I haven’t posted in a few weeks, though, as you’re about to find out, I have a really good reason for that! Also in this post, I share with you a (somewhat embarrassing) story about how I figured out what I really wanted to do most in my life.
My boyfriend, John, owns a retail store called 1Up Repairs. He fixes cell phones, Xboxes, PS3s, and computers for a living. I’ve been helping him out with it for the past few weeks, and it’s been an eye-opening experience, as you’re about to find out.
For the entire time I’ve known John, his store has been located in a rather industrial, seedy part of town. It made sense to him when he started — he wasn’t sure the idea would work, so he wanted the cheapest rent possible while he tested it.
I helped him review his financials, and was impressed by the amount of business he was doing despite being located in a bad area of town. He had built up a steady stream of loyal customers, with over 40 positive reviews on Yelp and Google (and 0 negative reviews!)
John had realistically hit the limit of the number of people who were willing to drive to his side of town to get their cell phone fixed, and needed to secure a better location in order to grow. In December, we entered talks to secure a location right across from the University of Texas-Austin campus. There was a real dearth of cell phone repair shops there, and with the combination of college students without cars and a large amount of foot traffic, I thought the location was a winner.
It took us two months of negotiations to finally sign the lease; we moved in February 1:
John and I in front of our store, 1Up Repairs, during opening week.
I’ve learned a huge amount since I helped him move in here. One thing I’ve never done before is retail. I worked in a restaurant when I was 15, but I also found a work-from-home job doing SEO (search engine optimization) that year. By the time I was 16 and could drive, I had secured a job doing web development for a design firm.
That was in 1998, and I’ve been in web dev, marketing consulting, and running tech companies ever since. Retail, as anyone who’s worked in it or run a retail store will tell you, is an entirely different beast from the type of entrepreneurship I’m accustomed to.
At the end of the day, any business comes down to serving your customers, and that’s what John does well. Great customer service wins the day no matter what business you’re running. I learned that running my hosting company — we only had one negative review in the entire 6 years I ran that business. I applied that philosophy here and found myself happily serving customers in a retail environment, fixing computers, running the register, and answering all sorts of random technical questions. (Actual question I got today: “I want to get an iPhone, but I can’t take the battery out, and the government is going to track me if I leave it in. Can you rig an iPhone so I can take the battery out?” Yep, welcome to retail!)
I was surprised to find out I enjoyed helping John with his retail store. John and I share a passion for making sure the customer is happy first and foremost. We’re also both driven and motivated workers, so we work well together. That’s not to say we don’t ever fight — we both have years of experience running businesses, and we’re both smart, opinionated and stubborn, so we’ll verbally spar on occasion. But over time, we’ll balance back out into remembering why we’re here (to serve customers and make them happy), and we’ll make the decision that best serves our customers.
An Embarrassing Story Serves as a Catalyst
I promised you with this post that I’d share how to find out what you really want to do with your life. The best way to do that is with a story from my personal life. Even though that story is a bit embarrassing, I’ll share it with you anyway, because it has a good lesson in it. Here goes:
Last year, I was on a plane headed from LA to Austin on Southwest. I hate being stuck in the back of the plane, so I always buy the “automatic check-in” upgrade so I can board first.
I got on the plane and sat right at the front — yay! Next to me was a guy in a suit who was reading on his phone. When I sat down, we picked up a casual conversation. He revealed that he was an investment banker, and was scouting for series B or later-stage startups to invest in.
He asked me what I did, and I said “I’m a startup founder.” The words were barely out of mouth when my brain turned on me. “Your company failed a few months ago!” it said. “What are you doing?”
The words had come out of my mouth before I had a chance to think about them at all. I knew that the startups he invested in were way later-stage than mine had been, so I wasn’t trying to “make an impression” on him.
The conversation eventually trailed off as we got in the air, giving me ample time to think about why I had said that when my startup didn’t exist any more. And then it hit me, with a gigantic THUD:
Running a startup was what I most wanted to do!
I had said I was a startup founder because that’s what I wanted to be. That’s what I was, but mine failed. And right then I knew I was going to try it again, that I wasn’t going to be a coach forever, that I was happy I’d tried some other things like coaching and consulting, but that being a founder was where I was going to be happiest.
A feeling of relief swept over me like a tidal wave then. Now, I want you to think about what you’d really say to someone in a completely unedited, spur-of-the-moment manner when they ask you what you do. What would you say there?
Stop editing yourself. Release all your fears and all that junk that’s built up around that question and just answer it with a free conscience. What do you do?
What do you do?
I’m a startup founder. Nice to meet you.
The Business Idea We’re Pursuing
As we were negotiating our new office in December, John told me about a product idea he had, based on running his own store, that we can sell to other retailers. (And no, it’s not a point-of-sale system–but it’s another thing all retailers need!)
I talked the business idea over with some people I trusted, and I received an unbelievably positive response. I’ll be honest — it’s a way more positive response than I ever got around the marketing software we sold with my last company! So I told John I’d build a prototype.
