I distinctly remember hitting the 3-year threshold with my first company, which I co-founded with a business partner in 2011.
It was a humid night in Cambodia. I was chatting with one of my managers, ready to kick off our next Leadership Volunteer Program. The streets of Siem Reap offered a chaotic background of honking tuk-tuks and zipping motos. We were preparing for a busy few weeks ahead of us, but we paused from our planning to clang our cold Angkor Beers together and relish the moment.
Three years into a start-up signified we had crossed a bridge of success that only 10% of new businesses are able to achieve. We were DOING it. Our leadership volunteer programs, tailored for university students and operating in 8 different countries, was standing on its own two feet (wobbly, yes, but standing nonetheless.) I was making a living from doing what I love – teaching leadership through travel, and had built a growing business around it.
The hours were chaotic and exhausting, but the impact left my heart full. My whole being was stoked from having created leadership experiences that left our participants changed for the better, our in-country communities positively improved, and our staff contributing their efforts in meaningful ways.
We had figured out the formula for a while, even if that business ran its course, and eventually ended.
But it wasn’t the end of me.
The decision to start a new company on my own might have been the scariest, bravest, most exciting and truest thing I’ve ever done for myself.
I chose to build again, but this time, rather than seek a partner, I chose to go solo.
Venture Within encompasses all I love and love doing: education, leadership, and meaningful travel. Sure, I could have found a good job doing these things for someone else, clocking in my hours and receiving benefits.
However, what stopped me from finding quicker “success” (security?) by working for someone else was one simple thing: I knew I could start and run a business on my own.
I had gained hands-on knowledge from visioning, building, and operating my previous business. I had recruited, managed and supported a team of over 20 talented individuals to work with us. I’d managed payroll, marketing strategies, website development, human resources and insurance claims. We had delivered whole-hearted, life-changing experiences in 8 different countries to hundreds of participants. We had saved sea turtles, nurtured rescued elephants, taught teachers and built schools.
I had learned a thing or two about running a good business with good people that focuses on delivering something good. And I knew I could do it again.
So, in August 2016, I did. Last month marked the 3-year anniversary of Venture Within, which, according to some entrepreneurial columns, is a biggie.
Did I pop the champagne? Yes . . . but between you and me, I’m still miles behind where I want to be.
The truth is, founding a company solo means that progress is much slower. Goals take longer to reach, big decisions are more stressful to make when you make them on your own, and victories are often celebrated with solo happy dances in the living room that no one else cares about.
But that’s okay. I’ve learned to trust my own decisions. Venture Within is gaining traction. I am gaining traction. Turning my head over my shoulder, I look back to where I was 3 years ago and realize how far away that first step is from where I stand now. I’m miles ahead of where I started. Miles.
Daily I remind myself to be patient and not be too hard on myself when I make mistakes (and there have been quite a few mistakes along the way). But I have learned.
I need to recognize when I did a damn good job. Following your dream is more challenging than anyone ever expects. It takes a resilient heart and sharp-witted persistence, but also a good night’s sleep. And cash and mentors and stamina and pep talks from friends. These are all a must in order to keep advancing. I’ve had to learn to ask for help.
Motivating myself to keep moving forward, especially when facing uncertainty, has been . . . scary. Several times over the past few years I have needed to re-asses, pivot, and restart.
The failures have sucked.
They are unnerving. The failures make me question if I really can position myself as a business owner again, especially teaching leadership through travel, a product with so many moving parts.
But the thought of setting my business down when I’m frustrated and walking away is a far worse feeling than any fear that grows from discouragement.
Venture Within is how I manifest my purpose. My creation is a business that inspires and helps others through coaching, leadership and travel.
Rounding year 3, I now have regular clients who are inspired and galvanized to action through the coaching sessions in my Leadership Programs. Some have returned for more.
Individuals attending my Retreats finish the week with tears in their eyes, overwhelmed with pure joy from the life-changing experience the workshops afforded them.
Coaches who co-host with me have signed up to co-host additional retreats in 2020. And now, new clients have begun reaching out, seeking partnerships with me instead of me pursuing them. I gotta say, it feels damn good.
So I will keep building my company.
I delve into work each day, writing, coaching, operating and social media-ing, and creating impactful experiences for others. Through leadership coaching and the retreats, I am doing what I love in a way that truly helps others and changes their course in life for the better.
Three years in, Venture Within may not yet be where I want it to be, but WOW. Things are looking pretty exciting at present. Fruitful. Promising. Solid. I think it’s okay to let out a breath, offer up cheers with a cold beer, and be grateful I’ve made it this far.
Take a deep breath in again and keep going.