Monday, January 25, 2010

Herstory Part 1

Several weeks ago, Rachel (who is probably my oldest friend--we've managed to stay in touch since high school) mentioned in that off-hand, sigh, slightly bothered way that she has, "golly gee willikers, I sure wish you talk more about the business."

For the next few weeks, I chew on this idea thinking, "Who really cares? Seriously?"

Then I realized a couple of things:
1.) I write about training. I actually have a job. You would never really know it, though.
2.) Maybe, just maybe there are people out there in big wide world of the internet that might find this interesting. Maybe they are thinking about starting a company. Maybe they don't have the first idea how to start. Maybe they have a successful business that I could learn from.

With those thoughts in mind, I thought "Hey why not? But let's start from the beginning so everyone has perspective and background"

So, dear friends, I present to you Herstory Pt 1.

I know many of you know bits and pieces of my story. Here's the opportunity (whether you like it or not) to put the pieces together.

My working career started in banking and financial services. I did that for a long time. During this time, Mike and I met and shortly thereafter we were married and in even less time we had two boys (Jordan born in 94 and Justin born in 95).

During this same time period, I was putting myself through college. I attended the Women's College of the University of Denver. (In fact, I started when Justin was not even 2 months old).

In the early to mid 90's, I jumped into the high tech start-up craze. This time period was probably my favorite. I really loved working for start up companies. It wasn't the possibility of getting crazy rich that drove me to these companies. It was the getting down and dirty; everyone doing everything; no bureacratic red tape.

Of course, we had our challenges, but more than anything I remember how much I loved working with the people that I worked with. We all had so much fun even during stressful times.

Unfortunately, in the late 90's one of the companies decided to close their offices in the States, and I was unemployed.

On a positive note, I was also working on my MBA during this time. It really helped me to stay focused during the period I was unemployed.

I found a job at another company and discovered very quickly do I say this.....well, I truly believe the President's heart was in the right place. I really do. But the rest of the executive staff was a bunch of liars and unethical jerks. Those are the kindest words I have for them.

But I felt stuck. I tried to change the way things were done to no avail. I slowly began to become someone that I didn't like. I still tried to change things, but when your company does things that go against your core values, it causes tremendous emotional distress.

In 2004, I left. This is where the story begins.

I looked back over my entire work history. I thought long and hard about when I enjoyed work and when I hated it.

I made the decision to start my own business. I've always read, "Do what you love and what you know."

I didn't know anything. Or so I thought. Mike had worked for awhile in the clothing industry. I
knew enough about the more technical aspects of running a business, project management...but mostly I'm resourceful and I dream big. How do you turn that into a business?

Well, you put the two together.

We launched our first company in 2004. We sold men's and women's clothes.

It failed miserably.

For a variety of reasons. I would say that the main reason it failed is because I was 100% bought into it, but Mike was not. I needed him for his knowledge.

But I knew....deep down inside....that it could work. I wasn't ready to give up on the idea.

We closed shop. Re-organized, re-defined who we were, re-designed our website....really we started over, completely. In August of 2006, we re-launched as a new company under a new name.

Mike still wasn't bought in, but said that he thought we could have a nice "part time" income from it.

I didn't agree. I saw the company as being much more, much bigger. In fact, I started thinking about the company that I would be proud of. It would an ethical company in which everyone has the opportunity to be great. That was it. That was kind of company I wanted to build.

In early 2008, I almost lost Mike, professionally. I could tell that something was happening. I think it was the stress. I started quietly making plans for his exit. How would I handle the stuff he does? How would I be able to move forward without him?

I'm not sure if you've caught on to this, but this business was all we had. We weren't working anywhere else.

This wasn't like buying into a franchise. We were unknown. We had no customers. Nobody knew us, and they didn't know if we could be trusted. From a financial perspective, we tried to get SBA loans but found out quickly that SBA loans are a joke. We financed the entire thing on our own. No loans from friends and family. We put everything we had on the line.

I was never worried. There were tough times; don't get me wrong. I think that's the benefit that "dreamers" or "visonaries" have. We can see beyond the day-to-day business, and we can see the other side of struggle. I realized that I had to communicate better my vision and the direction of the company.

Since that time, we have grown tremendously.

Now we're faced with managing the growth and planning out our future steps. Looking back, we've made some mistakes, but we've also had great success because of those mistakes.

As hard as some of the times were, I wouldn't change anything.

I can tell you that starting a business takes different types of personalities in order to be successful. I think Mike and I have that balance. When he can't see the forest for the trees, I'm in a hot air balloon over the forest pointing toward the mountains.

So when I'm not spending a couple of hours a day training, I'm actually "working". Yes, shocking, I know but true.

All the stress we have now is good stress, forcing us to be better, make smarter decisions, and define our own path.

Because of it, I can train for a couple of hours in the middle of day. We are home for the kids when they get out of school and when they leave in the morning, and we don't have to miss any of their events because our boss wouldn't let us leave work.

Those are the values we are going to take with us as we grow.