Starting a business is fun, at least in the dream stage. You envision all the good you’ll do for the world and of course, she’ll reward you with a fulfilled purpose, great PR and skyrocketing revenue. Your heart is aflame with ideas and solutions to the problems of the world. So you plunge in headfirst and enter the darkness, your impassioned purpose lighting the way.
And then you hit the wall called reality.
Reality is a cruel and unforgiving taskmaster who enjoys her job way too much. She chides you about how unoriginal your business is and takes you on a tour of “everyone else doing the same thing”. She laughs at your dream and the security you gave up, just because you thought you could do it differently or better. “We all got ideas, buddy, and yours ain’t that special”, she spurns. Months turn into years, your savings lose a zero or two and your faith begins to circle the drain. For many of us this scenario is more truth than we’d like to accept. It was for me. I took the leap from a weekly paycheck that gave me security, kept my 401K growing, and made me a property owner, in order to fuel my dream of starting my own business. With no kids and hubby, I could eat my weight in crackers if need be, right? “Viva La Resistance!!”, my heart sang. I was determined to leave my mark on the world. Six years later, my bank account and the resistance were pretty much laughing at me. Keeping my nose to the grindstone was admirable but not profitable. But overhearing two Hubbers speak of their struggles one day in the kitchen birthed an insatiable desire in me to seek out such kindred spirits. To find a community within a community at Impact Hub Boston.
One of those Hubbers was Rajiv Shrestha, the founder of three companies. I sat down with him and his partner Ubin Pokharel to see how they were weathering the entrepreneurial storm. I was seeking more than just a “keep at it!,” I wanted to flesh out the devil in their details. Rajiv’s company Octet Research strives to bring pharmacology and technology together. He sought out like-minded people by starting the MeetUp group Boston QSP (BQSP). It became so popular that in three years it now boasts over 900 members and heralds C-suite speakers of major pharmaceutical companies. Rajiv had found a niche. He saw something others weren’t doing and began to capitalize upon it. Success would seem inevitable and easy, but it wasn’t. BQSP showed Rajiv where X marked the spot, but he still had some serious digging to do.
Joining the conversation was Hubber newbie Oliviar Jamin Changeart. A musician whose challenge was in helping clients make an emotional connection between his music and their product. He knew the value of his business but how could he help others see that same value? Oliviar found himself educating clients by showing them that his music was much more exclusive and unique than cookie-cutter compositions from an online music library. But making that emotional connection was easier said than done when many times clients would only give him a word, thought or idea to go by. Regardless, his job was to bring to life the meaning behind a company’s message though a customized sound. A sound that exalts his niche in the market and showcases the value of his business. But Oliviar discovered that he was only able to carve out that niche with a team. Working with a branding company right here at CIC, Oliviar was able to see a hidden need not yet capitalized upon by others. That’s something he would not have seen without collaboration.
The Importance of Partnering
Such collaboration is what brought Rajiv and Ubin together. They had complementary expertise and a professional dynamic the other didn’t possess. Those complementary skills created a partnership that quickly separated Octet Research from the pack in pharmacology. Instantly, the rewards of partnering were reflected in the innovative changes they both envisioned despite the lethargy of the industry to embrace unconventional ideas. For Hubber Steve Milt, partnering allowed him to rise rapidly with the first company he built. After selling it, he started all over again, embracing the vigorous challenge of replanting from ground zero. But he found that occupying the same space felt different and came with struggles he’s never faced before. “People are impressed with you for like three months, after which, no one wants to hear you whine about the challenges you have after selling your company.” Steve was now on the other side, along with countless others who had scaled the mountain and won. But getting back in the ring again didn’t garner the same respect or cheers as the first time around. Breaking ground a second time felt different and more isolating. Something we both wondered if such was a challenge Kate Spade experienced? You never pour out as much blood, sweat and tears for the second venture as you do for the first. Is staying connected and engaged with one’s first success the much needed antidote?
The Importance of Having – and Articulating – a Vision
These conversations dropped like gems during a member lunch and in the daily hubbub of the kitchen. I absorbed each offering and began to apply the wisdom I was learning to my own business. Like Oliviar, I’m an artist and started out freelancing but I never gave that much thought to my mission and vision. Most voice actors never do and none of my coaches ever suggested it. But it was obvious that Rajiv and Ubin’s work was guided by their mission and vision. It was having a business model that helped Oliviar to know where and how to deliver his pitch. Steve brought to light the unspoken struggle of isolation that speaks to the importance of entrepreneurs having a business plan for their life and well-being. It’s a plan Sean Gallagher lives by while helming his company, Influence Success.
Connect, and Connect Some More
Sean arrested my attention one day in the kitchen with an excited, “I haven’t reached my tipping point but it’s tilting.” For many entrepreneurs, our lens can be so fixated on growing, pivoting, and even dodging, that seeing the seed we planted begin to bud the coveted petals of establishment and expansion can be surreal. So how was Sean accomplishing this rise from the ashes? By testing new ways to connect and braving the waters of continuously expanding. He shared with me an experience where he hesitantly attended a conference that was highly recommended. We all know how easy it is to get lost in the game of musical conferences and networking events that yield nothing for our time. But Sean’s endurance paid off as he soon found himself in the company of C-suite contacts who began to open the doors he’s been trying to walk through for years. By making real human connections and not being afraid to ask those in his target market, Sean found a winning equation, one that demanded superior quantitative and qualitative factors. Sean emphasized the consequence of not embracing a diversity of skillsets for one’s team, the importance of yoking the strength of external talent to boost visibility and opportunities outside one’s purview and how essential it is to manage one’s mental health. Such a winning formula has earned Sean the admiration of clients who speak of him as a “trusted, reliable and valued advisor.”
The Real, Human Path to Success
My foray into the rabbit hole of entrepreneurial struggle at Impact Hub has challenged my definition of what it means to build a business. Like many, I assumed more often than not that all around me were pretty packages of 30-second commercialized clips of a passionate start, a few fumbles but assured victory. But now my lens is more human, more compassionate and more appreciative of and for myself and others who don’t race but determinedly climb up towards the pinnacle of our Mt. Everest and indulge in the joyful pain of the ascent, bruised knees and all. For those of us who aren’t afraid to ask, to risk shame, to start all over again because we’ve hit a dead-end or start all over again just because we want to climb again. For those of us who raise our hands and dare to say, “Hi, my name is and I’m out of ideas.”