I had been in a career for 26 years that never used words like “incubator” “startup” “seed capital” or “build out”. We didn’t talk about brand or social media presence. I had diverged from a path I felt very comfortable on to a street of the unknown where those walking beside me spoke a foreign language of web templates and overlays and infographics and a thousand other concepts I didn’t understand. I was overwhelmed. I even considered giving up and returning to a comfort zone of experience, confidence, and earned credibility, but I hung in there and then I got excited not only about learning, but also about what I brought to this new landscape from my old world.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to own my own detective agency. I wanted to make money, be in charge, and do something that helped people. I created the startup in the bedroom I shared with my little brother. My office was my twin-sized bottom bunk. I created a cardboard sign using distinctive branding including a burnt orange crayon with the words “Kristy’s Detective Agency” spelled out in the font only a 9-year-old girl can create with curly cues and a heart over the i’s. I did not develop a business plan. I did have a price point: Cases solved: 25 Cents. I knew I needed buzz so I told all my friends and actively pursued my first cases. I hired my little brother to be my assistant. By the end of my first week I had solved two. “The Case of the Bakery Burglary” and “The Case of the Missing Picnic Table”. I also experienced my first failure with “The Case of the Dead Cat.” I jumped in. I did no product analysis or market testing. I also made no profit or attained any clients, but I had fun. I was in charge of my own destiny. I gave it a fair shot for one week. I had no fear of failure and my creativity was free to go wild. I also pivoted when something more interesting came along (I think it was a cute 4th grade boy named Charley), but was glad for the experience that has stuck with me for all this time.
Many years later, my friend and I decided to start our own restaurant. After all, we had been waitresses for several years and thought perhaps we could do it better or at least as well. We did not have the expendable money to put in, so I asked one of the few people I thought might help. I called my dad. When I told him how excited I was to start this new venture, rather than being excited for me he said, How much profit do you make on each hamburger? Um? Do you know how many hamburgers you will have to sell to pay your overhead? Um? His answer was quick and firm, “No. You do not know enough to start a restaurant.” But… we have a location, a cute creative name, and red and white checked curtains to hang when the papers are signed. Somewhat undaunted we went to the other person we knew who might be able to help us get started. He owned the real estate company next door. When we approached him with our full tilt enthusiasm he invested $5,000 to get us started. It was a hard road of work, work, more work, sacrifice of family time and finances, learning for sure, and successes (Our signature steak sandwich was a hit all over town) but after a year, a slow season we did not anticipate, along with huge overhead we ignored, we hit a crossroad of finding more funding to keep going or fold. I voted fold. I did this for several reasons. I was afraid of taking more risk. I already felt on the hook for half of the realtor investment. I told myself business was not for me and quitting seemed a far easier option. My friend wanted to keep going. She was not afraid of the risk and wanted to get over the hump. At the end of agonizing debate, we decided to call it a day. I went back to college and became a teacher. She moved to another town, started another restaurant, and is still in business to this day.
Now don’t get me wrong. I do not regret my 26 years teaching after this venture. In fact, I loved it, but when I was ready for something different, when I was ready to be part of something new in my life, I had a new tool box – a box filled with skills that would assist me along this entrepreneurial journey. Tools of knowledge, knowing where and how to find what I didn’t know, the most important skills of tenacity when the going gets tough and the complete belief that what I didn’t know I could learn. It is exciting to add purpose to the tool box- a true desire to help other women achieve their dreams.
As a life-experienced woman changing her career to being an entrepreneur what tools do I bring?
1) I can learn what I don’t know. After so many years of successfully learning new things, I know I can (and so can you) learn what I need to learn to start the business of my dreams. I can research ideas, startup information, funding opportunities, just about anything to help me get started. (see wethevine.com) I can also find willing coaches and mentors to guide me along the way.
2) I need to know before I go. I know that I do not need to be an expert or know everything about all aspects of the business I am starting. However, I have discovered that just jumping in without proper research is a quick way to derail from the path of success. The more knowledge I have, the safer the risky road becomes. I can develop a plan- a guidebook- with objectives and goals that drive my actions along the way. I can then rest in knowing what I need to know to take the steps I need to take and accept that I don’t need to know it all.
3) I can persevere when the going gets tough. I have proved it and so have you. Tenacity is one of my greatest strengths. I have survived this long. I have gone through some tough times and I know how to keep going. So do you. This does not mean I might not need to change the plan, have a new vision, or scrap the idea for a better one. It means I do not give up on myself. I give myself permission to succeed.
There are so many more talents and skills a life-experienced woman brings to a business including: demonstrated people, communication, and execution skills, helpful background knowledge, negotiating and influencing tools, etc., However, the ability to persevere, learn, and go are the invaluable skills that are helping me most during this transition from a long teaching career to being part of starting a new business. It is exciting. Though I did not fulfill that 9 year old girl’s desire to build her own detective agency, I believe the desire to take risks, courageously face new challenges head on, and to be creative started with that little girl dream. More importantly, as one journey ends and another begins, the excitement of being part of something that helps others was planted and only continues to grow stronger than ever.