That classic “I quit my 9–5 job and followed my passion” tale
Real Stories from Real Entrepreneurs
“I am an entrepreneur.” A general phrase uttered by dreamers and doers alike. These individuals aspire to create their own rules and follow a different path. They set forth a specific vision and will continue until they reach this goal.
But what is an entrepreneur really?
“An Entrepreneur is a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.”
I believe the key takeaway from this definition is the amount of financial risk. Starting your own business and taking on the role as “entrepreneur” isn’t cheap. It may cost just about everything you have and then some. Investing in your own business is truly a leap of faith. You are the one who can control if you succeed or lose it all, and that is downright terrifying.
In addition to just the financial aspect, I would also add personal risk to this definition. You risk your reputation, your career and your sanity. Putting your all into something that could fail is stressful, time-consuming and truly a gamble.
Putting the risks aside, what is the reward? Again, according to the definition, you will organize and operate a business. It will be your baby. Your vision into reality. There is nothing better than having your dream come true and this is exactly what happened to Kay Kay.
One night, Kelechi Uchendu had a dream about a popular dress that was desired by all. Once she woke up, she couldn’t shake this idea and felt the need to replicate the dress in the real world. She had her younger sister draw this vision and they headed to a local Detroit sewing shop to bring the dress to life. She began this creation in October 2016 and finished in March 2017, during this time, Kelechi became an entrepreneur.
She now owns a blog called Kay Kay’s Way and an ecommerce clothing website, Kay Kay’s Fashion. On her blog, she discusses fashion, traveling, and various social issues. All of the clothing she creates is original and unique. Her choker design was even featured on British Vogue recently!
In addition to her dream premonition, Kelechi has always wanted to start her own business. She recounts, “I was inspired by all of the women of African descent that have recently been owning their own businesses. For example, Kelechi Anyadiegwu (who was featured on Forbes recently) created Zuvaa a couple years ago and it has been super successful. Also, Kelli Coleman and Anika Jackson opened the first nail salon in Downtown Detroit! So, again, hearing stories like this from other black women have really given me the motivation I needed to start.”
Success has not always been easy for Kelechi. While her business is still new, she learned the value of organization, not cutting corners and that procrastination will only slow you down. Branding is also essential for Kelechi and she understands the importance of creating a memorable logo and brand that people can easily recognize.
Like a true entrepreneur, Kelechi continues to believe in her aspirations and her next goal is to be featured in a Mercedes Benz production during New York Fashion Week.
Another entrepreneur with similar Fashion Week dreams is Veronica Barnswell who owns the clothing store Shop Mint Chic in Maryland. The boutique can be characterised as a mix of vintage, classic and contemporary.
Just like the entrepreneur Girlboss, Veronica began selling vintage pieces on eBay while working at a music store. “The brainstorming of the store came in a really dark time in my life as well where I spent a lot of time alone except for when I went to work so I had a lot of time to think and brainstorm.”
“I had a coworker, now one of my best friends that I would bounce ideas off of, and she was like one day, “You should just totally start a site”…and so I just did. I was already selling vintage on eBay at this time. I had my site online for 2 years before I opened my store.”
Although things were on track for Veronica’s vision, as all entrepreneurs may experience, there were setbacks. “Five months later I was back working somewhere that had nothing to do with my goals or dreams. I had a coworker steal money from there in March, management did nothing about it, in fact she kept her job, however my reaction to it landed me out of a job.”
“That girl stealing that $50 was the best thing that happened to me. I was asked not to come back to work March 7th, by March 13th I had found my boutique space and signed the lease. May 6th we were open for business. I did most of the renovations myself. This place was honestly a dump when I got it. But each night I would Google stuff like how replace drywall…wake up the next day and say “today I’m a carpenter” and make it happen.”
Veronica’s can-do attitude has proven successful but all success comes with a price. “It’s not as glamorous as people make it, everyone has the classic “I quit my 9–5 and followed my passion story” but never really tell the in-between or talk about the hardships of entrepreneurship in this 2 year process.”
“There were some nights I was eating ramen like I was in college again and I’m gluten intolerant! I’ve had to make MANY sacrifices, but most importantly I am watching my dreams come true right before my eyes. Its gritty and sometimes grim, but it’s no better feeling than knowing you did it for you!”
Veronica’s main lessons for other aspiring entrepreneurs are:
- Don’t play with Uncle Sam
- Never give up
“If I had to give any advice to small business owners it would definitely be work as hard for yourself as you have for others. Somedays it got tough, then I remembered I pull overnight merchandising shifts for companies and businesses that I had no personal stake in and vice versa.”
Jess Birken, a lawyer and owner of Birken Law Office PLLC (birkenlaw.com), is no stranger to pulling her weight for others and the daily struggles that nonprofit organizations face. “Most of my clients are hard working, scrappy underdogs with a passion for what they do. I resonate with those folks because I have that same determination and entrepreneurial spirit.”
Since Jess is a solo practitioner, the business truly reflects her identity and her beliefs. “Being a private practice attorney lets me leverage my talents across lots of organizations which is a win-win for everybody.” Although Jess has much to give, she learned that you can’t do it all and now follows the old adage, “do what you do best and delegate the rest.”
Working in the nonprofit sector, finances are constantly top of mind and Jess keeps a close eye on the overhead costs. When it came to investing in branding, Jess recounts, “I had very specific ideas about wanting my brand to convey that I’m not like other attorneys and to show my authentic self. It was really key for me to find companies to work with that would understand my ideas and not cost an arm and a leg or waste my time with endless reviews.”
If you have the entrepreneurial bug, Jess suggests narrowing down your target market, finding the balance between researching an issue and delegating to the correct people and figure out how to accurately measure the things that matter. “Being ranked #1 for a keyword or having 10,000 likes on Facebook is great but if the thing that makes your business profitable is the number of opt ins or calls to your business that is what you should be measuring.”
Jess sees the future of her legal firm as staying ahead of industry disruption by utilizing technology and developing a stronger online presence. “Then, hopefully, I’ll be in a position to better serve people who are trying to find the help they need to fulfill their mission.”
Follow the lead of these strong business-minded women and learn from their experiences. Keep their advice in mind as you too begin to plan out your vision and see what steps you need to get there. No matter if your aspiration comes to you in a dream, deep in thought at your 9–5 job or while working for someone else, all ambitions are significant, worth exploring and pursuing.
Once you take that leap, risk it all and learn from your mistakes and (hopefully successes), you can truly say, “I am an entrepreneur.”