Mary Lou Bradley worked for the man who created Three’s Company, a TV show those of us of a certain age will remember. She also worked for Bill DeBlasio before he was the mayor of New York City. She went to culinary school and learned to make pastries. And then, at age 55, she became an entrepreneur. (more…)
In a short period of time, Lynne Goldberg lost all the personas with which she had come to identify herself. They fell away, one after the other. No longer expectant mother, daughter, wife, sister or businesswoman, she was left with only one face to look at in the mirror and she didn’t like what she saw.
Goldberg grew up in Montreal, Canada, and joined the family retail chain business where she spent more than two decades in charge of merchandising management. She was a typical type-A executive, stressed out and overworked, which wasn’t exactly helpful when she and her husband decided to start a family.
“We had a lot of trouble getting pregnant and went through numerous failed fertility treatments. I was overjoyed when I finally discovered I was pregnant with twins after four years of effort.”
“It really helped me. We wear so many masks all the time and when you finally get down to it, who you are at your core really doesn’t change. Knowing that helped me shift from meeting external identities to finding myself.”
Her joy turned to sorrow, however, when Goldberg’s mother was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. The stress, combined with her full-on work schedule, forced Goldberg to take bed rest on her doctor’s orders to save her pregnancy. It was all in vain as she miscarried and had to deliver the fetuses. Within the year, Goldberg’s mother died and her world fell apart as her brothers pushed her out of the family business.
“My mind was just not there anymore. I couldn’t perform at work and wasn’t able to do what they needed done. It was a business after all, so they asked me to leave. And despite having adopted two children, my marriage unraveled. I lost everything in a few short months,” she recalls.
She threw herself into a new line of work, using money from her buy-out to launch a home décor importing business to support herself and her children. Nevertheless, it was hard, as she was constantly travelling to China and Europe. On a personal level, Goldberg was angry, disconnected, and generally unhappy. She carried around the feeling that there had to be more to life.
Seeing her struggle, a friend turned her on to meditation.
“It really helped me. We wear so many masks all the time and when you finally get down to it, who you are at your core really doesn’t change. Knowing that helped me shift from meeting external identities to finding myself.”
She continued running the business but was really drawn to meditation and signed up for more and more courses, trying to figure out how she could develop that aspect of her life further. She began teaching meditation at hospitals and schools, until she finally came to the realization that teaching was what gave her the most satisfaction. Although her importing business was doing well, with clients like Costco and Walmart on board, Goldberg decided to sell and focus full time on teaching meditation.
“It was an easy decision. There wasn’t any meaning in what I was doing; it didn’t make me feel good. Teaching did. When you get out of your own personal drama and look at the world from a bigger perspective, what good you can do, your mentality shifts. It’s empowering.”
And her perspective did change. Goldberg reconnected with her brothers, with whom she is very close today. She remarried and – most importantly – she’s happy and fulfilled.
“I went from being consumed with anger to having family that I love. It’s like that expression says, ‘Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.’ One of my biggest life lessons has been forgiveness. Now I choose to find the things that give me joy. Instead of feeling something was taken away from me, I shifted to what I have.”
But the Type-A exec still lurked beneath the surface, and Goldberg wondered how what she was doing could be bigger – how she could reach more people and give them the same joy she was experiencing. As it happened, Goldberg’s husband, a fellow meditation convert who had been in tech, was feeling the same way. His last business produced ringtones and mobile content, and his number-one selling app was the fart ringtone. So it’s hardly surprising, he too was having the sense there’s got to be more and wanted to help his wife in her mission. The couple teamed up with another husband and wife duo who also meditated and had experience building apps.
After one year in development, the result was OMG I Can Mediate, a mobile app targeted at people who have never meditated before. The app launched in March 2015 with 12 weeks of content (the first of which is free) and over 100 specialty meditations from helping you wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night to dealing with your kids. There’s even the wonderfully named “My Boss is a Jerk” which teaches compassion.
