50,000 Feet

Once I got back on track, I tried tackling the 50,000 feet questions again, like, “Why does my business exist?”  Though you’d think it would be the most fundamental thought driving your business forward, I had actually forgotten all about it.  I got so caught up in the lower-level questions of, “Will I be able to roll out a new design in time for the holidays?” that I completely lost sight of my company’s purpose.

My company’s purpose is/was to be a springboard for bigger and better things.  Sweet Meats are a trendy product, currently riding the ebbing wave of the meat zeitgeist.  They were never meant to last, or to expand very far (maybe to the pet boutique market, or the barbecue circuit).  My plan was flood the market while they were hot and then take my winnings and apply them to more meaningful business pursuits.  I didn’t feel particularly good about just putting more stuff into the world, but it made more sense to me to try to turn an already-running side venture into a full-time business, than to try to start a new one from scratch.

In hindsight, that was a mistake.  I should not have started a business that I was not totally comfortable with from an ideological standpoint.  Yes, I made sure I was using sustainable materials and fair labor practices, but that still doesn’t change the fact that my products don’t really change anything in the world for the better.  I also should not have started a business that requires a huge volume of stored inventory.  I also should have narrowed my focus, to something like designer toys, or just the pet market.  But those mistakes have already been made and are now in the past. I can’t do anything about them.

What I can do now is cut my losses and learn from my mistakes.  I can stop working on prototypes for new Sweet Meats designs.  I can sell what I have left and call Sweet Meats limited-editions, which they now are.  I can stop being so worried about the perfect new web design and just put up the one that I have.  I can promote the hell out of that web site and my now limited editions, and in the meantime start work on a business plan for something I’m actually passionate about.  I’m finally excited to work on Sweet Meats again, just so I can finish with it and move on.

As a new entrepreneur, you always hear the statistic that nine out of every ten new businesses fail.  I was determined not to be one of the nine, despite the odds, but I’ve made peace with that now.  Most successful entrepreneurs have at least one failed business behind them.  You can fail at your first business and make it out with your shirt still on — so long as you catch and address your problems soon enough.

The new purpose of Sweet Meats now is as a learning experience.  In the end I think I was lucky to have made my mistakes with a company I wasn’t 100% passionate about.  It means I can make the sound financial decision to cut out early and move on, rather than hold on for dear life because I’m too emotionally attached.  I’m a firm believer in the notion that you can never tell whether an event is fortunate or unfortunate at the moment it occurs.  It’s only with context and distance (say, 50,000 feet) that you can see the role it played in your greater path.  I’ll let you know when I get there.

Hindsight is Crazy-Making

I had a complete meltdown yesterday.  I took an all-day seminar at the SBA entitled, “Writing Effective Business Plans” and immediately began to feel that it was a mistake to start my business.  A horrible mistake.  It dawned on me that my job for the next year is going to consist solely of digging myself out of the hole I’m in. By the time our lunch break rolled around I was already having heart palpitations so I went outside for a walk.  In the window of Stacey’s bookstore, a book entitled, Get a Life That Doesn’t Suck caught my eye.  I headed straight for it, telling myself I was doing reconnaissance for my sister, not me.  The chapters had titles like “Start. Do it Now,” “Think Good Thoughts” and “Have Fun! Celebrate Life.”  Useless.  I put it down and went back to class, where I listened to the really smart and successful-sounding comments of my classmates.  One woman named Suzanne told me how lucky she felt that the business plan class was happening just a week after she quit her job to start a business.  She had four or five business ideas she liked, she said, and now she was going to plug in the numbers in order to decide which one was most likely to succeed, and therefore, which one she should start with.  I almost threw up.  Why didn’t I think of that a year ago before I got myself into this mess?

As soon as I got home I began a panicked rant around the living room, starting with a list of all the reasons why I was never going to get rid of my inventory in time, and quickly progressing to the declaration that my entire life is pointless, I contribute nothing to the world, and I am a complete waste of space.  I was seized with the immediate and overwhelming desire to recalibrate my life and develop a new long-term plan — now. It was already 10pm, but how could I sleep that night knowing that in the morning I would have to begin completely changing my life?

Whenever I find myself in a crisis and don’t know how to proceed, my first instinct is to educate myself.  I don’t like to make choices, especially life-changing choices, without feeling fully informed by the “experts” first.  So the place I turned last night was to a well-used copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. GTD is best used as an organizational and time-management system, but I remember reading a chapter (#3, it turns out) about forming plans of action, from small projects (the view from 10,000 feet), to major life goals (the view from 50,000 feet).  The chapter lays out a step-by-step plan for accomplishing a comprehensive life review, which made me feel better about not have a plan myself.  “You’ll notice that a natural organization [emerges],” it told me.  So, after getting a few things out of my head and down on paper, and after committing to also read The Now Habit and The Four-Hour Workweek, I went to bed.

And that’s where I am this morning, standing at the edge of a giant precipice, ready to take the leap.  I’ll let you know what I find at the bottom.