The Worst Thing You’ve Ever Done

Over the last year, I have been blown away by my experiences with Defy Ventures, an organization that gives business training and mentoring to people with criminal backgrounds. I must admit I was pretty nervous the first time I walked into a room filled with people who had rap sheets, but after everyone introduced themselves with a bear hug, and I got to hear why these people were choosing to change their lives, I could no longer hold on to my fear or negative assumptions.

 A Clean Slate  Through her M.B.A.-style program, Defy Ventures, Catherine Rohr is helping former prisoners, including Maliki Cottrell (left) and Marlon Llin (center), learn how to launch their own companies.

A Clean Slate Through her M.B.A.-style program, Defy Ventures, Catherine Rohr is helping former prisoners, including Maliki Cottrell (left) and Marlon Llin (center), learn how to launch their own companies. Photo credit: Miller Mobley

I believe in potential; I believe that people grow and become better versions of themselves, and I know that I’m not the only one. But in The United States, we do not extend that faith to people who have been behind bars.

What would it be like if you were permanently known for the worst thing you’ve ever done?

This is a line from Catherine Rohr’s article in Inc. CEO and Founder of Defy Ventures, she has helped transform the lives of thousands of motivated individuals, and by extension, strengthen the communities and families that they came from.

I urge you to read this article. I urge you to question the beliefs that you have. I urge you to support an organization that bolsters our society with the very people who are shunned by society. Oh yeah, and I urge you to like them on facebook!

I’ve got a case of the doubts.

Lately I’ve been feeling guilty and confused. I set out on this HeSo Project in an effort to make my happiness and fulfillment a priority. I wanted to find a job that satisfied me spiritually as well as financially. I wanted to challenge myself to be creative and take risks. I assumed this meant being an entrepreneur.

I certainly felt creative and challenged while starting BeddyBye. I learned so much about creating an LLC, and dealing with internet business. I took courses in starting a small business. I hired a consultant to figure out the logistics of working with plastic. I made countless sketches, revised the design, and made four different prototypes. I was talking to safety engineers and manufacturing experts. It really felt like it was going to happen. Then…I lost interest (or perhaps confidence). The steamroller of doubt squashed this dream.

Every expert I spoke with told me I needed over 100k just to get started, and that there was really no way to dip my toes in the water when it came to manufacturing – especially when your making a device for babies. A part of me would like to sell the idea one day to a baby product company, so that’s making me feel like it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Actually no part of me feels like it was a waste of time. I learned a ton from that experience.

But then, when I was trying to come up with the next venture for the HeSo project, I called up an old friend to see if I could sub a few hours a week at her  school just so I wasn’t going through my entire savings.

Four years ago I was an English as a second (ESL) teacher and I absolutely loved it. The only reason why I quit was because I wasn’t making enough money. What added insult to injury was that the school was grooming me for a promotion, but it turned out that the promotion, although it was a great title, included a pay cut! That’s when I started working for my mom. I made tons of money but I was absolutely uninterested in what I was doing.

Well the subbing quickly turned into full time teaching. It’s an incredibly exhausting job, I’m working so much harder than I’m used to, and waking up earlier than I want to, and just barely making enough to pay the bills…but I love it. I come home full of stories. My students make me laugh all the time. I love the routine of work, I know I’m an amazing teacher, and I like being a part of a big team. Call me crazy but I actually like making a small salary. It’s making me appreciate the few things I do end up buying.

So here’s where the guilt comes in:

I feel like I set such a high bar for myself and I’m falling short. Of course my priority was to be happy, and I am. So shouldn’t that be enough? But another part of me thinks I should be doing more. A part of me thinks I’m not living up to my potential.

Yesterday one of my co-teachers said it was her 3 year anniversary of teaching at the school. I congratulated her, but she said she thought it was the saddest thing ever. She got into it just to pay the rent while she was auditioning for acting rolls. She said it was like she had become a career waiter. It made me wonder if I’m settling. Then that made me wonder if I’m letting someone else’s opinion taint my happiness.

I haven’t really come to a conclusion. I just wanted to get that off my chest. Any thoughts?

