Be Patient with the Process. Entrepreneurship is a journey. It’s not a one-and-done thing. Rather, it’s a process that takes time to explore. Business is challenging and can be a grind. Often, things are out of your control. Other times, life throws you a curveball. By being patient with the process, you can keep your mind fixated on the positive things. If you fail, think about what you learned. If you succeed, extract what happened so you can replicate it. Be patient as you climb the entrepreneurial mountain and enjoy the scenery while you do it.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacob Merkley.
As CEO, Jacob is focusing on helping parents all over the world increase bonding time with their children through Story Tyke, a free bedtime story email subscription for busy parents. He is a proud husband to the girl he met in an elevator and a father of three kids under six. His education and career pursuits have included a BS in accounting, an MBA, and over ten years in accounting, sales, and business management.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After getting my degree in accounting, an MBA, and gaining corporate accounting experience, I decided that the path I was on wasn’t for me. I moved into sales, where I became a top producer for an accounting and finance recruiting firm in my local city. Unfortunately, COVID-19 impacted my industry heavily, and I hopped out to start a new business. I had always had the entrepreneur bug, so I had been starting businesses on the side and this was business number 11.
Last summer (2020), while I was trying to get a company off the ground, I became frustrated with the entrepreneurial process. I was overworked, not making any money, and just overall stressed out. After a long day of work, I was tucking my oldest daughter into bed and she asked me for a new bedtime story.
This was a new experience since before this time, I had been able to get away with telling her a few stories on a rotating basis. Coming up with something from scratch was too much after the hard day I had just worked. I searched on Google to find a story to read out loud. Unfortunately, I found poorly designed websites, ads everywhere, and so many websites to search through that I couldn’t decide which story to tell.
I spent thirty minutes searching websites and apps. When I finally found the story I wanted to tell, I looked over and my daughter was sound asleep. The mass amount of story options created a state of inaction for me and I lost out on an important bonding moment with my daughter.
That night, I realized how cool it would be to have a bedtime story delivered right to me. I wouldn’t have to create a story from scratch, and I would have to spend time searching for one. I searched long and hard to find a bedtime story email subscription.
There wasn’t one, so I decided to build the service myself!
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Given that I was a very busy dad, the “aha moment” for me was realizing that I wanted a bedtime story delivered right to me. As parents, the bedtime routine is busy and hectic. Getting the kids in bed is quite the chore. The chore compounds in difficulty when you have multiple children all needing different things.
Then, as they wind down, deciding what entertainment or content that you provide is a decision unto itself. Do I read a book? Do I let them listen to an audiobook? Or do I tell them a story? I found the decision-making during this period of the day when I am exhausted to be difficult. I yearned for an easier supplement or even an addition to storytime.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I believe that I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur and had the aptitude inside of me to be one. Even during my corporate accounting days, I always had a knack for reverse engineering processes, making things better, and so forth. I have an energizer bunny pack hidden somewhere inside too, with the ability to work harder than most. But the skills and natural talent that I possess still wasn’t enough to lead the charge out into the world of entrepreneurship. All entrepreneurs still have to learn things, gain more experience, and go through tough experiences to gain some perspective.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Well, two individuals really helped me get Story Tyke going. First is my wife. She is extremely supportive of my entrepreneurial adventures — and I call them adventures because I had no clue what was going to be a part of the journey — and she helps support me in all that I do.
The second individual is my Chief Content Officer, Melinda Hicks. She is the wife of one of my best friends and the true creative mastermind behind Story Tyke. She had been in the process of publishing a children’s book when it dawned on me that she had the creative mind that I did not. While I struggled with creativity, that was her strong suit. I pitched the idea of partnering together on the project in the summer of 2020 and she became immediately interested in pushing forward with it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
First and foremost is that we are the first mover with this service — the Bedtime Stories as a Service (BSaaS) business model. No one else is supplying bedtime stories right to the inbox right now. A first-of-its-kind service in and of itself helps us stand out. But more than that, we stand out through our consistent content. We have a team of children’s book authors that are writing these short bedtime stories that get delivered right to the inbox of parents in more than 30 countries. We are also solving a major problem in the bedtime story experience, that of needing to search for a story or creating one from scratch. Lastly, our email subscription is 100% free. Parents just can’t say no to giving us a try.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
It’s not easy to pick yourself up after a business failure. I’ve had eleven of those. Each failure makes getting back up on the feet a bit harder to do. Yet, I’m grateful that I persevered each time I failed. It’s through moments of failure that we gain perspective, learn life lessons, and ultimately get closer to succeeding.
