What helped me rise out of my downward spiral in 2012 was reading the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. It felt like it was written just for me, and it gave me specific tools for how to move forward. Another book found its way to me this year, and is acting as my guide for the next stage of my entrepreneurial journey. Well not really a book so much as an author: Seth Godin.
The list of prominent female entrepreneurs in product and design businesses is short. Martha Stewart? Sara Blakely of Spanx? And yet there is no shortage of tales of successful male entrepreneurs in these fields. While I find many of their stories interesting and informative, they too often end the same way: some dude kicking back with his millions of dollars, luxury watches and a fleet of sportscars. Yawn. Just because I want something else as my endgame does that mean my aspirations are any less important or my business acumen any less acute? No, of course not, but if you listen solely to these dudes, you might think so. If women define success differently than men, what is the female equivalent to this vision of “making it”?
I was thumbing through a copy of Sophia Amoruso‘s #GIRLBOSS in the bookstore and read the phrase “I stopped feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere, and realized that I actually belonged anywhere I wanted to be.” That sentence really struck a nerve with me. Here I had this idea for these great Po Campo bags that I was so excited about and passionate about and then for five years had to listen daily that they didn’t quite fit into the current marketplace and that it probably wasn’t going to work. When so many people tell you “probably not” for so long, and people that you respect, it takes awhile to build up the courage and turn that dialogue around and say, “Well, actually, yes it will!!” That’s kind of where I am now, which was why I was eager to read about how Amoruso made that transition herself.
First, #GIRLBOSS is not really a business book, even though it was in the business section of the bookstore and about her business Nasty Gal. Regardless it was certainly fun to read, as the writing style is distinctly her own and about as different from a normal business book as possible. In the book, she candidly talks about the qualities that she possesses that helped get her to where she is despite not having a college degree or even a prior office job. I think I would have absolutely adored this book when I was 17 years old, wanting to believe I had greatness in my future but not being able to imagine how a 17 year old pimply dork with no boyfriend could ever become great.
While I suspect my 17 year old self would be happy with where I am now, my 37 year old self craves more. Despite feeling like the book left me a little empty-handed as far as business lessons go, there was one meme in #GIRLBOSS that I’m taking with me, and that is that you have to believe in yourself whole-heartedly before you can ask other people to believe in you. That’s certainly not a new idea, but coming from Amoruso, a most unlikely powerful CEO, it really rang true and was incredibly persuasive. All those years of people doubting me (and me doubting myself) have definitely left their marks on my psyche, but Po Campo needs a thoroughly confident leader to attain its goals, so that is what I will be.
I recently read “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman” by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. There were many parts of the book that I found inspirational and informative, but perhaps the lesson that stuck with me most was how strongly he carried his values through to his company. Of course this includes the company’s famous environmental policies, but also how the company manages its finances, the relationships it builds with its customers, the benefits it provides its employees and on and on. Sure, some aspects of Patagonia’s culture may not be as close to his heart as others, but it is clear that he built Patagonia to be an extension of the things that he cares about through and through.
Then, today I read an interview with Cadence Dubus, who owns the Pilates studio Brooklyn Strength. In explaining her commitment to creating an eco-friendly space, she says, “If you’re going so far as to open your own business, that is such a statement about your beliefs. I would hope that every aspect of that would be as close to my values as possible”.
This really struck a chord with me because it acknowledged that starting a business requires a lot of courage and commitment and you don’t just do it willy nilly. But, strangely, I never thought about how the business you start is an automatic reflection of yourself. Why did this seemingly obvious thing never occur to me? Maybe because the start-ups you read about nowadays are high-growth tech companies intended to be sold as quick as possible, thus having a fingerprint of the founder is not necessary, if not undesirable. Or maybe it is because I always pictured Po Campo living on beyond my involvement, in which case I would not want the whole operation to lose its sense of identity without its founder. Possibly it is because I started Po Campo with a dear friend, and since it was “ours” it could never be “mine”, or “me”.
Regardless of the reason why I never thought about how my personal values should be shared with my company, my new “flex time” policy showed me why it is important. Declaring that no one has to come in to work when they don’t want to as long as they get their work done was my biggest managerial statement to date. And experiencing the freedom of not having to come in to work every day is incredibly liberating and joyful to me. I finally saw for the first time just how cool Po Campo could be. Po Campo can become my dream company to work for, and for others who share a similar idea of how a dream company should behave.
Sure, there are certainly other aspects of myself that the company has already assumed, like a persistent frugality, a certain mellowness, a respectful position towards others. But now I’m thinking of things that I always thought that we would do later when we had more time or money, like recycling or volunteer work or decorating, but now I am thinking we should just do it now. Those things are important to me, would be a part of my dream company, so what am I waiting for? I want to start working at my dream company today.