“If you live in NY or LA, then meditation is widely accessible. But in most other places, it’s still primarily just the early adopters. We wanted to give everyone the opportunity to meditate and make it less daunting and a little fun,” the 52-year-old explains. “The irony is that the very devices that have made us more frenetic can also be the means to finding peace and happiness.”
They are constantly updating and adding new content to the app. After the launch, they were the number-one app in India – an unexpected but pleasant surprise. And AppPicker.com called OMG I Can Mediate “best meditation app available in the app store.”
Looking back at how her life has changed, Goldberg is effusive “I feel blessed, truly grateful. I cannot believe how lucky I am. We wonder why tragedy happens. Sometimes the explanation takes 20 years to figure out. If I knew back then how everything would turn out, I would have been a lot happier. But at least now I have this sense of trust that when stuff happens, it’s meant to happen and it’s going to be OK. It takes the drama out of the day-to-day stuff.”
Laura Beck is chief shirt schlepper of www.stripedshirt.com, a failed start-up. Based in Austin, Texas, five years ago Laura launched a tee-shirt company on the premise customers would want to show their support for teams and organizations by wearing their colors in stripes. Nearly a month ago, she went public with her breakup with stripedshirt, and launched a Kickstopper. In 4 weeks, she’s been floored by the response (138,000+ Facebook and 7,000+ YouTube views of the video). She (along with her unpaid interns – her 70-year-old mom and 10- and 6–year-old daughters) packaged up and shipped over 400 orders: that’s 1,000 shirts sold! So, after all this Kickstopper buzz and love, Laura felt it was a good time to think through what missteps she took with stripedshirt and perhaps spare other entrepreneurial types some of her pain.
To paraphrase Frank Sinatra – MISTAKES, I’ve made a few!
1. It Was All About ME
That was by design, I had done 18 years of PR agency life, 10 running an agency and leading an amazing team of 16 people. But I was burnt out, fried from managing others, especially aggressive young guns new in their careers and eager to advance. I wanted to do stripedshirt entirely on my own. NO WAY I was taking any outside funding. First of all, I didn’t need it (again, I worked 18 years, I had savings), and second, I’ve seen the good and bad of VC-funded startups doing PR for them for years. This was also MY dream, and no one else would be as passionate about it. I didn’t bring in any partners, I wasn’t beholden to anyone! I could do it my way (Sinatra again! J). Well, turns out, a partner or two, they’ll hold your feet to the fire.
2. Over-Architecting the Website
I did some homework, but while I do tech PR, I’m not that technical, and I went with Magenta, an open-source shopping cart for ecommerce sites, and I had that thing built big from the start. I wanted to be able to expand like crazy, assuming (hoping), I’d grow, add products like long-sleeved stripes, tanks, striped beach towels, waterbottles, flash drives, and bikinis (I’m not kidding, these were on my roadmap). If I knew then … I’d have done a simple Word Press template. I would have worked with Volusion, BigCommerce, WP Engine (in my defense, none of these guys had the amazing SMB website offerings they have now back in 2010). Any of these providers likely would have saved me money as well as pain, as I put $10,000 into that cludgy website. I also went with Paypal for payment processing so I wouldn’t have to do my own SSL, my own security. And wow, Paypal + Magenta is just wonky. If I totaled up all my abandoned shopping carts, there’d be a lot fewer shirts in my garage!
BLERG! Again, with absolutely no background in fashion or apparel, I did some homework, but really just went for it. Through an amazing guy here in Austin, I was connected to some factories in India, and they took me on. But to do so, and to really show my concept, I committed to 14 different color combinations and 15 sizes. For each, to do the manufacturing, I committed to about 50 of each size of each color, with a few exceptions. You do the math. We are talking over 10,000 shirts!
