An even harder thing to do

Full of ambition, I was.

I remember when I was younger, after school I would load up a cooler with around 20 or so of these mini-hotdogs I would create from cocktail sausages and toasted bread. I would walk over to one of the playgrounds near my house and sell them to kids for $.50 a piece. It wasn’t much, but it was extra pocket money.

When I first got to high school at the age of 14, I was still too young to legally work, so I found a local restaurant that would allow me to take orders from other class mates daily for a weekly paycheck and free lunch. Again, not much, but it was something.

By the time I turned 16, I was already honing my craft as a fairly decent portrait photographer, and that led me to creating my first business; Sherwood Visual Studios. I got gigs shooting local bands, as well as being the primary photo student the drama kids went to when they needed a new headshot.

Being ambitious has also seemed very natural to me. I liked the work, and I enjoyed the ability to create something. Even when times were difficult, and there wasn’t much work to be found, I always seemed to have a knack for giving myself a job to do. But funny enough, I never actually saw myself as the type to found my own tech start-up. For the longest time, technology just seemed like something I had happened upon, and that for one reason or another, I stuck with it because I somehow kept managing to get hired.

Until recently, I had never heard of the term imposter syndrome. Apparently, it’s used to define the feeling high-achieving individuals get when they feel an inability to internalize their accomplishments and persistently fear being exposed as a “fraud”. When I discovered this, it was like someone turned on a light inside of the recesses of my brain.

So when I tell you that back in January that I left a company I loved and a secure job that I was exceptionally good at to start my own tech company, no one was more surprised than me.

Thankfully, I was in a position where I could self-fund. I gave myself a budget, with the goal being to get an MVP out before looking for an Angel round. I was immediately thrown into work I didn’t have experience in, so I took the opportunity to talk to anyone who was willing to talk to me about what to do first. I took diligent notes and bought every book recommendation. I quickly found FactoryX, and took a class on rapid prototyping. I developed a board of advisors, and made a list of potential co-founders. I ran surveys and talked to as many industry experts and couples that I could get on the phone. But what probably kept me going more than anything on those evenings of crippling self-doubt was a feminist group on Facebook made up of some of the most inspirational women I’ve ever seen (Thanks for the invite, Laura!).

I started to find my sea-legs. My tests were turning up really promising results, and the couples I was working with were eager to get their hands on the product. But then we where hit with an unforeseen financial burden, and I had to make one of the hardest choices I’ve ever been faced with.

When you have to walk away from something you’re passionate about for the good of your family, it can be a tremendous blow. I feel like I’ve already had to stave off weariness and self-doubt for most of my working life, and for the past several months I’d be making real progress. I was building something that I was so proud of. It was a testament to the fact that I really can produce something of quality; of subtense. This week I’ve felt the imposer syndrome creep back into my home, like a thick fog leaving a damp residue over my life. My skin has been positively sticky with it.

I wouldn’t be closing down Vaalia unless it was absolutely necessary. But, the most important people in my life have reminded me that the very attempt at creating my own company is something to be celebrated. I’ve definitely walked away from this experience having learned more in the past 6 months than I have in the past several years. I’ve grown personally and professionally. My the strength of my marriage has been improved, even though we didn’t know we needed it. Plus it’s solidified the fact that I do belong working in Product, and that working in the technology sector is something I absolutely adore. With any luck, I may be in a better position in the next few years to try again (dear lord, I hope so…), but for now, it’s back to work for me.

I want to thank everyone who helped get me here. All the couples who let me into their lives, the therapists who talked my ear off, the friends who supported me, and most of all, my husband for giving me the means and courage to step out of my comfort zone.

Morgan Sherwood is an experienced Product Manager looking for the next exciting adventure. See her LinkedIn profile to view her previous experience, or shoot her an email at morgan [at] flawedartist [dot] com if you’d like to chat.