Yesterday I was at a conference in Melbourne, Australia, where I heard an amazing woman give a talk. Her name is Avis, and she’s my new role model. She was up there on stage, in front of hundreds of people, but she was talking to me.
She told me about her quarter-million-dollar job. She had 200 pairs of shoes. She had two houses and a handsome husband. I found myself feeling envious. As an entrepreneur in a perpetually underfunded startup, my husband/partner and I are in a constant struggle to make payroll. It makes me sick. I’d love to be at a point where that’s just not a problem anymore. Until then, we don’t take a paycheck, we don’t buy a lot of extras for the family, and I worry about my team.
I was envious because profligate wealth (like a closet large enough to hold 200 pairs of shoes) would mean I had made something that matters: That I’d made a team, which had made a thing, which had become so meaningful that customers bought it, and stuck around, and told their friends. Such wealth would mean that I’d made something that matters.
Avis went on to tell us that she one day figured out that her husband was a “cock” (her word). She didn’t like him and he didn’t like her. She quit her job, and moved to africa. She told me that she has a disease in her guts and thinks about shit a lot (the name of her talk was “Talking Shit”). So she started a company that’s all about shit and toilet paper. And it’s not just another rich white girl helping the poor black people. But that’s another story. She’s amazing.
So how do I live up to her example?
Her story wasn’t about quitting mainstream life and becoming a social entrepreneur (though she’d love it if we’d all do that). Her story was about being the most courageous, bold, powerful version of myself that I can be. Her story was about doing work that matters.
Does our work matter? Yes.
Entrepreneurs aren’t getting the help that they need and we have an important role to play. By listening to them, carefully and empathetically, we can help many people who are trying themselves to do courageous things.
I don’t care about the “brogrammers” who are “living the dream”, too cool to go looking for help. They don’t need my company. I care about the people who are putting it all on the line, just like me. Who are a little uncertain sometimes about the right thing to do. If I can help 100 entrepreneurs make things that matter and survive long enough to succeed, then we’ve accomplished something important.
Our work matters, and it can only continue if we have the team. Therefore, I have to make an environment where my team can be fully committed. Which means they have to get paid. Only then can we all work to the peak of our abilities and with clear, focused purpose.
So how do we proceed?
- With full conviction
- With data
- With the courage to make heroic asks of others in positions to help
It takes courage, because I fear that such boldness might threaten my ability to provide for my family. I have no backup — there’s no wealthy relative, no trust fund, no “fuck you”-size bank account. No closet with 200 pairs of shoes. If my reputation is damaged, will I be able to make a living?
These are the thoughts that hold back first-world entrepreneurs. We have options. We can choose the salary and the shoe closet. So I have to ask my self, is it worth it? And there’s what makes Avis’s example so difficult to live up to. Every day, we have the be fully committed, while openly evaluating the risk. And so far, every day, I’ve decided Yes. It’s worth the risk.
So here I go, putting on my big girl panties. Making big asks of bigger people on behalf of my customers, my team, and Avis.