When you teach entrepreneurship, you are inevitably asked for advice (usually free) on starting a business, by all sorts of people. I don’t mind helping out, but when it’s a family member I think twice. I want everyone to succeed, but on some level if some man doesn’t follow my advice, or some woman does but fails anyway I’m not really bothered. I know that the advice I hand out is sound, based on received theory, empirical research, experiential learning, and my own personal experience. But if my mom’s business fails, I feel like it’s my fault, whether it is or not.
What follows are my recollections of two of my moms’ businesses. Believe it or not, the apostrophe is in the right place. I was for a time, probably due at least partially to my own shortcomings as a child, a foster child. I had the honor of calling many wonderful people mother and father. If not for some of them I’d be a very different person today, and I’m thankful for each one that stepped up, even for a little while.
Mom business number one: Nancy, my foster mother for the last three years of high school and a lifetime inspiration wanted to start a business. She had done some of the heavy lifting of finding a niche in a crowded market, designing a product, having stock manufactured, and beginning to sell. She asked me, along the way for advice and some help, but it was clearly her business. I bought her a web domain, got a graphic designer to create a banner, got her original website set up and so on, so that she could supplement her in-person sales with online sales. That business ran quite well until she fell ill and passed away. I have asked a couple times if I could run that business, more or less to keep her memory alive, but I’ve been shut down at every turn. I’m told that the family intends to restart the business, but its unique place in the market has been eliminated by imitation, and its established goodwill erodes daily. It makes me sad because it’s wasteful for no reason. This could have been avoided through planning. A simple succession plan is all it would have taken for this business to have survived the death of its founder.
Mom business number two: Dicki, the amazing woman who gave birth to me, and puts up with all my crap, recently started a business. She asked me for advice on various things and I gave her the same answers I would have given anyone else, the same answers I gave Nancy several years ago in fact. She asked someone else to do her website, which is fine, I told him how I would get the information to get it online, and I believe it’s being done as I write this. However, when she realized she wasn’t going to get a website immediately, she made one herself, on Facebook. She didn’t wait, she just did it. She had already developed a novel artistic product, and produces beautiful, salable art pieces which she sells for about 25% of what they should go for. (If you’re reading this and you’re selling something I’m going to go out on a limb and tell you that you should probably raise your prices. Most people undersell themselves.) She markets them in person at various venues. She’s in a conservative market and wants to move product, so I understand the low prices. Selling is half the fun!
The point is, in both cases, action is more important than just about anything else. This is the one thing that is so hard to get through people’s heads. The days of planning to plan to plan the plan are behind us. We have phase-shifted into a world where action is the first step. Maybe we’ve always been in that world, and it’s just taken the internet to show it to us, I don’t know. But for my money, give me a person, even (especially) a relative, that’s going to do it with or without me and I’ll be on board. I’ll do what I can to facilitate their success; we can work out the details later. But if someone wants to hang around the ‘startup culture’ and talk about starting a company, they can pay market rate for my time.
If you’d like to seem my mom’s business, click here.