Well, it’s been a year now since I embarked on this crazy adventure. Seems like a good time to look back on my foray into entrepreneurship.
It’s been grand, but it’s time for you to go. Here’s some money, now toddle off. A simple function of a declining business model, nothing personal.
It started with a subtle bang. After 18 years in the corporate world, it was my time to get cut. “It’s been grand, but it’s time for you to go. Here’s some money, now toddle off.” A simple function of a declining business model, nothing personal.
Multiple job offers rolled in, all promising a continued slow-leaking career path that was not only unfulfilling but soul-sucking. After taking 48-hours to catch my breath, I realized that this was my shot to be the professional master of my own destiny, and it had to happen now.
The epiphany hit me like a punch to the face. I realized that I was running after something in the corporate world that I never really wanted. This was not what I was meant to be doing here on earth.
I turned to my wife Jody and said “If I don’t do it now, I’m going to resent myself and resent you.” Without batting an eyelash, she said “You do what you gotta do.”
I knew I wanted to throw myself into helping youth with Generate U, but also was keenly aware that it would take years for it to become financially viable. And as it turns out, kids can’t wait that long to eat.
After many discussions with people whose opinions I value, I decided to open up KarmaDharma. Even picking the name was a testament to my new found courage. I knew that it wouldn’t make sense to everyone. Some might even think we’re some new age yoga studio, but it meant everything to me. It was my life philosophy in a name and anyone who didn’t want to work with us because of it could go elsewhere.
Feeling like I didn’t have the knowledge or the know-how of running a business, I lacked the courage to launch out on my own. I found a partner to get the agency off the ground. It only took me a few months to figure out that was a mistake and six months to correct the situation. After being married to the corporate world for so long, I look back on that partnership as my entrepreneurial rebound girlfriend. He is a good guy, we just didn’t share the same business values and vision. It was time to move on.
It’s amazing how fear can cloud our vision of reality. Everyone around me thought I could do this on my own, except me. Strange really, as I left a world where I was very confident about my skill set. I plunged into the unknown feeling bewildered, without any familiar anchor points. Although it saddens me to look back, the experience was a source of tremendous learning for myself and the business.
It turns out that trying to figure out the right business model, service offering, pricing model, frameworks, a balance of insourcing to outsourcing and setting the vision for long-term success while keeping the lights on in the short-term can be somewhat stressful. Who knew?
In the midst of the stress, I came across an article (and now there is a full on book which I would still like to read) on Effectual Entrepreneurship (as compared to causal entrepreneurship that put some of my stress to rest). Causal thinking is where you set a goal for the business and try and find your best way of getting there. Effectual thinking focuses more know figuring out who you are, what you know and who you know. Building on these three things will ultimately get you to your goal, rather than stressing on hitting a target and the work back plan from it. It certainly felt more manageable to me and more in line with how I think.
I did not have a 60-page business plan or a complete competitive analysis. I simply built out a Business Model Canvas of our customer segments, key activities, key partners and resources needed and built it up from there.
I took some time to take a personal inventory of what I knew and did not know⏤ Where I felt confident and where I was nervous as all hell. A humbling exercise to say the least.
Then, despite dragging a constant low-level imposter-syndrome feeling, I was able to get out there and bring on clients. I worked my network to the best of my ability, hitting up as many Telfer EMBA alums and past clients as I could.
These people believed that I could add value to their business. More importantly, they knew that I would be there through thick and thin, working my ass off to make them successful. And that is just what I did and continue to strive for.
I concurrently went out to find strategic partners for websites, digital marketing and copywriting to fill in the knowledge and skill gaps in the business. Plus, I started reading whatever I could get my hands on with regards to branding, digital marketing and content marketing.
When we first moved into our office in Westboro (after 3 months in various Starbucks locations), it was just my former partner, our graphic designer Tina, and I. Fast forward a year later, we are now a team of 6 with tremendous talent, growing slowly but surely.
So what are my key takeaways from starting my own business?
Believe in yourself.
The universe is conspiring to make your dreams come true.
My business is an extension of myself.
Managing the Doer and the Dreamer
People are inherently good.
You don’t know everything and that’s okay.