The business world is always changing and often requires quick pivots and adjustments. These changes often come without you asking for them, just the tide going in and out as the market demands. Other times, you have to pivot and adjust based on your stupidity or making a mistake. I believe being able to adjust quickly and pivot even faster when something isn’t right is a hallmark of my nature.
Knowing that your success or failure is because of your actions is something every leader should understand. The success of a business as a CEO rests on your shoulders. By being accountable to yourself for this fact, you’ll find that it is freeing in a way. You are in charge of your destiny. That is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Learning how to be humble and accountable to yourself, your thoughts, and your actions is an important characteristic of success.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
When I first started Story Tyke, a friend of mine told me that I should try lots of different advertising channels to decide which one was the cheapest. Once I found that “winner”, then I could drop tons of money into it. While this advice is sound in many ways, it has a flaw for new business startups — you are working with a limited budget from the get-go.
I took that advice to heart and I started advertising with blog networks, on social media, SEO opportunities, an affiliate program, you name it. Unfortunately, testing everything out led to a lot of wasted capital. What my friend and I knew from the get-go was that I was a wizard at Facebook ads already. It dawned on me later on that I had wasted a bunch of advertising spend that I could have turned into subscribers had I stayed with what I already knew I was good at. I could have had two or three times the number of subscribers had I focused on my strengths, rather than hope for finding new strengths.
When you have a limited budget as a startup, focus on strengths first. Then when you have disposable revenue, test to your heart’s desire.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
I would recommend that you should focus on finding high-quality employees and then building a culture for them. What will they get excited about? What will keep them from not getting burned out or overwhelmed? Do they want an unlimited vacation policy? Do they need a work-from-home option to produce at a high level?
I think as leaders we often have a vision for what our culture needs to look like. We believe we know what types of employees will fit into that culture that we have drawn up in our minds. I think that is poor judgment.
Instead, focus on creating a work culture for the employees. Talk to them. Ask for their opinion. Let them be heard, and you’ll be well on your way to designing a culture they want to be a part of.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
I would advise other business leaders to be patient in their quest for authority. Building trust and credibility with your niche and industry take time in today’s world. With millions of businesses started each year in the U.S. alone, it’s no wonder that companies are looked at with skepticism until their customers know them. Building trust and credibility take time and it takes consistent work for months and years, not just days. Companies come and go, and you need to stick around long enough for people to notice that you’ve been around for a while. Be patient but work with a vengeance and you’ll build that authority soon enough.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Like I mentioned above, millions of businesses are started each year. There is a lot of congestion online. That’s actually why Story Tyke is succeeding because we remove the need to search through all of that congestion. If you look at all the big services, websites, and products, you’ll see a pattern of consistency that helps them survive the downturns of business. These days, just staying in the game will help build the authority you seek.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I think the most common mistakes revolve around not staying close to the money and getting sidetracked easily. In sales, there is a concept about working closest to the money. When I was a headhunter, and 100% commission-based, you had to be very careful where you spent your time. If the activity you were spending time on today didn’t get you closer to making money, then you would eventually starve.
As CEOs and Founders, the same principle applies. When you are first launching and getting going, you have so many different things pulling you in different directions. You have to design your website, start on SEO, put marketing channels together, get your legal stuff figured out, complete branding and fine-tuning your pitch, designing your actual product, etc.
What you can’t allow yourself to do is get sidetracked from working closest to the money. You should ask yourself if the activity you are working on now will help your business thrive and make money? If it doesn’t, then you should consider not doing that specific activity, especially when starting a business. At the end of the day, if you can’t find money, then you don’t have a business. It’s just that simple.
Don’t fall into the belief that everything will have the same ROI in the end, because it won’t. Work closest to the money and your chance of succeeding will be higher than before.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
The difference between entrepreneurship and someone with a regular job is like building a cabin from scratch versus putting up a Lincoln log set with instructions.
When I was seventeen, my parents decided to build a cabin on a piece of property they owned in the mountains. My dad decided that he wanted to give his sons an experience they would never forget. As a family, we built our cabin ourselves, from the ground up. That summer, we lived out of a small trailer, working 14 hours days to build the sub-floor, the exterior log walls, the interior framing, and so on.
It was a unique summer for me, and as a family, we quickly discovered that building a log cabin was extremely difficult. While we had a blueprint of what the future cabin would look like, we still had to execute that plan. It turned out to be easier said than done.
We had major issues as we navigated the cabin-building process. But at the end of the summer, we had made a ton of progress. Given that our roof sat 30 feet high in the air, we had to outsource the roof to a contractor that could bring in a crane. Everything else, however, was built by us. Every time we visit the cabin as a family, I have a euphoric feeling of satisfaction because we accomplished something not many others have accomplished.