I’ll be sharing more about this idea soon. It’s patentable, so John’s asked me to keep it under wraps while we work with a patent attorney to secure provisional patents on it. Once we’re able to secure our intellectual property (patents and trademarks) and to build a prototype, I’ll share in detail what we’re building and why.
In the meantime, I’m running a retail store with John.
Why Not Just Hire Someone?
There’s a story that’s stuck with me for nearly a year now. Last year, at the Female Founders Conference hosted by Y Combinator, Adora Cheung of Homejoy got up on stage. Homejoy is a cleaning company, and for several months, Adora worked as a janitor, commuting insane hours to clean for a pittance while continuing to build Homejoy on the side. Why would she do this? She felt strongly she needed to understand the business inside and out in order to build a business in that space.
I didn’t set out with the intention to run a retail store. Other people (and maybe even the “me” of a few years ago!) might say it’s a waste of time to be answering phones, manning a counter, handling a cash drawer and credit cards, and answering questions about broken phone screens all day, when we could easily hire someone to do the same. But if I’m going to start a company that sells product to retailers, what better experience could I ask for than actually running a retail store? The empathy I’ll gain for our customers is massive. I’ll understand them in a way I never could have before.
So, to Adora and all the other startup founders who took a leap off a cliff and dove enthusiastically into low-paying jobs to better understand their customers, this one’s for you.
I’d better get back to work. I’m sure there will be a customer coming in soon!
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It’s week 2 of my adventure in 2015 to start a business. I started out last week not knowing what kind of business I wanted to start. This week, I’m taking an introspective look at another common issue people have when they want to start a business–and one that plagues me as well! It’s all about the feeling of not having enough time to start a business.
Technically, I work part-time right now; I’m wrapping up a 3-month consulting gig with Help.com, building their launch plan, website copy, an ebook, and more. (My work will be live on Help.com soon!)
But, when you factor in my coworking space, this blog, finishing taxes and other miscellany of my business that failed/got acquired last year, and helping my boyfriend (who is also an entrepreneur) with his business, the hours I spend working pretty quickly ramp up to full-time.
So I’ve been exploring: How do you build a business when there are so many other things that compete for your time? (more…)
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In mid-July, I announced my new direction: coaching successful entrepreneurs full-time.
By far, the most popular question I’ve gotten is “Why did you decide to coach full-time?”
The answer, while simple, took me a while to get to. If you’re feeling stuck on your current path, keep reading, as the conclusion I came to (and how I figured it out) may help you, as well!
The Question That Changed Everything
The most motivating factor in my new career path as a CEO coach is contained within my answer to this question: “What’s the most exciting moment you’ve ever had?”
When I opened up and looked back honestly, my most exciting moments were watching people go through breakthroughs, like the story I told about my dinner with Ramit Sethi in my July post. Watching people right in front of me have a powerful emotional transformation–those were the moments I remembered, the moments I lived for as a person.
There were other signs, too. When I first met Jason Seats at Techstars, for instance, I had no intention of going through the Techstars program as a founder (though now I’m very glad I said yes to that and went through the program!) I wanted to be a mentor. I wanted to help other founders.
Then, there was the fact that I just couldn’t seem to stop helping people. Even when I didn’t feel like I had much time, I would always drop what I was doing to help someone out. Especially the rising stars like Ramit–I knew these folks were going places, and it was always so fun to help them get where they were going.
Digging Deep Into Myself
To go from “I like helping people” to coaching full-time, though–that was a transformation! Through the past three months, as I went through the sale of my business, took over a month off, and then spent another 5 weeks in solidarity with the question “What do I really want to do most?”, I dug deep to find out how I really wanted to make an impact on the world.
I’m here to coach because I have been through it all. In the past 13 years, I’ve run several bootstrapped companies and one funded company. In all, I’ve sold three technology companies. I have personally made over $3 million online–all of that being sales from companies I’ve created from nothing.
I’ve hired some of the greatest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing–and hired the worst people I’ve ever dealt with! (All of which I take full responsibility for.) I’ve worked every side of a business from software development/programming to hardware to operations to management to technical support.
Whatever crisis founders of six-figure and seven-figure-a-year businesses are going through–I’ve pretty much been there. I’m not perfect, and as a seasoned entrepreneur, I know you aren’t either. That’s why I became a coach–to help you work through whatever barriers come up as you make the transformation from successful business owner to the huge next level that is waiting for you.
Struggling to Find a Mentor
When I get interviewed by the media, interviewers always love to ask: “Who is your mentor?” I’ve often struggled with that question.
Nearly 10 years ago, I desperately asked on Web Hosting Talk if anyone else knew another woman running a web hosting company that was about to hit 7 figures in annual revenue–and there was silence.
