I was doing it. I was building a company with a great reputation that was growing almost faster than I could keep up. Before I knew it, the adrenaline that propelled me through these first three years slackened into three weeks of insomnia. I was sick to my stomach when it eventually sunk in that while I loved being an entrepreneur, I didn’t love my business. This realization felt like a prison sentence.
What would you do if you hated your business? What would you do if you spent three full years and your entire savings account building a startup into a sustainable business, until one day you realized that you were not happy?
I started that first business, an environmentally friendly cleaning service, in 2006. I started it because I saw a need in the market and because I believed – and still believe – in its mission. Initially, my excitement kept me up at night: How was I going to market it? How was I going to brand it? How was I going to expand it? I didn’t mind the exhaustion after eight hours of cleaning and four more hours of administrative work, six or seven days per week that first year. I didn’t mind the literal blood, sweat and tears that I invested in the company.
I certainly hadn’t started a business in anticipation of becoming miserable and wanting out in a few years. No one does. When you don’t love your business, it’s different from not loving your job. You can’t send out resumes and tell your boss you have another dentist appointment. You can’t just give two weeks’ notice and then “figure it out.”
I had an office, a lease, systems that ran without me, employees, clients – not to mention the time and money I had personally invested.
Out of respect for all of this, I had to ask myself: “What am I willing to do for the business I hate?”
The first (and in retrospect, best) thing I did was to hire a business coach – an advisor who could see the forest for the trees when my focus had contracted so much. The coach served as a kind of marriage counselor for my business and me – assessing if there was anything in our relationship that could be salvaged, or if we could make any compromises that would make it worth it for me to recommit.
I had finally hired an amazing office manager (“amazing” took three tries), which made it possible for me to cut back my responsibilities and hours, and even start working on my dream business, ThePetiteShop.com – an online boutique selling petite clothing for women 5’ 4” and shorter. Despite this pretty big change, I still dreaded the day-to-day. This confirmed that it was simply time for me to move on – to sell the business to a new owner who could give it what it needed and deserved.
My coach and I discussed what it would take for me to love this business again, even if I was selling it. I knew that if it gave me the capital to start ThePetiteShop.com, I would be forever grateful. This was the hard part – I had to go back in to grow and shape the business to the level at which I could sell it for the amount of seed capital I needed. At this point, I didn’t want to spend any additional time or money on the business, and now my coach is telling me I had to spend more time and more money on the business than ever before.
So that’s what I did, and it started growing again. Six months after this discussion, I put it up for sale through a broker and had an offer within two months for just under my asking price.
This is what I was willing to do for the business I hated.
There’s a potentially equally scary feeling in starting and growing a business you love – the one that if it doesn’t succeed, you can’t excuse away as something you weren’t that into, the one you’ll always wonder what could’ve been if you had done this or that differently. Now I find myself asking, “What am I willing to do for the business I love?” For me, the answer has been just about anything. It had to be, or quite frankly I would have been out of business already.
Even with conscious decisions and actions to prioritize this startup, the rest of my life didn’t quite fall in line. In the first 18 months that I tried to start ThePetiteShop.com, my father-in-law passed away unexpectedly, my mother-in-law passed away after an 18-month battle with a terrible terminal illness, and the loss took its toll on my marriage and I ended up divorcing as a newlywed. For the first time in my adult life, I had no source of income aside from that seed money squirreled away to pursue my dream.
To save money, I moved my dog and my heartbroken 32-year-old self from warm, sunny Southern California to my parents’ basement in northern Michigan – just before winter. I spent 10 months there, mostly parked in front of my computer under piles of down blankets, getting ThePetiteShop.com ready to launch. I welcomed the familiar, normal startup stresses: the discomfort and excitement of uncertainty, the bootstrapping, the less-than-perfect decisions because I’d never done this or that before, the pretending I knew the industry lingo when I was really just Googling it before replying to that email.
In the interest of further following my heart, I set my sights back on the city that has always felt like home – my old college town, New Orleans. I decided over a year ago that I would be a part of the local startup accelerator Idea Village’s competitive IDEAxcelerator program that began this past August.
I write this in my apartment in New Orleans, a recent graduate of IDEAxcelerator, growing the business I love as the Five-Foot Founder of ThePetiteShop.com.
Paulo Coehlo says in The Alchemist: “It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” I’ll take interesting. That’s what I’m willing to do for the business I love, and I could not have done it without the business I hated.