And I had some colors move and needed reorders (hello, what is up with the popularity of red and white stripedshirts? I should have started RED stripedshirt, it would have been a lot more successful!) Then there were other colors that absolutely sit there. I thought my Ohio State connections from growing up in Columbus OH would make my red and gray stripes fly off the shelves. But it is my absolute slowest mover! In the end, of the 10,000 shirts, I sold (or gifted – more on that below) about 4,000 in 5 years. I’ve written off some, but about 6,000 are still in my garage today!
Now, again, if I knew then …. I should have done market testing, started with small sets of shirts, only ordered colors that were actually moving. But, there are not a lot of manufacturing options for apparel startups. It’s a pretty brutal industry all around. Margins absolutely stink. I was lucky to find someone to take on what I thought was a mammoth order, but for them, it was teeny. I couldn’t find a way to do small, test-run inventory orders.
And when I did get my inventory, 10,000 shirts arrived in a semi on pallets – that’s pretty overwhelming for one 40-year-old mom to figure out, organize, track, and manage. I quickly had no idea what I had, what I didn’t. It was too much, too overwhelming.
I could go on and on here about the problems with fast food fashion in America, all the bad stuff I hope our apparel industry sorts out soon. That cotton is still grown in the US but shipped overseas for “cut and sew” and then shipped back is absolute insanity. That factory conditions in Bangladesh, but also East LA, are so dismal should not be happening today. And that the size and scale of orders from Forever 21 and H&M give us shoppers $5 t-shirts, but other apparel hopefuls no prayer of competing, is depressing but very, very real.
4. The Premise Didn’t Work
The idea of stripedshirt – to show your colors, support your favorite team or school –absolutely did not fly. The sales I’ve gotten are mostly women ordering stripes they like. I hardly believe all the navy and white orders I’ve had are really Yankees fans ( as a Red Sox fanatic, I guess I hope not). And, when I had the idea, 20 years ago, fan-wear options just for women were really limited. Now there are tons of options – Alyssa Milano, Victoria Secret, college Ts at Old Navy. I also bet on women wanting to do “Mommy and Me” combos with their children, what I call the Lilly Pulitzer effect. Didn’t happen, those sales didn’t come.
Funny enough, my biggest sales weeks on the calendar were mid-September to mid-October. Yes, Halloween. Turns out there are a lot of costumes that incorporate stripes – Where’s Waldo surely, but also Olivia the Pig, Doc McStuffins, Pirates, French, even Freddy Krueger. While these were real sales and money in, it was kind of depressing to think someone bought a stripedshirt for a one-day-a-year costume.
5. Marketing Alone Does Not a Company Make
This one was the hardest pill to swallow because remember, before stripedshirt, I was an 18-year PR veteran. I KNOW MARKETING. I’m good at it. I thought I had this part in the bag! I thought I could build stripedshirt entirely on marketing, on PR, on word of mouth and buzz. I knew better. Way better. For 18 years, I told clients “PR is AIRCOVER for sales.” You need integrated marketing and a sales strategy. But in 5 years, I was the sales team, and I’m not a very good salesperson. I never brought on any agents or distributors, I never figured out deals with stores, or even built a network in retail. I also never did any paid search or Google ad words. I relied fully on organic search, which was very strong, but not strong enough to carry a business. I never even put in place a CRM system to continue to communicate with customers who had already bought – and hopefully loved – a stripedshirt.
Finally, I put all my trust and hope in influencers and bloggers. I gave away more shirts than I care to count to fashion bloggers to do a review with a great write up and high quality photo spread, and then do a giveaway. Lots of raffle copters out there with thousands of people putting in their chance for a free stripedshirt. I wrongly figured many of those, not getting the free shirt, would come to buy. They did not. I appreciate all the support and buzz my fashion bloggers gave stripedshirt, but make no mistake, they did not produce sales. Way too much inventory went out with very little return. I knew better. I know what integrated marketing is required to create and grow a business, I’ve counseled people on this for 20 years. But I didn’t put most of it into action for my own business.
