Just like I didn’t appreciate how American I was until I spent time living abroad, and just like I didn’t realize how Midwestern I was until I moved to the east coast, I didn’t realize how female I was until I started my own business in a male-dominated field. I became acutely aware of this while listening to the 5th episode of the Pancake Town podcast from Chicago business owners Emily and Michelle about their distaste for the word “girlboss” in particular and for women-focused business support groups in general because those things are, or at least represent, a lifeline for me.Continue reading “Feeling like a #girlboss”
I’m hot of the heels of a trip to China to visit my factory and suppliers and sourcing agents. This is the second time I’ve gone, and this year was as good as the first (see recap of first visit here).
One nice thing about being a small, founder-led business is that telling your “story” isn’t that hard. It’s by nature authentic, because it happened to you and you’re telling it, and it’s probably going to be at least somewhat interesting because you started your business to solve some sort of problem that nobody had thought to solve yet. (If you’re still struggling with whole to get your “story” down to a 3 minute spiel, I highly recommend taking General Assembly’s “Storytelling for Entrepreneurs” class).
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.
A couple weeks ago, a friend asked me to lunch, saying she was weighing an important decision and wanted my input. The important decision turned out to be whether she should quit her high paying job that was fine enough but not fulfilling for a very low paying job working for a nonprofit that she really believed in. She knew I had quit a high paying job to work on Po Campo, which pays me very little, and did I think it was worth it?
Of course I gave her the enthusiastic “yes!” that I give to everyone who asks me this question. I offered up the usual reasons of why quitting a good paying job or leaving a career is actually not as scary as it may seem: you can always go back to the old career later, you have savings to help you transition to a lower pay, you don’t actually need that much money anyway, and what’s the worst thing that could happen anyway? It’s not like it will kill you.
She ended up turning down the new job and staying put, saying that it just “made more sense”. I don’t blame her for that. It did make more sense. Yet, I had to admit to myself that I was disappointed to hear her decision. Why?
At first I thought it was because misery loves company. We romanticize the thrill of “taking the plunge” but in all actuality, it sucks most of the time. Well, starting a bootstrapped business does, anyway. It’s stressful. It’s tiring. It’s thankless. It apparently never gets easier. I treasure my relationships with my fellow bootstrapped entrepreneurs because they are the only ones who can sympathize with my struggles and whose encouragement to keep going matters most.
But why would I want my friend to share my misery? And am I really miserable?
No, of course I’m not miserable. I would even describe myself as happy.
When I started Po Campo, I made a pitch to a colleague to join me in my venture. The first slide had the Gandhi quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Despite all the hardships I’ve faced since quitting my good job and taking the plunge, overcoming the challenges with starting and growing a business have definitely made me stronger and more confident. I know the future will be similarly tough, but I feel ready for it. I feel more in control of my destiny and I believe in my ability to change the world, at least my little corner of it. Before Po Campo, I had hoped that I could be a positive influence on the world someday. Now I know that I can. And therein lies my happiness.
So, maybe I was disappointed with my friend’s decision because I thought she was going to miss out on experiencing this source of happiness. But honestly I don’t think so. I think I was disappointed simply because I thought it would be another thing we could share, just like our love of recycling and our love of foreign travel. I’m glad she chose what was right for her.
I’ll close this post with a quote from Henry David Thoreau from Walden:
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
The inspiration for this post came from a lovely interview with designer/artist Elle Luna on The Great Discontent. I recommend reading it.
My background is in design research and design/brand strategy. I believe in the importance and power of these disciplines. Yet, for my own business, I rarely do either. What the heck?!!?
Since acknowledging that the adage about the cobbler’s children without any shoes applies to me, I googled the expression to find out how I turned out like this.
A couple of theories of why this happens:
- Externally Motivated. Is my drive to please others stronger than my drive to just do high quality work? It’s a possible explanation as to why I conducted proper research for my clients and just do minimal internet research for myself. With the former, I would have an audience gathered around a big conference room table to listen to my every word and congratulate me on what a good job I did. With the latter, I have to wait months to see if my conclusions from the research were correct and, even if they are, there is still no one to pat me on the back. I never knew that praise was important to me, but it is.
- Limited Resources. Whether money, time or talent, you’ve only got so much of each. Whenever someone would suggest that I do research, I would say, “But I don’t have time!” even though I knew that research doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. So, while this may be true for others, for me it was just an excuse.
- Lack of Confidence. I never received proper training or education for design research and strategy. I developed my methods myself based largely on intuition and what seemed to work in the field. Interestingly, I felt like that sufficed when working with clients but fills me with doubt when working on my own business. The stakes certainly seem higher now, so maybe just going with my gut doesn’t give me enough confidence?
Obviously, these are all rather lame excuses for not doing something that is incredibly important. Doing my first bit of consumer research this past week, albeit a very small bit, was a good confidence re-builder. It forced me to acknowledge that there are things about my consumer that I do not know and that I can use my old research methods to start to figure them out. I’m looking forward to doing more in the future.
Any other examples from other entrepreneurs out there that found themselves neglecting their specialty in running their own business?