"We don't have a usual mom."
My teenage sons give this response with a degree of pride and humor. They were first ones I thought of when I decided formally to leave six-figure work and create my own path instead.
Being an entrepreneur is hard work. It's hard on a scale you can't fathom until you are in the Technicolor midst of experiencing it.
I say this sitting on the floor of a conference room in San Francisco -- it's 5 p.m. and there is much more to do. Now is a coffee break to write this story, before going back to building our company. I'll check in with the boys in NY in a little while.
At 39, I had all the "things" one was supposed to have. I owned a house with a yard and a split rail cedar fence. I had decent savings, good income and a spouse with an equally good income. One should be content with this.
My days were a combination of sitting on the express bus, completing projects that occasionally meant late nights and weekends. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I wasn't making changes. I wasn't working for people whose lives I wanted to help change. I was part of a system. The problems I was solving weren't the kind of problems that mattered to me. I wanted something different, and I didn't want to settle for some generalist version of what I was supposed to do to be successful.
In my career, everything that I had cared about and was proud of was along two lines -- either connecting people with information they didn't have access to before, or in creating ways for people to tell their stories. Sometimes this was as simple as saying hello to someone that everyone else ignored, or asking an open question. I wanted to focus on that.
People talk a lot about a burning problem they need to solve.
Mine was that I got really ticked off at inefficiencies and siloes. I wanted to change that, because it didn't seem fair that people spent so much time creating their business and then be held back by information that they didn't have, or didn't know they could have.
"But that's not a sexy problem." Local businesses have huge barriers to entry because they are so disparate and fractured.
I didn't found a company because I wanted to solve a sexy problem, and I don't wake up in the middle of the night thinking about small businesses because I like solving easy problems.
I do this because I think of the stories that shopkeepers have told me. I do this because of what it means to have someone tell me, "My life, my family, everything takes place between these walls." I founded this company to do something bigger than me, and to make a difference for others. It has nothing to do with profit margins, market size or wanting to be my own boss. It has everything to do with seeing a problem and wanting to fix it. There is a business model in solving that problem, but the reason that we started isn't about a quick path to profitability.
Three years later, I've sold that house, cashed out the savings. I've built a company that works with open data to help brick and mortar businesses. My husband is my partner. We're in this together, full stop.
And we wouldn't have it any other way.
This life is not for everyone, and you need to walk into it eyes open.
It's a commitment. There is no promise of success, and many people have failed. And you will fail a few times.
So: Why this? Why now? Why you? These are questions you have to face with yourself. You have to be willing to learn-there are things you can't do, there are things you must learn. This is an ongoing process, it is not one and done- that you figure something out and then you're done, you're golden. You have to continually want to figure things out and continually be aware of yourself.
What are you going to do when X happens? And Y, Z, Q and N- concurrently?
These are ongoing questions you have to solve -- and then adapt your solutions to different strategies and contexts. Opportunities evolve, pay attention then adapt.
You have to build a team that shares respect for one another, and is able to have frank discussions on a regular basis. Some of these discussions are over ugly math. You decide things and go on. Sometimes you have limited data to make those decisions. Time is limited, you have to be efficient not mired in busy. You have to be relentless, resourceful. You have to look at challenges with calm eyes, even if an edge case you didn't think could be is your new reality.
As a husband and wife team kindness is particularly important. We still have to go home to one another regardless of company outcome. Without a foundation of respect things will fray pretty quickly. We don't have church and state lines on work time, couple time. We have time. Building our company is our life. We're friends, we're problem solvers. We cook dinner together. We think about the model we show the kids -- we believe in each other and work hard.
So again -- why?
We see an opportunity to make a difference. And believe in it so much that we will sacrifice to make it real.
We also see a tremendous amount of privilege. We are not the only people who have made this kind of commitment. We have surrounded ourselves with a community of like-minded driven folks. That community is one that shares and supports. We all have the potential to change each other's lives. The startup world is different than the other work worlds I've known.
Here we're home -- as builders, listeners and creators. We prefer this instead of the split rail cedar fence.