6. Distracted by my Comfort Zone
When I started stripedshirt, the idea was to leave an 18-year PR career and do something completely new and different. That lasted one month. Thirty days into it all and I had already taken on a client on the side. Generally, for the past 5 years, I’ve been doing PR consulting for upwards of 6 clients at any one time. I hold it to about 20 hours a week. But we all know a startup is a 110% commitment. Between time with my girls, and PR consulting, stripedshirt kept taking a back seat. It was far too easy to fall back into my comfort zone, to do what I was good at, versus trying to figure out this new stripedshirt world that was hard, and complicated, and not showing any signs of success. Doing PR consulting may have kept my ego secure and my confidence up, and my wallet not completely empty of spending money, but helping others with their businesses majorly distracted me from focusing on my own.
And so, now, 5 years later, I’ve broken up with stripedshirt publicly and I’m turning back to the PR consulting I know well, including, it turns out, PR for the stripedshirt failure. Perhaps the best PR I’ve ever done – for a failure, for the closing of a business. Not exactly something you want to do a case study on to share with future clients, unless they too want to shut down their businesses!
Again, these past 2 weeks have been so amazing, very liberating and freeing to admit defeat – a relief to come clean about my failed business. Most everyone has been very supportive, and amused. Seems there are a lot of kindred spirits out there who also gave entrepreneurship a go and didn’t have smashing success. I appreciate the people who have reached out to cheer me on, even to thank me for sharing my story.
There have been some hecklers, and negative comments, make no mistake. People who said I had no business starting a business, and of course it failed, what a bad idea, and bad execution. There certainly is a lot of truth in what they say as you can see from the six mistakes I’ve detailed above. I remain proud to be public in my failure and again, hope my sharing can support others who’ve gone through this, or will go through this. Or, maybe, my stripedshirt Kickstopper, and the lessons learned, will give some guidance and tips for others of how to give their own business a better fighting chance!
Watch the Kickstopper video, when you enter “kickstopper” at checkout, you’ll get to 50% off your order.
How can you be sure that the new direction you are considering for your career will work out well for you? Read on to learn a clear and simple method you can use to predict career success in your next act. (more…)
For the past ten years, I’ve been a serious nag. Yes, I can admit it. My poor husband never heard the end of my pleas for us to leave the UK for sunnier pastures. I never really had a concrete idea of what we would do or where we would go – I just knew that I didn’t want to be trapped on the corporate ladder for the rest of my life. My spare time was literally taken up searching for our escape in the form of the next perfect holiday. Seventeen years at the same company was beginning to take its toll and, as I started to creep towards 40, the realisation hit me that it was now or never. There just had to be more to life …
When my husband and I went on holiday to Thailand in April 2013, freshly qualified in scuba diving and eager to put our new skills into practice, little did we know it would be a major turning point in our lives. Within seven months, my husband, Jon, had qualified to become a scuba dive instructor and I had handed in my notice to Vodafone, the UK telecom giant. Our house was sold … wow … that was pretty scary, but we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Life begins at 39, right? (more…)
For as long as she can remember, Michele Glaze has wanted to move to California. Not because the Saskatchewan native had visions of being a Hollywood starlet but because she wanted to work behind the scenes where the drama was real. While she hasn’t (yet) made it to California, Glaze did leave behind a well-paid, secure corporate position for a career in the non-profit world of performance arts where she got to fulfill her dream of working in music and staging live events.
Unfortunately, things just didn’t work out and today the 48-year-old Glaze is seeking new opportunities.
But be warned: This is not a cautionary tale about the perils of taking a risk, leaving your comfort zone and following your passion. While the job may not have been a good fit, Glaze is adamant she made the right decision in taking the plunge and is confident she will find something in the field which she really loves.
