In New York. Pregnant. Powerless. In pain. And thoroughly pissed off.
In a nutshell, that’s how I became an entrepreneur.
We like to think entrepreneurs are driven by a need to change the world or fulfill some unmet passion. But at the exact moment I decided to start my company, I was a marketing communications manager at a large Silicon Valley company, very pregnant with my second child, and managing a huge product launch in New York. I had worked around the clock for weeks and managed to attract the interest of hundreds of members of the press, analysts and industry luminaries. Then, two giant “partners” withdrew their public endorsements right before our launch event. With a swollen belly and ankles, no sleep and insufferable pantyhose, I watched the launch fizzle. I had done my job well and exceeded my goals, but in the end, the launch success was not within my control. Could starting my own company really be any worse?
From Thanksgiving straight through to our New Year’s resolutions, the holidays are when we take stock of Life’s Big Things. We count our blessings. We consider courageous changes. What better time to remind yourself of the reason you took that leap to start your own company, and to learn from its success so far? My company might not have had the picture-perfect beginning, but it has cruised along pretty well for the past 15 years. Here are the things I try to keep doing, knowing the crucial role they’ve played in my success.
Own it. I did as much as anyone could have to make that product launch a success, but in the end, the fact that it fell flat had nothing to do with me. Frustration and disappointment fueled my desire to take on more risk in exchange for a potentially higher reward. If I’m going to pour myself into something, I want to know that all that effort will really make a difference in the project’s eventual success or failure. For better or worse, I want it to be mine.
Finding and Maintaining Balance. For me, motherhood was the tipping point that pushed me into entrepreneurship—even though any sane person would say it’s crazy to start a business and a family at the same time. After my epiphany in New York, I went to my company’s human resources department and asked to job-share with a colleague who was also pregnant. Our “family-friendly” company denied our request. Eventually, my colleague and I both left for something better.
Working from home with two young babies, a computer and a telephone, I emailed five friends and soon started receiving calls from former colleagues who needed help with PR and marketing projects. Within one year I had doubled my old salary. The following year it nearly tripled. I was spending more time with my family, doing more of the work that I love and earning more money doing it.
Working Only With the Best. Life is too short to work with mean, unethical or incompetent people. So I don’t. I’m extremely picky about employees, partners and customers and tried to create a unique workplace that nurtures the best in everyone. Our five employees have fun, flexible jobs managing dozens of clients, hundreds of consultants and more than $4 million dollars in consulting fees. Now clients come back again and again, bringing us into new companies when they change positions.
When I started out, it was tempting to say “yes” to everyone who offered or needed work. This always leads to trouble. It’s like buying cheap kitchen knives. They don’t do the job well and there’s a high likelihood you’ll end up cutting yourself. Be more selective at the beginning, and save yourself time and trouble later.
Doing What I Love. High-tech marketing communications is challenging and rewarding, but if I hadn’t left my corporate job I never would have found my true passion. It turns out I have a knack for helping overwhelmed marketing colleagues finding the exact expert for critical projects. I’d do it for free—and did for several years before starting my business. The fun of helping people far outweighs the scary operational stuff, and I love what I do every single day. This is a feeling no one can hide, especially from employees, customers and prospects.
One of my little babies is now in college. The other is finishing high school. And since I started this odyssey, we’ve had a third. My life and career could have worked out in any number of ways. But it’s these simple principles – own it, find and maintain balance, work only with the best, do what you love—that have enabled me to build a thriving, mostly pain-free business.