To Be or Not To Be (an Entrepreneur)
On my experience being, and not being, an entrepreneur.
I rarely reflect on my time spent entrepreneuring as a teenager, except for when I need a college essay topic or when I want a good laugh. Since this clearly isn't my college essay, I hope sharing my experience can be mildly laughable. I was thirteen years old, had pink and green braces, and was making many questionable clothing choices as most teenagers do. I also owned a business.
My mom owned a local artisan espresso bar at the time, and working for yourself seemed fun and profitable. So, I decided to jump right in, unknowingly educating myself in accounting, marketing, design, and customer service in one fell swoop. I opened a homemade dog and cat treat business called Central Bark and rented a stand in our local Central Market farmer's market. I made the treats in my kitchen, packaged them, and also was the sole employee onsite during business hours.
It really is a funny thing to be thirteen and have a checking account, and also a great thing. Being so young and fortunate enough to have supportive parents took away most, if not all, of the risk associated with starting a business. I was financially supported, hopelessly single, grossly unqualified and had nothing to lose. For anyone in their twenties that still fits that description, now’s the time to start that business (or at the very least reevaluate why your adult life could be interchanged with that of a pubescent teen).
In broad terms, having a source for money, a decent amount of time to spare, general under-qualification, and some guts is usually what makes a good entrepreneur. In more specific terms, it also requires being able to manage financials, keeping a good work/life balance, being able to learn and learn quickly, and accepting possible failure. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do any of this when I signed the lease for the space rental. But again, what better time to try something new than middle school?
I quickly learned the ropes of managing profit margins, building a customer base, customer relations and customer service, packaging design, and how to function on even less sleep than I was getting before. I managed my own time and felt the first real life deadlines take hold and have consequences. And I think everyone will agree that paying rent isn't the same as having your homework done.
Or, Not to Be
I may not have become a billionaire through my endeavor, and I certainly accepted failure when I lost control of my work/life balance, but it was a crazy ride owning my own business and certainly not one that I regret. I bought the business a laptop (which felt pretty swanky in 2003) and proved to myself that I could really build something, which is a mentality I’ve brought to every job I have had since then, and particularly to Talos. While my boss is the one in the hot entrepreneur seat this time around, I understand his struggles and I understand the importance of the team working to build the company just as much he does. It takes an entrepreneur, but it also takes a village.
For now, I absolutely love being part of the village. For both Talos and the dance company, Vim Vigor, that I'm in, I am so happy not to have the huge responsibilities that come with business ownership. I love the rigor and structure I have to work and create in without having to create that structure for other people. I truly think it is a more selfish position to be in the village, but I'll admit that I'm at the age where staying in on a Saturday night and cooking a meal for my girlfriend is something that I value more than money and more than starting a chocolate company, making myself a website and everything else a business needs.
I have ownership over my art, my dance, my graphic design and that’s all the ownership I need for now. Someday my passion for chocolate might actually turn into my second round of entrepreneurship, but not until I'm older and not until I've thought of a really good name for it.
Learning how to run a business at any age is a valuable experience, dare I say, akin to going to school. If you have started a business and are succeeding, more power to you. And if you started a business and eventually fail like I did, don’t worry. You can always take your hard-won skills or lessons learned and apply them to new projects, at new places.