“I have absolutely no regrets. Even in my position of having to look for a new job, I would do it all over again. If I hadn’t left my secure job and taken the risk, I would always have wondered. I’ve never been comfortable with the what ifs in life.” (more…)
There is no such word in the dictionary, but Sonnika Coetzee calls herself an “Aromateur”. She knows, for example, that it takes about 9,000 pounds (4,000 kilos) of rose petals to make just 35 ounces of pure rose essential oil. It has taken Coetzee 16 years to turn her childhood love of fragrances and interest in science into a viable business, but today she is the owner of a successful aromachology enterprise.
“If I look back at the growing years I can see hours, days and months ticking away, developing products that never really brought in the money I expected. A lot of time was sacrificed that could have been spent with family or friends and spare cash that could have used to pay off car or home loans. But I’m a strong believer in not looking back at the business failures of yesterday lest you stumble over your successes of today. Keep moving forward.” (more…)
What does a woman who has been at the height of her professional game do after 30 years on the job in both the private and public sector? Why, run for the U.S. Senate of course. And if that doesn’t work out? What next for that 55-year-old with no job or income coming in? Should she get a job? Consult? How about working endless hours for no money and with a great risk of failure? Yes, you guessed it. She launches a start-up.
“I’ve bet my entire retirement, we cashed out everything. I really want to give this a go and think the gamble is worth it. If I am successful, at the end of the day I can shout ‘woohoo, I created a legacy that will go forward.’ If I am not successful, at least I’ll be a happy pauper who knows she tried,” Bossi laughs.
As it does for so many people, Bossi’s career started more out of necessity. As a single mom with no college degree, she was lucky to land a good job in procurement at MGM Studios after moving to LA from Arizona. (more…)
The day the doctors told my father he could no longer work was the day he accepted his death sentence. He was only 59. He had gone deaf due to a growing brain tumor. Yet the doctors said the tumor was operable. There was even a possibility that he could hear again, but they insisted he stop working. No matter how I tried to convince him that he still had a good life left to live, I failed to convince him. Two weeks later, he passed away.
The crazy thing is that I missed the lesson in my father’s passing. My father could not free himself from the identity of being a successful businessman. When he could no longer hold on to that identity, he quit living. All he knew about life was working hard and being the best. He packed his free time with tasks. When he had to give up his addiction to achievement, he gave up his will to survive.
I didn’t see how much I was like him. The obsession I inherited helped me to be successful and almost killed me too. I worked the night after his funeral, thinking that was what he would have wanted me to do. He wanted me to thrive through my achievements at work. I proceeded to be successful partly for myself and partly in honor of his dreams for me. (more…)
“When the horse dies, get off.” Strange as it seems, those six words may have changed the course of Alice Shepherd’s life.
At the tender age of 19, Shepherd began her career in bookkeeping in Nashville, TN, where she was born and raised. It wasn’t long before she had worked her way up to a position in public accounting and also became a certified QuickBooks Pro advisor, leading classes and instructing others in the use of the accounting software. When asked why she chose accounting, Shepherd replies in her lilting Southern accent, “I was good at accounting, plain and simple. It didn’t have much to do with liking it or not liking it; it served me well.” (more…)
What’s your lie? I asked this question to a recent client of mine who was feeling very stuck with what she wanted to do regarding a major life decision. She couldn’t answer me on the spot, she needed time to think. But I have a lie…let me tell you about it.
For 11 years, I worked to build a non-profit organization in service of helping immigrant and refugee women start their own businesses. They faced systemic challenges in getting their businesses up and running – mostly due to language and economic barriers. In 2010, I took a sabbatical from my organization to recover from burnout and to figure out what was next for me. I was relatively free of stress during my sabbatical; it gave me the opportunity to really experience life in a way I had never been able to in my adult career and to realign my passions with my work.
