Many business leaders have an entrepreneurial dream, but they often might be stuck in a rut and don't know when to do it. They fear their startup might not survive long term. Others can't choose between their entrepreneurial passion and their executive dreams.
For all that's been written about work-life balance, getting it right still feels hard. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Badger Ginsburg once said,
"You can't have it all at once. Over my lifespan, I think I have had it all."
Wise words from the justice nicknamed the Notorious R.B.G., as sequencing is one of the secrets to making this work.
The second secret is to pick an entrepreneurial venture where you build on the skills you were famous for in your corporate career. This gives you insurance that you can keep one foot in the door should your itch to run a larger organization come back.
A few years ago, Darren Mangus was a rising star in retail. He managed a large region of stores for Ulta Beauty and eventually became the VP of HR. So it was curious when he quit and moved his family from Chicago to North Carolina to buy a country club.
Everyone thought he was crazy. But there were four things Darren was crazy about--his dream to run his own business, his love of golf, his love of building teams, and his love of retail. All of these helped him turn the business around in three ways.
1. Use your unique skills to unlock value others can't see.
The country club, Salem Glen, shrank to 75 members. The previous owner assumed there was nothing he could do and let it go. But Darren saw that the golf course wasn't the problem. It was a Jack Nicklaus designed course in a thriving community of 375 homes. He just needed more customers.
People liked playing golf there, but few people spent time there afterwards. As a skilled retailer, Darren knew how to create a great experience. He made sure his club's superconsumers were taken care of, and they told others. They told him what the good, bad, and ugly were, and he rolled up his sleeves to fix it.
He wore every hat from janitor to general manager. Once he optimized the experience, Darren and his wife, Kris, spent a ton of time connecting with everyone who came through their doors and in the neighborhood to create a gathering place for the community.
2. Focus on what you can be famous for and outsource the rest.
To win in retail, you need to make choices about what you are famous for. Darren focused on the pro shop. He rebuilt relationships with the vendors that had turned their back on Salem Glen and fought hard to get the brands that his superconsumers wanted.
But Darren knew that getting the bar and restaurant right was important too. He smartly chose to partner with a popular restaurant in the area called Five Points. They used his golf course open a second location. It has been a success and took a lot off of Darren's plate.
3. Build a great team and let them lead.
Darren's retail expertise helped turn the business around, with now close to 200 members and climbing in under two years. But to keep it going required Darren to tap into his HR expertise. He made sure to build a great team around him with clear roles. Darren's skills in team and culture building paid off--his team has real ownership of the turnaround and can largely run it independently.
Shortly after the turnaround, a former colleague of Darren's called and asked if he would be interested in discussing a senior vice president role for Ratner Companies (the largest family-owned chain of hair salons in the country).
The same people who told Darren he was crazy for leaving Ulta to buy a golf course told him he'd be crazy to leave. But after mulling it over, he realized that his golf course strategy was set and all that needed to be done was to execute it with some occasional guidance. The itch to be a leader in a large company again was still there, so he accepted the role and is now doing both.
This story was instructive and inspiring to me as well. I'm loving my life as a solopreneur with a great balance of helping companies of all sizes grow, writing and speaking about growth, and being home with my family. But as different consulting firms reach out and inquire if I want to come back to a large firm, it makes me wistful and wonder. Now I have a road map for how to have my cake and eat it too.