I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I don’t have any really good ideas and I can’t always motivate myself when I try to start a big new project on my own. Sure, if I have an idea, I talk about it for a bit, bounce ideas off of other people, refine it a bit, make a schedule of tasks to complete and start to carry out a plan. In a few weeks though, my energy starts to fade, life’s daily needs start creeping back into the time I have allotted for my new special project and I work less and less on it at time progresses.
Within a few months, I may have worked on my grand new plan only once during the past week and I find myself so behind on my planned schedule, that I throw in the towel or put it in the mental box of “too far behind to touch” and bitterly never pick it up again. I have done this multiple times over the years. I had always had a dream of starting my own company, growing it into a big corporation one day were I would make tons of money, be the boss, make my own schedule and have everyone answering to me. I think a lot of people have this dream, especially the millennial generation.
It should be easier than ever to start your own enterprise. There have never been so many tools so easily accessible to anyone willing to pick them up and use them. Never have we as humans had so much information at our fingertips that we can pull together from distant sources t create something all our own. However despite all this, I was still ending up stuck in the same rut of never turning all my ideas and knowledge into a functioning business.
The media paints a picture of the 20 something genius, tech savvy entrepreneur who starts his own company, courts angel investors and drops out of college to be the hoodie wearing billionaire who makes “a dent in the universe” with his sleek, age defining product or service that will revolutionize some segment of our daily existence.
However none of that ever happened to me. One day though, I came across some blogs and motivational websites of people who had changed the course of their lives by seemingly doing simple things; writing a blog, making a youtube video or making a weekly podcast. They explained how anyone could do it, but what was the difference between them and myself I wondered?
They Just Did It
There is a simple and obvious difference between these successful entrepreneurs and someone like you and me. They just did it. How many times have you seen some new product, TV show or service come out and say to yourself “wow I actually thought of something like that a while ago” or “I was just telling my friend the other day how someone needs to make that same thing” but they remained just that: ideas in your head. I read an interview with Dr. Dre once where he explained that he feels strange when he’s outside of the studio because that could have been the day that Billie Jean came into his head and he wouldn’t have had the tools to play it out and record what was in his head. If he wasn’t so dedicated and in the studio all the time to be able to record his thoughts he probably would not have been as nearly prolific as he was and those ideas would have just remained in his head like you and me.
It’s a similar situation to anyone who has ever started anything from scratch that has become successful. They will tell you that anyone can come up with a good idea but the hard part is carrying that idea out and managing the details and roadblocks that will inevitably follow. There will be setbacks that will force you to change direction. There will be obstacles you didn’t plan on. Those successful people didn’t give up, they remained committed, modified their plans, or just plain failed. When they did fail however, they still managed to pick back up, learn from their experience and move forward with another project that became a success.
Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. I came across a testimony from a palliative care nurse of the most common things people on their deathbed express. Many people exclaimed that they wish they had been willing to live the life they really desired without worrying what other people; friends, family, people you don’t even know, think. The only sure thing at the moment for all of us is that we have this one life to live. This motivation may be the reason behind what drives some people to achieve their dreams no matter how difficult they are. Why then, if I was conscious of all this, was this not working out for me when I tried doing it?
They Knew Their Strengths but Admitted Their Faults
I realize at some point that I wasn’t recognizing my own faults and shortcomings. This was difficult to do and I believe it’s what held me back for so long. It wasn’t until I started to admit where I needed help that I started to gain some traction. So I laid out my strengths and weaknesses before I thought of what business I should start.
First the strengths, I have a ton of training in finance, novice accounting skills, am a prodigious saver and meticulous planner. Sounds perfect for being able to implement a strong business plan right?
However, I have a tendency to be scatter brained, I can lose motivation and not stick with something. I have self-doubts that my plan is going to work and I wasn’t willing to part with a large part of my savings in order to invest it in myself, knowing that I may lose motivation at some point. I was also scared of jumping into the economic void and losing the financial stability of my traditional career. I live in New York City and have no family here, I feared losing it all and having to move back to my parents place upstate. I feared being known as a failure.