I couldn’t believe I was the only one–but back then there were probably only a handful of female founders of web hosting companies at all, let alone ones making 7 figures a year. I was a pioneer, and for that I was grateful–but it was a searing, raw, emotional experience to feel all alone in that role. I will never forget that experience–calling out, “Where is my mentor?” and hearing only silence.
Today, of course, there are many people who add “Mentor” or “Coach” to their resumes or LinkedIn profiles. But there are scarce few who have actually made millions of dollars online running real businesses–who are now coaching. I know, because I have looked for them! I have begged to be coached by people who are where I want to be, and the answer is often: “No.”
Why Most Successful Entrepreneurs Don’t Coach
Why? Successful entrepreneurs will tell you the answer: There is no leverage in coaching. They don’t have time for it. They are busy running successful companies.
I can tell you, truthfully, that that was the biggest block I had to get over as a coach. I knew that to be a successful coach, I’d have to commit to it full-time. That commitment meant I would not be focused on growing a scalable business (at least for the time being.)
I had a lot of fear around that. Was I basically tying bricks to my feet by creating a business where my income didn’t scale with more products sold?
To really get over the fear, I had to go back to what fulfilled me the most. Did I want to have a little impact on a lot of people (for instance, by writing a book) or did I want to have a huge impact on a few people?
I remembered the feeling I got when I saw people transform and their barriers break down. I decided I wanted more of that–and that was the answer for me. Coach full-time. Make the commitment. Enable the transformations to happen.
Making the commitment was scary for me, but I did it publicly so I couldn’t turn back. And it’s paid off–now, not only do I have amazing paying clients, but I’m excited every day to get up and start working. My coaching calls are transformative for my clients–and they are also transformative for me. In that way, I consider myself deeply blessed.
Who Are Your Customers?
My other huge fear came from the coaching I’ve done in the past. Previously, I’d worked with entrepreneurs who were just getting started, and I hadn’t charged much for coaching. They couldn’t afford it, and I didn’t have the self-confidence at that time to charge more.
Some clients went far. But with others, I’d spend an entire hour 1:1 and we’d never be able to dig deep into their real problems–because we were too busy grappling with “What idea should I work on?” or “How can I get this WordPress theme set up?” It wasn’t fulfilling for me or for my clients!
It was with this concern in mind that I read The Prosperous Coach, a fantastic book written by my friend and successful coach Rich Litvin. In the book, he described clearly the clients he was going after–successful, high-powered women.
While reading his book, I had a complete epiphany. It’s one of those epiphanies that seem so obvious afterward. It went something like, “OH! I can define who I want as a client!”
Becoming a Better Coach by Defining Who I Want as a Customer
I don’t know why that hadn’t occurred to me in the context of coaching before. In the marketing world, defining your customer avatar is an integral part of setting up a marketing plan. But I hadn’t thought to apply that concept here.
I thought deeply about who I’d had the best results with, and a pattern quickly emerged, with Ramit circa 2008 being my defining avatar. Someone whom I know is going to be successful. They’ve already set up a website. They have a product with customers. They’re making well into 6 figures or 7 figures and they’re facing a huge pivot point in their business–do I sell the company? Who do I hire to help me out? How do I raise my next round of capital?
That’s the point at which hiring a coach delivers huge results, and where my expertise becomes most valuable. Selling your company? I’d be happy to help you navigate those tricky waters; I’ve sold three. Raising a round of funding? I’ve seen hundreds of pitch decks, raised $640,000 for my own company, and won a pitch competition. Hiring or firing the right person? We could spend hours on that alone!
Those are the inflection points where having someone to talk to who’s been there are most critical in your business. How much equity do you give your new COO to make sure he or she sticks around but you’re not “giving up the house”? What’s the best process to find a buyer for your company? Which investors should you talk to and how much should you raise (or should you even raise at all)? Or: You’re working 70 hours a week and you feel like you’re drowning, but you don’t know who to hire or where to outsource first. These are all scenarios for which the answer may mean a 7-figure swing in your business either way. And it’s those areas where I deliver the most impact as a coach.
Why Only Four People?
In my July blog post, I mentioned I would be taking 4 clients. Why only 4 clients? (Another popular question!) I always smile when I give the answer: Because, for the first time in my life, I’m undercommitting myself so I can serve those 4 people with my full attention. With only 4 clients, I have time to look over paying clients’ pitch decks, make intros, and help guide them through selling and/or financing companies. I doubt it will surprise you to read: It’s been the best decision I’ve made so far!
I currently have 30 applications in, and I’ve already filled 2 of my 4 available slots with paying clients. I’m continuing to do coaching with applicants over the next few weeks, and I expect the other 2 slots will fill quickly. If you meet the criteria (6-figure or 7-figure business at a pivot point; looking for your next steps) and would like to be considered, please apply here.
Going full-time into coaching was a gutsy move, and an unexpected one. But, in a way I haven’t felt in a long time, it feels right. I got off my coaching call recently with a new client and told my roommate, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!”
I help create miracles in successful entrepreneurs’ lives, and at this time, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.
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