Lessons from the Shark Tank

Whenever I tell someone that I’m working on developing an invention of mine they immediately tell me I should go on the Shark Tank. If you’re not familiar with the ABC reality show, entrepreneurs go in front of a board of venture capitalists and make the case for why they should invest in the start up company. If the investors like the idea they’ll invest their own money in the company, if they don’t they’ll rip it to shreds. I started watching full episodes on ABC.com and I’m hooked. Here are some lessons I’ve learned:

1. Be shameless. You need to be able to walk into a store and make that manager carry your product. You need to go up to strangers and convince them that their lives are incomplete without your product. You need to be willing to make a fool of yourself to stand out and be memorable. Embarrassment is not failure, anonymity is failure.

2. You are an important part of the product. Some of the best bidding wars happened when the investors didn’t particularly like the product, they just saw such a huge drive in that person that they wanted to be involved in whatever they do. You need to be likable and relatable.

3. You can’t help others until you’re successful. This is the hardest lesson to swallow.  There was an entrepreneur who was trying to revive his small town with a manufacturing company. He was making a great product but at a loss because the cost of labor was so high. The sharks wanted to be partners with him, but they wanted to manufacture the product in China. The man said absolutely not- it went against his beliefs.

I sympathized with the guy because when I first had the idea for BeddyBye I had grand plans of reviving manufacturing in NYC, and hiring new parents as consultants, and providing state of the art free day care and the list goes on. Daymond John, CEO of Fubu, is one of the sharks and he asked the entrepreneur how long he could continue making the product at a loss, and the man said a few more weeks. At that point he would be broke, and couldn’t help himself let alone his town. Daymond stated that if the product was made for less money he could then hire sales reps, website developers, customer service, office managers, and so on. He would be able to help a lot more people if his focus was on success rather than martyrdom. Damond said “first you have to make it, then master it, and then you can matter.” You’ll be able to do a lot more good once you have some money behind your beliefs. Just look at George Soros.

4. The best ideas are the simplest. These are the ideas that make you say, “I can’t believe that doesn’t exist already.” That’s what I said when I first came up with BeddyBye, and I was shocked when I couldn’t find anything like it online. Look around your house and see if anything would be completely different with a slight modification. One woman got $50k for her product that was basically a towel with a slit in the middle to cover kids when they’re changing at the beach or pool. Another guy got $100k for a water bottle that unscrews at the bottom and top so you can clean the bottom. I know I’ve thrown out bottles that get gunk stuck on the bottom. So simple!

So how has this Shark Tank marathon helped my small enterprise? While I’m waiting for the last bit of bureaucracy to go through on my LLC, I’m going to focus on being a good salesman. I had another small business idea rolling around in my head. The start up costs are lot a less, and success will really depend on how well I push it. This will be great reinforcement of lessons 1 and 2, since I can be shy and intimidated easily. I will post more about  it soon!

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
– Eleanor Roosevelt

I found my future career!

Yea I have a business idea! I came up with it after talking to my friends who are new moms. It seemed so obvious, that I didn’t give it much thought. But then when I was hanging out with my dad I mentioned the idea, and he was really interested. In fact he said, “Now that’s something I would want to invest in.”

Today I went to a few relevant stores to check out the market for my product, and the applicable trends. There’s definitely a need for my invention! I’ve also been going over the design details with my dad, and we came up with an awesome name! Sorry to be vague here, but I have to protect my idea. It’s not that I don’t trust you – I just don’t trust the creepy guy who’s reading over your shoulder. Made you look!

Next, I need to make a prototype, test it out on my friends, refine the design, and then find a manufacturer. Easy! But actually writing this all down does make it seem simple and manageable. After all, it’s just one step at a time.

Here’s something to glean from this: Always share your ideas. When you start to talk you flush out the concept and you can sense from your audience’s reaction if it’s marketable or not. If you just leave it in your head it’s easy to dismiss, but some of the best ideas are ones that seem obvious; seem like they already exist but some how don’t. Also write down a game plan. Otherwise it can seem to overwhelming to start.

This image of Albert Einstin sums up how I'm feeling right now.