How a Major Personal Crisis Led to a Smarter Business
One Sunday in 2011, as Chris Carter and his family were leaving for their church outside Milwaukee, his oldest daughter began acting weird. She was 12 at the time, and she stood frozen -- her face blank, her complexion white as chalk. Soon she was vomiting and having a seizure. The family rushed her to the doctor, and a diagnosis was made: epilepsy.
“It was a day I don’t wish on any parent,” Carter says. But he couldn’t be just a parent; he was also a CEO, having founded a startup called Approyo only six months earlier, and his employees relied upon him, too. Carter tried tending to both sides. “I started working 24-hour days,” he says. “I couldn’t focus on one or the other.”
Many entrepreneurs experience some version of this. Entrepreneurship, after all, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Life is as unpredictable as business. But as Carter came to learn, even something as gut-wrenching as a family crisis can become manageable -- so long as a leader is willing to make the right changes. Today, he’s proof of that: “My daughter’s epilepsy,” he says, “was the best thing that ever happened for our company.”
Approyo is Carter’s third company; he’d come out of retirement to launch it. The startup offers services for businesses that use SAP software, and it quickly signed big clients. Once his daughter fell ill, Carter responded the way most entrepreneurs do under pressure: He tried to meet it head-on. He once worked nearly a week straight, alternating between the office, home and the hospital, and then slept for a full 48 hours. “I woke up and thought, Something’s got to change,” he says. “I’m going to kill myself if I don’t figure out a way to make everything work.”
To find a solution, he asked himself a question: What can I do -- and what can’t I do -- from anywhere in the world? Write checks, for example? No, Approyo wasn’t set up for that. Read marketing status reports? No. So he gave every department head a task. In two weeks, they should come to him with cloud-based solutions for their part of the business. That led to Approyo adopting a wide range of tools -- QuickBooks, Salesforce, MailChimp, Skype, Google Mail, Dropbox and more.
The changes meant Carter could now be useful at any time -- which, given his daughter’s needs, would often be in the middle of the night. Before, he’d be on the phone asking his staff for information, pacing in the hospital hallways as nurses shooed him away. Now all information was at his fingertips.
Next, he looked inward. He was exhausted, so he began researching how to feel rested. He learned that he needed quality sleep, not just more hours of it, so he dimmed all his screens and began using an app called Headspace to help him relax before bed. He changed his diet -- more vegetables, less sugar (and a full ban on soda). At work, he began walking the office more, fetching things himself instead of asking an assistant.
The results were transformative. He felt healthier and stronger. Now when he was awake at odd hours, he’d even call into international sales meetings -- building better relationships with, say, his India team. “I really thought with my daughter having epilepsy, this was going to be something I would battle all my life,” he says. Instead, it became a catalyst for changes he should have made anyway. “It’s bringing both of my worlds together, because I know that’s a benefit to my company and my family.”
Today, Carter’s daughter’s seizures are largely under control, and Approyo is growing 600 percent each year. It’s not a version of work-life balance he ever expected, or ever went looking for. But now he knows how resilient both his company and his family really are.