I also didn’t really have many skills outside of finance. I had spent so much time trying to master my field, that I didn’t keep up on my more creative skills that could unleash new ideas. So I had to admit that I needed a partner to help motivate me. I needed someone for when those down times inevitably came, they could offset my outlook with their own ambition and help push me back on the right track.
I also decided I needed someone with a skill that I didn’t necessarily have. Someone with a passion and ideas that knew what they were doing. I wasn’t one of those internet geeks that loved coding. I didn’t really have any good ideas that would revolutionize life as we know it. I didn’t even like computers that much, so it was time to stop falling under the trance of the media. So I threw out the idea of getting rich being the next dot com. Instead I recalled a story from my best friend, a nurse who had moved to California some years ago and had mentioned a story about people he knew who had opened adult care homes there and seemed to be making good money.
What Changed the Course for Me
I decided to give him a ring and put our minds together about starting a business as partners in an adult care facility like the one he had told me about way back. I knew I could work well with him because the previous year we had planned a long and complex trip to Africa and the Middle East involving big costs, extensive planning that ran into many logistical issues but we had pulled it off relatively smoothly without killing each other.
Over the course of the next year, I made a number of trips out to his city to investigate the industry, find out more from him about approvals needed, market practice, and the upfront costs. All the while keeping in mind that we may have to abandon the idea if we were to discover something prohibitive like very low profit margins, a lot of struggling operators or a projected long term weakness in the market that may have been expected to take hold.
We didn’t find anything other than the normal business complaints from other owners; turnover of staff, complaints about the resident and regulations. The last part we knew we would have to get through but we had no idea of what lied ahead in terms of bureaucracy and frustration.
So we decided to move ahead and the first step involved finding a location to rent and getting a license for the location. This is where we ran into our first of many roadblocks.
Adult care homes are able to operate out of residential homes in California. When researching residential homes that were for rent we found that landlords had little tolerance for the type of facility we wanted to open or they wanted to charge exorbitant rents in order to be able to operate the business from their residence. At this point we could have given up but we decided to move on, I made the decision to buy a house there and rent it to my friend in order to operate the business out of the house. It took an extra 6 months of savings in addition to what I already had in order to save up for the house but we finally got it. All we had to do now was get the home licensed by the state.
We never could have anticipated a scandal breaking out within the adult care home industry where there were some large scale cases of abuse that made the front pages of the press right around the time we were applying for our license. Due to the media scrutiny on the state, all applications were frozen. The process eventually took a year to receive the license and I paid the mortgage of a home I wasn’t living in for that entire time until we finally received the license.
We went through many operational issues in the first 2 years, all the while hoping to expand to a second home. My friend spent the entire year covering night shifts and pulling 100 hour weeks with little pay in order to keep the home going while the financial losses piled up.
Slowly but surely we became profitable, just in time for me to notice on a visit that the housing market was about to take off. I decided to move ahead with the purchase of a second home, speeding up the process by getting some outside investors involved this time.
You may wonder why my friend did not buy the house and that is simply due to the fact that he did not have the funds at the time and we agreed I would support the operation more from a financial perspective and he would support it more from an operational perspective. In effect my idea to start a business has put me more in the role of landlord and financial consultant with my partner as the manager.
We are now awaiting our license on the second home and our first home is completely full and covering the costs of the idle second home while we await the license. It has been a long arduous and frustrating journey for both of us but the fact remained that no matter what happened and how many obstacles were thrown in our way we still did it. It has now cost triple of what I projected and twice as long to get moving as I had anticipated but the resilience and commitment from both of us and the shared vision of our dream has kept us going despite all the setbacks.
If you want to do something you have to just go and do it. You will make mistakes, you may lose money but what may help motivate you is thinking of those people at the end of their lives. Do you really want to be at the end of your days wondering what could have been? Even in failure you can take solace in the fact that you were brave enough to see where the attempt will take you, let your fear push you from behind rather than stand in your way.
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