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From the Trenches: Taking the Leap to Start a Business

January 2, 2018
Jocelyn Manuel

Jocelyn Manuel

People Operations

Starting a business can be a scary proposition. You might be noodling on an idea for a long time before you actually take the plunge. Shahasp Valentine, whose story we’ve been following as she gets set to open up Rock and Rapture, her first retail shop, prepared herself after many years in retail. She is finally taking the leap to start a business after feeling that she had enough experience under her belt.

We asked our members at Townsquared how they knew that it was time to start their business. Was it a gut feeling? What stars aligned that signaled it was the perfect time to turn your idea into reality? Our members share their stories here.

Mary Pino of The Gilded Grape
Probably like most, I started to get burned out in my career. My passion was lacking and I felt I was losing a part of myself. I wanted something more since I wasn’t happy getting out of bed in the morning anymore. I started fantasizing about what I would do. In boredom, I put together a business plan: What would it look like? How will it make money? I thought about how I would make it work for my life: How will I feed myself? As all of this was manifesting, an opportunity arose. Thinking through these questions gave me the confidence to make the move to leave my full-time job. I had faith it would all work out. And I’m glad I did it!

Debbie Viola of Art by Debbie Viola
I had no intention of starting my own business. I ran a nine-attorney law firm for 23 years. On 9/11/01, we saw what was happening at the World Trade Center — live — out of our Midtown office windows. After we saw the buildings come down, I was horrified and left, to begin walking up to my daughter’s dorm at Barnard College.

My boss was screaming that his friend may have been in one of the Towers. But as he saw me leaving, he followed me to the elevator with work and said “since you’re leaving early, can you do this at the dorm?” He said this to me as if it was just another day. As the elevator doors were closing, in that split second I knew I couldn’t work for him another minute.

I had no choice but to try and make my new found hobby of decorative painting and faux finishing somehow become a business. It wasn’t easy, but I’m still standing and have received many awards and accolades. At the time, starting a business seemed like financial suicide but I never looked back. I didn’t want to regret that I never took a chance.

Nick Roche at Urban Abacus, Inc.
Urban Abacus (a bookkeeping company in Portland, Oregon) would never have been conceived six years ago had it not been for a dear colleague of mine. He had a client who wanted to find a new bookkeeper. My colleague approached me said, “Nick, you should think about doing these books. You’ve done bookkeeping for 20 years and you’re great at it.” And so I decided to meet his client. The client and I hit it off wonderfully and I started doing his company’s bookkeeping on the side.

About a month later, I got another call from my friend who had another client who needed a bookkeeper. So I was doing the bookkeeping for two companies and that’s when the bright lights went on: I could actually do this for a living! Within a month, I had come up with my company’s name, filed all the new business docs, and six years later, I have a great side business with more than 20 clients. And I’m still growing!

Sylvia Hoke of Sylvia Hoke Photography
First, starting a business is about the passion. It will follow you and kick at you until you give it the attention it needs. I have been a photographer for well over a decade, while holding down a full-time job. I finally just left the corporate world last year. I knew I had to do it when I felt my soul choking sitting behind a desk, when I had so much to do for my business.

It’s a scary thing to take the plunge to start a business, so resistance will appear in many different shapes and forms. I have been wonderfully fully engaged in my business since taking the plunge and it’s a freedom that is hard to explain. I have been planting the seeds for a while and knew it was the time.

I transitioned from the corporate world, working five days a week, to four, to three, and now zero. And ever since the moment I left, I have been non-stop busy.

Boku Kodama of Urban FIRE
I launched 19 start-ups over a 30-year period for reasons of passion, expertise, or rebellion (and sometimes all three!). But one idea that exploded beyond anything I could have imagined was also the simplest. I was working for a large tech company directing operations and I kept hearing from one of our biggest clients that they felt our company was not responding well enough to their needs because of the sheer bureaucracy of such a large enterprise. This was surely a case of identifying a problem and solving it.

I approached our client and asked what they needed and how would they wanted it resolved. I shared the feedback and suggestions with our corporate decision makers and they said it couldn’t be done. So I decided to do what my company couldn’t do. It was that simple. In fact, the client was so grateful, that they went on my behalf to my bank and “urged” them to provide a line of credit so that I could ramp up our work. The client was so pleased with our performance that they recommended us to other businesses.

Within a short time, we grew to the largest company of its kind in the Western United States. But it has taken a lot of work and care. In fact, I worked every day, seven days a week for two years, making sure we maintained a high level of service for each of our clients.

Opportunities are rare so unless you’re prepared to put in the really hard work, the preparation, the client focus, and the constant research to make it succeed, it can backfire.

A final footnote: the owner of the company I use to work for knew exactly what I was doing because I was transparent about it all. He actually ended up supporting me because he realized the work involved was not his core business. To this day, we are still good friends!

Xenia Viray of Myths of Creation
Throughout my career, I followed my gut and it lead me to different jobs, which I realized much later were all small businesses. I realized through these jobs that I “accidentally” educated myself in how to run a small business and I learned a lot of different skills because I filled many different roles.

I also had the mindset that every business I worked for was my business. That’s why people kept creating positions for me and putting me in new roles even when I had no experience. So I thought to myself, if I am the kind of person who is going to work hard and commit to a business as if I was an owner, maybe I should be the owner. So that’s what I did.

I currently own a clothing store but am looking to expand the definition of what I do, to writing, media, classes, and other things.

For some, like Riccardo Marini of Jenrich Business Consultants, there’s never a better time to start a business than the present. Says Marini, “If you wait till you are ready, you will be out of business before you start!”

When did you decide to take the leap to start a business? Share your stories with others in our Townsquared community and get tips from other entrepreneurs like you on how to create a successful business.


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