Rule #1: There are no rules.
A successful business is not necessarily created through an arbitrary set of standards and success is not achieved by strictly conforming to orthodox or convention. Entrepreneurship is akin to the mythological hydra; a multi-headed beast that grows two heads for every one you slice off. I’ve learned a lot about building businesses over the last four years and elbowing my way into a world dominated by men wasn’t easy but regardless of age, gender, or status in life, a solid work ethic can take you places you never thought possible; but be prepared for the sacrifices that you will have to inevitably make. The other thing we can’t forget is passion. It’s an abstract idea for most people, and a buzzword for others, but for the few who know: it’s the gateway to life, at large. Passion has been the single largest common denominator in my pursuit of empire building over the years and after six business, here’s what I’ve learned.
Emotions in Business.
Oil and water, fire and ice: emotions and your business: this is a perplexing dilemma we face because on one hand we’re driven by passion (which is an act of our emotions) and on the other hand, its OUR business. Our baby. Our thing. My advisors remind me to turn off emotions when it comes to decision making and especially so when it comes to dealing with people and this is very difficult for me. I get close to my employees and I see them as equals in that they have the same capacity to innovate and create than anyone else does. If I create a culture that encourages them to experiment, think differently, and work independently then I’m creating a place where we all grow, and also, succeed. I’ve structured each of my businesses so that there’s one general manager: a single point of contact for anything related to that business. As we work together, we become close and often becomes friends. I trust that they will execute their duties when I’m away.
On one occasion, at The American Brew, I had a manager that I became extremely close with. We had been grinding pretty hard and spent the better part of that year getting the Brew up and running. One day, I was between flights and about to head out of the country for a week and I swung by the Brew only to find the door locked, the lights off, and a sign on the door that said, “closed, see you on Monday.” I was confused. So much went through my mind as I tried to justify their reasoning and I kept coming up empty. She said she was tired and needed a break but that hadn’t been communicated and I didn’t pick up on that. I had to get to the airport still and I was forced to make a decision, on the spot, with little information. I terminated her immediately, promoted a barista, got on a plane to Mexico, and in ten minutes our trust was gone, my business was at risk, and I lost a friend. This was a hard lesson for me but something I’m beginning to understand and also want to reiterate is that nobody will care for your business as much as you do. Period.
Passion. Vision. Overhead.
Three peas in a pod. We talked briefly about passion earlier but when coupled with vision and overhead you’ve got a whole different animal. If we consider passion as our drive, vision as the thing we want it to look like, and overhead as a budget then we can really get down to brass tacks. Everything big starts somewhere small. Microsoft in a garage, Amazon in a one-room office, and Walmart with one store. Whatever it is you choose to do, do that one thing really, really fucking well. Become the expert in that thing. We all wanna be the noun without being the verb and in our society it’s easy to become impulsive and “want it all now”. Here’s the truth and it might hurt but you need to hear it: your thing, in whatever stage it’s in, is going to take time. It’s going take sacrifice. You will lose friends, your family will get upset with you, your other hobbies may take a backseat but work like a dog for the things that are important to you and your passion and vision will get you there.
My vision for the American Brew was that I wanted it to be a place for unique eats, coffee when you needed it and whiskey when you needed it more. I also wanted it to be a place for the community to come to for a talk, or for work, or to just relax with their friends and family. There were major bumps along the way. I almost lost $20 thousand dollars by fixing a building that I was only renting. I signed the lease and then discovered the water heater, the pipes, and the electrical all needed to be upgraded to support my business. Lesson learned.
Another way I wanted to separate myself from the other coffee shops was that I didn’t want the sugary flavored syrup or artificial additives. I’m a purist and I just wanted coffee. Keep your grande-mocha-frocha-latte-whatever it is. My supplier at the time was pushy and kept suggesting I buy those big pump bottles of junk syrup because they’d “look pretty” on the shelf and I didn’t stand my ground and stay true to my vision and before I knew it, we had those damn syrups. I realized the pitfall I had fallen into and those bottles were soon in the trash and I refused to do business with the company. There was another run-in with a small, local coffee shop who was well-established. They offered great coffee roast and I wanted to do business with them. The owner of that shop did a little research on me and his comments after that became highly offensive and he was curious what I was going to do when “I wouldn’t look good enough to take bathroom selfies in my undies” and “that I’m not going to be a fitness model forever”.
I want to take a second to tell you how GOOD it felt to chew some ass that day. I stuck up for myself and every other woman out there because there are men in this world that feel women still, in 2018, don’t belong in business. Needless to say I dissolved any relationship I had with him and I saw him about a year ago. I wanted to approach him and remind him of the ugly things he said but I took the high road. He knows that I know and thats enough for me.
The third in the bundle is overhead and it’s the most obvious. The lower the overhead the less stress you have and the more money you can net. Similar to what I talked about above: find a place with low rent and do all the managing yourself. Work as many hours as you have to, as many days as you have to. Work, work, work, and when you’re tired and exhausted and need a break, work again. Work on that day that you just want to put a sign in the door. Hard. Fucking. Work.
Stay true to your vision, let nobody persuade you to do something that doesn’t feel right or fit your narrative. This is yours; own it. Let’s add another element to consider: transparency and communication – these two things are HUGE for me. Transparency with my team and them with me. Its gotta be a two way street and like every other lesson, I learned this the hard way. I want to know where they want to be in 3 years or 5 years and how I can help them get there.
Just as I expect them to tell me if I’m being a shitty boss or they need help, I also must communicate with them when they don’t meet my expectations. As a team, we often times sweep the uncomfortable things under the rug because its easy to step over them then it is to address them. I care for everyone on my team deeply and having a close relationship with them allows us to communicate openly and honestly. I encourage you to invest back into your employees. Understand the challenges they have in their work, remove as many obstacles as you can, and encourage them to think big.
Consider these three questions when you develop your vision.
1. How do you define your leadership style and how critical has that been to your success?
Thats an easy one for me, I hate being called a ‘boss’ in fact I don’t allow anyone on the team to call me that and they do hahah when they are purposely trying to push my buttons. I believe that no one person can take credit for completing a task because its all a team effort. I also allow each team member to really do what it is that they love. I think thats important with every job, you MUST love it and be passionate about the things you wake up and do everyday. I love being able to give my team creative freedom when we have the same vision to create amazing pieces of work.
2. What was the hardest obstacle to starting your own business and how did you overcome it?
Finding people that you can trust to help you run your business when, in my case I’m away a lot. Im finding its a generation thing generation-X the millennial generation, hell I’m honestly just not sure anymore. There is very little work ethic and you have to really search high and low for people who will work hard and diligently these days, not expecting to just be given something. Bottom line is that finding someone who truly cares about your business as much as you do is a very rare find. Some may tell you they care or show great signs of being a great leader But when you do find those people who truly care Hold on to them, appreciate them and trust in them until they give you reasons not too.
3. How do you handle people who don’t support you.
I don’t. I honestly couldn’t care less. This is something I am wanting to do and I’m probably not doing it for them anyways. So It doesn’t bother me at all if they wish to support me or not. Im telling my own story, creating my own journey. A journey unlike nobody else’s.