If we know one thing about starting and growing your own business, it’s that it’s hard as hell. It’s a true rollercoaster ride with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and the focus is typically only on the success. Business owners can be hesitant to share the tough parts of entrepreneurship for fear of investors, clients or others making assumptions or snap judgements.
We talked to four entrepreneurs in the hygge fam and asked them to get real with us and talk about the tougher parts of owning a business. We wanted to know what they struggled with, what some of the low points were, and how they got through it. So grab a coffee and get comfy – here’s what they had to say:
Bradley Smith – Avo Insights
Bradley started Avo Insights, an augmented reality company, in June 2018. Maybe you’ve seen them at Charlotte Is Creative, or at Open Streets 704, or at museums around the country where you can point your phone at a piece of art and get more in depth info. Of course, any business owner experiences some types of failure, whether that’s minor setbacks or something bigger. Failure is part of the growth process.
The toughest part of founding and running his own business, Bradley says, is dealing with the fear that he may so many times he’ll want to give up. “Fail fast, fail often, fail cheaply – that’s a startup motto and something high growth startup founders should follow. People can argue if that’s right or wrong but at the end of the day if you work on something for a couple of years and don’t find product-market fit, it’s time to shut down and try again. With that being said there is only so much failure a person can take before they don’t have the confidence to try again. One of my bigger fears is failing enough times that I stop trying.”
Adrianne Pinkney – B. Well: Live Consciously
Adrianne is an integrative wellness and life coach who works with individuals as well as offers corporate training. She started B. Well: Live Consciously 3 years ago while she was still a college professor. For two years she worked from 9-5 and for the university and then work from 6-10 p.m. and on the weekends for herself.
For her, one of the toughest parts of making that leap to leave the university and work for herself full-time about a year and a half ago were the naysayers. I am a life coach, I’m an integrative wellness and life coach. I do individual and corporate training. I focus on the soft skills which is all the emotional work. Team building, emotional intelligence, listening skills with work places and with individuals just whole life wellness and wellbeing. Been doing it for 3 and a half years. I used to be a university professor, I worked in universities for 2 years while I built my business, and then the third year was the one I stepped out full time working for myself.
“I had a very cushy job as a university professor. You know, when you put that much work into a PhD, then someone’s like ‘You’re going to go be a life coach?!” There were all these things that people were concerned about “What are you going to do for health insurance, what is your retirement plan going to be? You just got a job at Virginia Tech, you’re not actually going to leave that kind of stuff?’
A lot of the fears they expressed were my own, but I realized there was no difference between whether you work for someone else or whether you pay for your insurance out of your own pocket. You’re still paying for your insurance. Whether they’re matching you or not, you’re still putting the money in your own retirement. If I look at my pay stub, I was already paying $200 or $300 for my insurance. So nothing has really changed but my mind. My stance had to change, just the way I thought about it.
Now the naysayers are really proud. Some have even reached out to me and said, ‘Hey I would love to do something similarly.’ I don’t think they’re haters as much as they are in fear.”
Sebastian Williams – Hula Whip, Ravel and Skipper
Seb started his entrepreneurial journey after leaving IBM to start Skipper with his co-founder and wife, Meggie Williams, several years ago. Then, last April, he decided to leave Skipper (though he still is a dining table consultant to Meggie, he jokes) to start new more of his own ventures: Ravel and Hula Whip.
Hula Whip is a family passion project and dessert truck that serves Dole Whip similar to the Dole Whip Pineapple Soft Serve you can get at Disney World. “Last summer we were talking about Disney World and I was like, ‘You know we’ve always talked about how cool it would be to get something like this at places other than Disney – we should do it.” Everyone else was kind of like oh yeah okay. Then one day I just called everyone and said “I bought an ice cream truck, it’s being wrapped this week, we’re doing this.” We got that going in the fall of last year, but this summer will be the first real big push for that.”
Then there’s Ravel, which plays on the idea of unraveling complexities of homes, he says. One of Skipper’s investors approached him in April to ask him to help manage a disaster relief business. Seb is the owner, runs the business and takes most of the profit, but the investor provides most of the capital.