Similarly, building a business is like building a cabin from scratch. While you think you are building that business the right way, you are bound to make mistakes along the way. Creating something from scratch has inherent highs and lows. You are setting out on a path that has never been forged by someone else.
On the flip side, a regular job is like putting up a Lincoln log set with instructions. You aren’t forging your path, and someone has already made the mistakes that you won’t have to. This removes the highs and lows that true entrepreneurship provides.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Given that I am in the business of helping parents and children bond over a fun bedtime story, I love reading through subscriber feedback. Just like any other business, sometimes the feedback isn’t great. Perhaps a parents kids prefer book reading over oral storytelling. Or their kids are too young and are struggling without images as a reference. But most are ecstatic about our service.
I knew that providing such a wholesome family activity would be fulfilling, but I didn’t expect to feel elated when reading about the experiences parents were having with our service. I mean, parents and kids love what we are sending them. We consistently have a 60+ Net Promoter Score and we get amazing feedback all the time. Reading their stories about how my service is impacting families across the globe is an amazing high.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
I have started 12 companies to-date. Eleven of those have failed. I have dedicated the last four years of my life, and tens of thousands of dollars to build a business I could be proud of. As you can imagine, with eleven failures under my belt, I have had lots of low moments. A few specific experiences come to mind. Namely, when my website was hacked, and I lost all of my search traffic from Google that crippled my business. Another time was when my entire revenue stream dried up because of COVID-19.
In moments of failure, humility blossoms. I had at least one moment of vulnerability with each of my failed companies as I realized that they were going nowhere. Thankfully, lessons were learned, and I was able to pick myself up and just keep plugging forward.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Like I mentioned above, I seem to have an energizer bunny pack inside of me somewhere. I have been able to bust my butt for 14 hours a day for the last 5 years to make something work out. I think perseverance and a consistent mentality of moving forward are what have helped me bounce back. No matter the downs, you can always pivot and push forward to the next thing. Thankfully, the twelfth business is becoming successful and I truly believe it has the potential to turn into a 50 million dollars company. But it wouldn’t have happened had I not decided to try again. Taking an unusual idea and turning it into something great took time and hard work, but it started with me deciding to take action. I know that taking massive action is a recipe for success, even if you have eleven failures first.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Know When to Pivot
I have started eleven businesses that have all failed and I learned a valuable lesson through each of those. One of those lessons was knowing when to pivot.
With one of my early failures, I thought the business idea was awesome. To me, it was a great product, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t to most others. In business, there are times when you can educate people into liking what you are doing. But I honestly believe that most businesses succeed because they naturally fit into someone’s life or business. The best products and services solve a glaring problem, not one that you need to help someone realize they have.
In the end, this business was a dud, but I was stubborn and hung onto it for too long. I burned through too much of my cash and it impacted my having money and resources to start my next idea.
Don’t be afraid to pivot when it makes logical sense for you, and don’t hold on to things when the reality is that they aren’t going anywhere. Sometimes you have to give yourself a harsh reality check but then it’s time to move on. I think if you can get good at doing this, you’ll keep yourself from hitting too many lows along the way. You’ll gain an eye for traction and also when you just need to let it go.
2. Stop Being a Perfectionist
I am a perfectionist at heart. I like a finished product going out to the customers with a nicely wrapped bow on top. The problem with being a perfectionist is that products and services are never fully finished. They just aren’t. You will forever be changing and making your product better. It’s much better to get a subpar product out there than to wait.
In the first month of launching Story Tyke, we created an iteration of our newsletter that we thought our subscribers would want. It turned out that we were dead wrong. In my mind, I wanted it to look a specific way. That iteration was what my perfectionist mind said was right. But it was the wrong service for the subscribers we were going after.
When we finally launched that iteration and we started getting customer feedback, we realized that the service we had created in our minds months ago was more closely aligned with the customer than the service we had launched with.
You can ride the emotional highs and lows better by getting out of your way. Follow a proven mini-launch sequence approach. Launch quickly, get feedback, iterate, and then launch again.
You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches doing it this way!
3. Be Patient with the Process
Entrepreneurship is a journey. It’s not a one-and-done thing. Rather, it’s a process that takes time to explore. Business is challenging and can be a grind. Often, things are out of your control. Other times, life throws you a curveball. By being patient with the process, you can keep your mind fixated on the positive things. If you fail, think about what you learned. If you succeed, extract what happened so you can replicate it. Be patient as you climb the entrepreneurial mountain and enjoy the scenery while you do it.
