There has never been a better time to start your own business. We are here to help. The Audible Life is a weekly playbook for everything you need to do to get your business off the ground. I can't guarantee your success, but I can guarantee you'll be much more prepared than we were! Readers get 10% off coffee orders this month by using the discount code "AUDIBLELIFE" at checkout. Sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of the page to get weekly notifications of new content, and monthly savings on coffee!
DISCOVER YOUR BUSINESS IDEA
Here's your first task - coming up with a business idea. You may be ready to jump in headfirst, or maybe you're just thinking about it casually. Either way, we've been there! Here's what we did, along with some things to consider.
In 2016, I was working in corporate sales for a Fortune 200 company. I was on my 5th year with the company, and I was coming off a string of good financial years in the sales world. I received 2 promotions during my time, beginning in an entry-level sales role, moving into our Major Accounts division, and finishing in a Regional Accounts role. My wife, Anna Kay, was also working as a full-time Speech Therapist. We were comfortable, and life was good.
I had thought about leaving and starting a business before, but it had always been much more of a fleeting thought. It wasn't until we moved to Austin (5th year with the company) that I really began giving it some serious consideration. It's amazing what a little change of scenery can do. We had just left Los Angeles to be closer to family, and it very much felt like a now-or-never point in our lives. However, scratching that itch is a lot tougher to justify when you're looking at health benefits and a 401k match. Sound familiar? This was lesson 1:
"I cared a lot more about money than I realized"
I mostly cared about not losing money, which is okay, but it's important to balance it with caring about making money. Leaning heavily to either side can be detrimental. There would always be a sticking point for me. One of the ideas I was most serious about was starting a restaurant vent hood cleaning business. For those who don't know (like me before I looked in to it), every restaurant has a vent over their kitchen stoves to exhaust smoke out of the kitchen when they cook. Those vents are required by law to be cleaned by a certified professional to prevent fires. I went as far as going to a class and getting certified. The first sticking point for me was the $12,000 price tag for the startup equipment I would need. I assumed I could buy a pressure washer from Home Depot for $500 and maybe a few other things. Not true. I would need a commercial grade pressure washer, which are NOT $500. Furthermore, with bigger equipment I would now need a van, which would be an extra $300-$400 month. Furthermore, the City of Austin requires you to recapture your wastewater. A trailer with that equipment is upwards of $30,000. All in all, my little cheap goldmine business was going to cost $50,000+ before I cleaned my first vent hood. Couldn't do it, but it brought me to lesson 2:
"Know That it Will Never Make Sense"
Leaving safety for the unknown will never make sense. The grass usually isn't greener on the other side (entrepreneurship included). There are 1,000 reasons to stay right where you are and cruise to the finish line. If that's what you choose to do, then that's awesome. There's a ton of value and wisdom in it. Some people just aren't built that way. If you are in the latter group, it's time to dip your toes in the water.
"Just do SOMETHING"
Seriously, just pick something... anything. Pursue it. It's vital. A book that sparked my interest early on was The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau. It tells the stories of 50 people who started businesses for less than $100 that currently generate over $50,000 in revenue. Super interesting stuff, and worth a read just to get your brain thinking differently. Other simple ideas? Pay $11, and start learning to build websites. Come up with a business name, and start washing cars for your neighbors. ANYTHING. You will begin to identify as an entrepreneur, and become more comfortable with future businesses, and the risk associated with them.
Fast forward - At this point I had been waking up and going to bed thinking about starting a business for over a year. It was an itch that was constantly there. I thought about it every second of every day. I would watch Youtube videos to learn new skills in hopes of parlaying it into a career. I would scour the internet searching things like "best business to start with no money" and "what is the fastest growing industry" and "what is the industry with the most potential growth". I was consumed by it. To say it took a toll on me is an understatement. I felt like my life lacked purpose. It was utterly boring. There were zero stakes. I felt like I was wasting every day.
Around this time I began thinking about getting into the coffee world. I tossed around the idea of a K-cup subscription service, paired with a new and improved type of single-serve brewer. I was going to take on Keurig. Subscribe to us for the pods, and we'll give you the brewer for free. (there are so many reasons this is a bad idea btw). I went to a local coffee roaster to find out how much it would be to buy wholesale roasted coffee, and the numbers just weren't going to add up... especially if I was giving a $100 machine away for free. This is the first time I thought about roasting my own coffee. This is lesson 3 AND 4:
"Your first idea is never the one that sticks, but you have to pursue it to get to the one that does"
"Most ideas come from a need"
The idea had to make sense though. So here's what I loved about the coffee roasting world: 1) it's growing... fast, 2) relatively low start-up costs, 3) fairly simple business model, 4) it can be lucrative 5) I could lean on my outside sales experience to gain business, and 6) it allowed me to work with my hands. Seemed like a great fit. I went on a frenzy to learn everything I could about coffee roasters - reputable manufacturers, cost vs. capacity, how to roast, vital capabilities and functions of the machine, etc. Sound like I'm pretty serious about this? It still wasn't enough for me to take the leap. This brings me to the last lesson I learned, and this one is mostly from personal experience and probably won't apply to everyone:
"Don't take the leap, unless you feel like you can't live without it"
This is hyperbole, but still take it to heart. After of all these years spent procrastinating, when I turned 30, I had a bit of an early-life crisis thinking about where I would be in 5 years. Would I put my wife through 5 years dealing with a husband who had no passion, and wasn't doing what he loved? Would we look back and wonder what we actually did in our lives? Would I have a child whom I would tell to "follow his/her dreams" without ever doing it myself? This is a major mindset shift! Now, staying with my previous company meant (in my mind) risking my marriage, my health, and my ability to parent. It meant giving up the opportunity to grow stronger through tough times as a family. It meant probably dying early as I drink my sorrows away. Suddenly, it was MORE RISKY to stay at my current job.
That night, I went home and bought our coffee roaster. I had no idea how to roast coffee, didn't know where to buy coffee, didn't know how I would get customers, but I had an EXTREME conviction and a new business.