a marketing degree is not essential to starting a business.

“I want to create an idea in your minds that you can do this to,” he said. “It wasn’t a degree that made this happen. It was hard work that made it happen.”

He said the only interview he had senior year was with Hallmark. During the interview, O’Neill said he was mainly thinking about how many of his CDs he could supply to Hallmark.

“I realized I didn’t want to work at Hallmark,” he said. “I wanted to do my own thing.”

O’Neill’s advice of “don’t set goals” may seem counterintuitive. But he explained, “The reason why I say that is that I think when people set goals they get locked in on it.”

A narrow focus on a particular set of goals can close you off to other opportunities, he said.

After graduating, O’Neill found himself mowing lawns for seven dollars an hour. He said although his dad thought he was “crazy,” he had long-term plans in mind.

Attending a craft show with his mother, O’Neill said he noticed a lack of music. He saw an opportunity and began playing music at craft shows while peddling his CDs, he said. On one weekend he sold eleven thousand dollars of music.

One of O’Neill’s other tips was to “bring it to them.” He said anyone with a product should not expect buyers to come to them. Instead, as he pointed out in the case of the craft shows, the person with the product should be persistent and assertive when marketing it.