4. Give Yourself Credit
Speaking of climbing that entrepreneurial mountain! I am an avid backpacker. One specific backpacking trip is fresh in my memory. A group of us were backpacking 16 miles to Island Lake in the Wind River Mountain range in Wyoming. Island Lake was where we would make camp and then the next day, we would climb to the top of Gannet Peak, the tallest peak in Wyoming. Hiking 16 miles with a 40+ pound pack is a difficult thing, especially since I was only 145 pounds myself at the time. There were highs and lows, with passes and valleys we trekked through along the way. It was strenuous work, and at times I wondered if I would ever get there.
We made it to Island Lake and the next day we attempted to summit Gannet Peak. Once we hit the saddle, I started having bad breathing problems. I was also cramping badly. My hope of summiting was quickly dashed as I knew I had to turn around.
I was sitting back at camp, waiting for the rest of my group to come back when I had a moment to think by myself out in nature — one of my favorite things to do. I was sincerely bummed that I wasn’t able to summit. After a while of pity and self-doubt, I stopped and thought through what I was looking out at — the beautiful island lake. It’s an amazing view and I realized that while I hadn’t made it where I wanted to go, that shouldn’t diminish how far I came.
The moral of my story is that you shouldn’t diminish what you have accomplished if you haven’t yet reached your goal. Give yourself credit and a pat on the back when it’s most deserved.
5. Take Time for Yourself Often
I think it goes without saying that if you are trying to survive the constant highs and lows of entrepreneurship, you need to rest and rejuvenate often. Without taking some time for yourself, you’ll experience burn out and you won’t be as effective.
For me, reading is my escape. It rejuvenates me. I read my fair share of educational content to help with business strategy, but I’m talking about reading fantasy novels. I spend 30 minutes to an hour each night reading fantasy. For me, there is something about getting out of my world and into another that truly enlightens me. It helps me wind down from a stressful day and helps clear my head. This allows me to keep my production up high for longer periods.
My advice is to do something for yourself each day that is not business-related. It will help you keep your mind in a good place.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I would define resilience as the ability to pick yourself up and move forward. It’s mental strength at its finest. I think about all the great boxing movies of when the star of the movie gets beat up and then they come back to win it all. Resilience is knowing to move with the punches. Life throws punches at you constantly. Moving with those punches and taking some jabs of your own even when you don’t have the energy to is resilience.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
I have mentioned a few stories already throughout this interview, specifically about backpacking trips and building a cabin from scratch. I believe that all of those experiences have contributed to my building resiliency. Experiences like those are not easy. I think everyone should have experiences throughout life that stretch them and make them uncomfortable since that’s where true personal growth comes from.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Actually, no! I am a glass-half-empty type person naturally. It’s just how I’m hardwired. Staying positive is hard for me to do when everything you have built or cared for is crumbling down around you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a negative Nancy. I’m just a bit on the pessimistic side of the coin. The fact that I know this though helps me to work on my weakness. I do my best to keep perspective during struggling moments and then glory in positive moments as they come as well.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
A leader’s positive attitude is crucial to a companies success. That’s why I am trying to work on my glass-half-empty personality flaw. Employees and clients alike are attracted to happy, positive people. Positivity can help bring a team from the brink of despair and back into the light. The reason why a leader’s positive attitude can have such a positive impact is that by definition, a leader is someone that others look up to. If they are down, the company is down. If the leader is positive, the company is positive.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Growing up, my dad ran his own business. He was a very hard-working man and earned every dime that he ever made. When I was a teenager, my dad started quoting a poem that has stayed with me over the years. It’s a poem that I try to emulate on my path of entrepreneurship. This poem (close enough to a quote) is from Les Brown:
“If you want a thing bad enough to go out and fight for it, to work day and night for it, to give up your time, your peace and sleep for it.
If all that you dream and scheme is about it, and life seems useless and worthless without it.
If you gladly sweat for it and fret for it and plan for it and lose all your terror of the opposition for it.
If you simply go after that thing that you want with all your capacity, strength and sagacity, faith, hope and confidence and stern pertinacity.
If neither cold, poverty, famine, nor gout, sickness nor pain, of body and brain, can keep you away from the thing that you want.
If dogged and grim you besiege and beset it, with the help of God, YOU WILL GET IT!”
How can our readers further follow you online?
I know it might not be a surprise but given that I’m working around the clock between business, being a dad to three under six, and still trying to find time for my wife, I’m not on social media often. I don’t have a Twitter account and I think I only have three or four posts on my Instagram account. I’m most often on Facebook (@jacob.merkley.7), so people can find me there.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!