Why Did I Choose Entrepreneurship?


As a kid, I remember being so bored during the summer months and hating that. I was an only child (I guess I still am ha ha) and did everything I could to fight boredom. I used to call all of my friends to see if they could hang out, but many of them were on family vacations or could only hang out every once in a while. During one summer, I remember thinking, "Why don't I try to make some money by selling something in my neighborhood?"

I used to make forts in my house out of cardboard boxes. I combined them together and even made it where I could crawl into my cardboard "house" on one side and stand up in different parts of the house to pop my head out and look at the surrounding scenery (aka my living room). It was entertaining for a while, but when that started to get boring, I thought I could do something more productive with it all.

That's when I decided to create a lemonade stand (out of cardboard boxes). I had a lot of fun with it, and knew exactly where it was going to go. There was a corner in my neighborhood (when I lived in Grand Junction, Colorado) that almost everyone had to pass first before driving to their homes.

When I started working on preparing drinks that I would keep in a large cooler by my lemonade stand, I quickly realized that I liked Kool-Aid more than lemonade. For some reason, I knew that I would feel better selling something I enjoyed so I made the appropriate changes before drinks went to market (later, the same thought process would go into drink creations at The Clever Bean).

After setting up my "Kool-Aid" stand, I sold small cups of Kool-Aid (with 2-3 different flavors) for $0.50 each. People probably bought a drink from me because they just felt bad or felt good supporting kids from their "local" neighborhood, but they were also fairly honest about what they thought about my drinks.

After a few days of being in business, I realized that my drinks weren't sweet enough for the majority of customers (and I realized that for myself as well). I started tweaking recipes until customers started saying, "Wow, this is actually pretty good!" I even got some repeat customers ha ha.

After working alone for about a week, I decided to "hire" a couple of other kids to help me prepare, sell, and serve drinks. I didn't really care how much money I made but I enjoyed the game of learning how to sell something people actually appreciated.

 

I attended Westminster College in Salt Lake City from 2006 - 2010

Photo credit: westminstercollege.edu

When I was in college, I thought it would be a cool idea at one point to start an actual company (mostly for the experience). My goal was to sell t-shirts and mugs, donating 10-20% of sales to charitable organizations. While I was working on building this company (called 1 LIFE 1 PLANET), I got an opportunity to interview for an internship at a financial services company called Goldman Sachs (known for being a prestigious company in the financial industry). Since I was pursing a finance degree, I knew that an internship there was going to be awesome to have on my resume to find a job after I graduated.

I ended up getting the internship. After the internship, I was then offered a full-time job! I remember being so grateful for securing a job before I graduated (not everyone was so lucky).

While I was working at Goldman Sachs, I disclosed to them that I had my own company but after getting my career started there, I decided to put a pause on my entrepreneurial journey, working in the "corporate world" for 6 years before jumping back into entrepreneurship.

In another blog post, I'll talk more about all of my experiences in the financial industry, but for now let's fast forward to what happened just before I decided to start another company.

I used to love reading all kinds of different books to expand my mind, but all of them were non-fiction. One of the books I read was The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. I really enjoyed this book and was impressed so much with the principles that were laid out that I started to think about entrepreneurship again.

Soon after, I stumbled upon "The Lean Startup Podcast" that had interviews with startup founders and business leaders who have used the Lean Startup method to grow their companies. Most of the episodes were fascinating, but there was one episode that really stole my attention.

 

Sprig, a food delivery company that inspired me to start another business

Photo credit: facebook.com

On this episode, Gagan Biyoni, Udemy co-founder and Lyft advisor, talks about Sprig, his newest endeavor. Founded in 2013, Sprig was a food delivery startup that aimed to make eating well an easy option.

After working in the financial industry, I witnesses many around me (especially those who have been in the industry for a long time) gaining lots of weight by going to unhealthy, but quick and tasty, food options that helped to alleviate at least a little bit of the stress that continually broke some people to the point of quitting, or leaping towards other jobs in finance that were better options for pay and flexibility in the short-term, but with a much lower ceiling for career progression (that would hit many of them later).