What became clear to me was my commitment and support of women’s empowerment. I also valued freedom and independence greatly. (Yes, I was the type of kid who would look at our shed outside my suburban NJ home and wish I could live in it by myself.) I wanted to empower and work with women, regardless of whether or not they were immigrants. When I came back from sabbatical, I realized my lie was deep inside, I was not the one who should be running this organization. I knew it should be led by the people it sought to serve – by fellow immigrant women in the community. Only they really knew and understood their circumstances and challenges and could organize and represent themselves in a way where they shared power and were the ones making change.
We had developed an innovative curriculum in the process, and I believed that could be spearheaded independently of the organization by a motivated entrepreneur who could take it to the next level. At first, I thought that entrepreneur was me but, on further reflection, the thought of raising capital and driving forward another start-up – which would take everything I had – made me cringe.
This realization only came to me after stepping away from what I was doing and giving myself a break. I actually had no idea about the amount of financial stress I had been under all those years running the organization. Don’t get me wrong; we did AWESOME work. The team was even more AWESOME, and our clients – amazing.
When I started working with low-income women entrepreneurs and was thinking of starting the organization, an early donor – herself an immigrant – suggested to focus on immigrant women. She hadn’t seen anything substantial being done for the community in this respect. In some way, it had felt as if I had been partially carrying someone else’s agenda all these years and not been feeling my full authenticity. There were elements I felt I owned, but in the spirit of a non-profit, at the end of the day, I worked on behalf of the interests of donors and institutional funders. I never felt stuck, per se, but the year upon returning from my sabbatical, I knew it was time for a change. I acknowledged my “lie” and what the right decision for the organization was.
Being clear with myself on what I really wanted to do was key. It took time and space to figure this out but, when I finally did, everything seemed to flow like a river. No more getting sick. No more stress. No more feeling like I was pushing a boulder up a hill. I could just flow, knowing I was on a path to live my truth: to work one-on-one with successful women and leaders, in service of their personal and professional transformations, and guide them in using their success to have a positive social impact on individuals and the planet. While all these years I had dedicated myself to working on behalf of women with few resources, I knew my calling was to work with women who had the resources to give back.
Sometimes we do good work, and it is not exactly the path that we know will most fulfill us. Sometimes we do work that sucks the life out of us. It’s what Greg Levoy, author of Callings calls a “parallel path”. It’s like the dancer who becomes the dance critic or the novelist who instead ends up in journalism. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes parallel paths are very necessary. But what is your “truth” that keeps popping up? What are you hiding from? What parallel paths do you keep creating for yourself to avoid your real path? Give yourself space and time to reflect. If you don’t, you will feel stuck, unmotivated, and even sad.
I was fortunate to have the time and space to figure this out. I was able to explore and make so many different discoveries about my next steps. If you cannot make physical space or take time off, it’s critical to make mental space. Keeping a journal and adding a self-reflective process to your regime will help immensely with this.
So what’s your “lie”? Really mull it over. See what comes to you. You may be surprised at what pops up and how this bit of information can help ignite momentum for your next big leap, whether it’s a career change or new business idea. The other way to explore this (also great advice from Greg Levoy) is to have someone ask you over and over: “What do you KNOW to be true?” Have them keep asking it and see what it uncovers in you.
Farhana Huq is an award-winning social entrepreneur, executive coach, and founder of several globally conscious ventures including Brown Girl Surf. You can find out more about her at www.surflifecoaching.com.
Conventional is not a word that could be used to describe Ronni Kahn. The self-described spiritual sexagenarian and founder of Australia’s leading food rescue charity, OzHarvest, possess a motley accent that’s difficult to pin down and an enthusiasm for her work that’s bursting at the seams. She claims to be genetically blessed with a huge energy field and lucky to have parents who were extraordinary role models. But – blessed or not – Kahn herself is an inspiration to anyone seeking greater significance in life.
After many years of self-discovery, she finally understands how good it feels to have passion and how passion can motivate action. “I didn’t start OzHarvest because I was a bored housewife, I wanted purpose and meaning. I am so fortunate to do what I do.” (more…)