“They call them zoom up companies. We’re not necessarily start ups because we’re not the newest, trendiest, trackable water device that goes into a water bottle or something like that. It’s just traditional business, but he’s supplying the capital and we are taking an entrepreneurial mindset.”
For Seb, the toughest part of starting any new business is that everything is up to you as the owner. Usually, there aren’t many others you can delegate to or ask for help: it truly means you have to do whatever it takes to succeed:
“I always think about when Meggie and I started Skipper – there were times when we were literally working all day. I did 25 dog walks in a day one time. I did dog walks all day long, I had a cooler in the car that I had snacks and water and stuff, and I’d get home at 9 or 10 at night and start the work day of doing everything else we needed to do for the business. Last week for instance I needed to get the landing page up and it’s like sure, it’s super late at night and I should really stop working, but if I don’t get this done, the designer can’t get what he needs done, and then the web guy can’t put the website up, and then nothing works.”
“That was probably the hardest thing for me: the gravity that you have to move everything forward: marketing, sales, operations, accounting, collecting money. It can be overwhelming a lot of times. Like, what do I prioritize? I call it the guy with a knife problem. You’re in a burning building and you really need to get out, but you keep running into these guys with knives. So you really need to get out of the burning building, but you still have to deal with these other guys or you’re not getting out of the burning building. You still have to keep your eye on the big goal but you have to constantly be battling all these other things that pop up because there’s no one to shove it away to. I was fortunate with Skipper to have Meggie because she’s so motivated. She will literally do whatever it takes to the end. It was great building that in the early stage with her. Otherwise it’s difficult.”
Mary Johnson – Brave New Word
Mary is the founder and chief content creator of Brave New Word, a content marketing business she started in August 2017 and has built from the ground up. With a background in journalism, Mary is used to high-stress jobs with long hours. She thought starting her own company would be a bit more manageable for her, but she quickly found it entrepreneurship is a beast to be reckoned with.
“The word I chose is comparison. I don’t know that I would say that is the toughest thing I’ve experienced so far. The toughest thing to come to grips with for me is maybe a combination of self doubt and also exhaustion. You hear a lot that starting a business is the hardest thing you’ll ever do and it’s so all consuming. I guess I thought that I’ve always had jobs that have pushed me to the brink, so I can handle running my own business. It is truly more than I ever thought it would be. Some days it feels like a really heavy burden, and some days it’s the greatest thing in the world. Managing that dichotomy has been challenging for me, the highs and lows and navigating that.
I chose comparison for my word because that was one of the most unexpected challenges of running the business. I didn’t foresee myself judging my own success against everyone around me as much as I have to date. I think being surrounded by a bunch of other entrepreneurs and small business owners is highly motivating, but it’s also easy to fall into this space of well I’m not where they are, should I be there? Getting over that has been very difficult for me. More so than I thought. I think it’s been a slow process, but Meg Seitz with Toth Shop andI now work together in our office. I think that has helped foster more of a collaborative than a comparative stance.
Meg and I do the exact same thing for the most part, and I think it was easy for me to say, ‘She has this many clients, should I have that many clients?’ One of the reasons I wanted to have an office together is because she hired Crawford at the beginning of the year last year, and it was like wow. She did this step that to me was so scary, and now I’m fired up and I can see someone who’s done it. I can do it now. I started seeing it not as an opportunity for comparison or to feel bad about myself but for motivation or pushing me forward.
I think it’s totally normal, and it’s so easy to fall into. With social media it’s really easy too because you’re looking at people’s best version of themselves. I had a moment of revelation a couple of months ago. I had lunch with a friend of mine, and she had been following a lot of what I was doing on social media. She was pregnant for the first time and was stressed out about running a business and having a baby and she was like, ‘I just really wanted to have lunch with you because you look like you’re crushing it, and how are you doing it?’ I was like oh my god, I’m a disaster like every day. I felt like I was falling into the same trap as everyone else in trying to present the best version of myself in this comparison mode. I woudn’t put the terrible days on Instagram, you only put the best days, but that’s not helpful to people.”