Many of my co-workers and bosses put on the pounds, and in my lines of work, it was very easy to put health aside as a priority. I saw myself going down the same path, and gained lots of weight as result.

I've been a little insecure about my "fat" photos. I'm trying not to care anymore, so this is one way to try to let go I guess lol. Here a photo from 2015 when I was a bigger version of myself:

Moving on... I thought that if food delivery was a new, but huge potential market that's been largely untapped, THIS could be what I start a business and life around. I believed that it would help so many people.

Thus, a company called "Humafood" was born. The goal of this company was to deliver convenient, yummy, healthy food by focusing on quality ingredients and efficient processes. Check out the photo below that was posted on Instagram on May 6, 2016:

Soon after, Craton and I reconnected through a mutual friend (after losing contact for about 10 years) that would start as a mutual interest in this business endeavor and lead to a formal partnership.

Let's pause here...

Because this blog is way too long and somehow turned into a mini-novel (sorry!), I will start closing my thoughts.

  The book I've been talking about

Photo credit: medium.com

At one point, Craton and I used the Lean Startup Principle below to pivot from a food delivery company to a coffee house (for many different reason that I can discuss in a future blog), believing that a coffee shop is one of the best physical mediums for human connection, with a central focus on community being possible.

BUILD-MEASURE-LEARN

The fundamental activity of a startup is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond, and then learn whether to pivot or persevere. All successful startup processes should be geared to accelerate that feedback loop.

Here are some other principles from The Lean Startup:

"Many people out there think that business success depends on one original idea. For starters, most successful businesses aren’t that original, but they are good at what they do, they understand their market and continuously adapt to serve their target client base."

"Customer feedback is vital for a startup no matter what size it may be, but it’s especially crucial in the early stages of growth. Get out and talk to your customers. Find out what they can and can’t live without. Prod and ask the tough questions. Good feedback is priceless and goes far beyond what analytics can provide."

"A minimum viable product (MVP) is the 'version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.' The goal of an MVP is to test fundamental business hypotheses (or leap-of-faith assumptions) and to help entrepreneurs begin the learning process as quickly as possible'."

Source: knowstartup.com

  

Lots of food containers in a Sprig kitchen

Photo credit: businessinsider.com

There was an interesting thing we learned after we decided to move on from the food delivery industry. Below are pieces of an article posted on May 27, 2017 (fortune.com).

"The West Coast meal-delivery service Sprig shut down on Friday. In a message sent to customers, CEO Gagan Biyani wrote that 'the demand for Sprig’s convenient, high-quality food was always incredibly high, but the complexity of owning meal production through delivery at scale was a challenge.' The shutdown was first reported by The Information."

"Sprig joins a growing list of shuttered startups, including SpoonRocket and Maple, which sought to deliver meals made in large, centralized kitchens."

It looks like we might have been on to something with regard to our decision to pivot from the commercial kitchen-to-delivery model we were planning on moving forward with but didn't, using the Lean Startup model to move away from an industry that inspired me to start a new business in the first place. Crazy...

 

The one and only time I've been on a personal jet (in my last role after we hit a goal)

Boredom is something that has always made me uncomfortable. When I worked in the financial industry, I was able to remain a top performer and still find pockets of free time (as I became more and more efficient in my roles) where I could let boredom creep in and use free time unproductively, but instead I decided to use that time to get even further ahead of my peers or to step back and navigate my long-term career trajectory.

Even with that, I felt that I was always fighting an imaginary "ceiling" at every company I worked for, after being able to map out my future by understanding how career progression actually works in different organizations. I asked my co-workers and bosses lots of questions each step of the way, along with researching whatever I could to understand the reality of career mobility and internal politics... essentially the game.

I was willing to start over and over again (I took a $15K pay cut from Goldman Sachs to get an entry-level position at another financial firm to learn and grow) in my career until I found what spoke to my heart the most. I didn't want to regret my career choice and knew that I had to take risks in the short-term to find what I wanted to use my strengths toward for the rest of my life.

I realized that entrepreneurship was the one and only career path that made sense for my ambitions.

That is why I chose to pursue entrepreneurship.

Okay, I'm finally done now! Thank you for reading my blog. Until next time...

 

-Dennis


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