Friday, August 7, 2015

The Fire Within

The purpose of this blog is primarily to share what I've learned on my entrepreneurial journey and to hopefully create a network of support for female entrepreneurs.  As it turns out, I am currently one of very few women who has decided to develop a software product and found a company based on that product. Who knew?

A little bit about me, I came to this by accident.  I mean, I came to develop software by accident. I think the entrepreneurial part has always been there and is a result of several circumstances. It is hard to say if any one of those circumstances played a bigger role in making me who I am than the other.  I was abandoned by my father and while this didn't destroy me or define who I was or am, it created a core belief that I needed to prove I am worthy. Worthy of what you may wonder? Worthy of anything, love, success, friends, accomplishment, children, water, air etc..etc…I mention this because it is only recently, at 45 years old that I realize I have this constant drive to prove something. Fortunately, in my particular case my perceived value is tied to helping people or solving a problem and doing so in a way that is exceedingly better than anyone has done it before. I won't lie, this can be exhausting and fuels a determination that has been annoying I'm sure to the many individuals I have worked with over the years. An exasperated "That's just the way we've always done it" usually accompanied by a head shake and an eye roll, has come my way more times than I can count. It is typically in response to an in depth line of questioning that I suspect is far to similar to the Spanish Inquisition. I am sorry, I can't help it. I need to know stuff.

One of the other primary components that make me susceptible to entrepreneurship, is that I grew up every day of my childhood living with a female entrepreneur. My grandmother started a ceramic business in our home shortly after I was born and when she was over the age of 50. My mother and I lived with my grandparents who were integral to my upbringing. My grandparents worked together in this home business. My grandmother taught classes in the basement to ladies in the community and my grandpa handled mixing the slip and pouring the molds in the garage.  A few times a week, the noise could be heard all the way upstairs as women laughed, shared stories and created their own version of art in our dust filled basement. Several times per year my grandparents went to local craft festivals and malls to sell their wares and I was expected to help. I spent many a summer weekend at various flea markets all over Minnesota helping my grandparents sell everything from cookie jars to Christmas trees.

  This was my grandparent's sole means of income.  I learned from birth that making something and selling it, is a viable way to make a living. I also saw that my grandmother loved what she did.  I was privy to the variability of the financial aspect of it but my grandparents chose to live a fairly minimal life. There were no vacations or dinners out at restaurants. There were no credit cards or financing things like furniture.  There was certainly talk of how much money needed to be made at the next sale to cover the next installment of property taxes but it was always met and sometimes even exceeded. I saw the immediate sense of accomplishment my grandmother experienced when her sales goals were met. By the time I was 5,  I was painting ceramic Easter eggs and putting them in styrofoam egg containers to carry around the neighborhood to sell door to door.  The indoctrination was complete. Add to that the fact that my grandmother was farming me out to local town folk to clean their homes, iron their husbands shirts and babysit their children so I could earn money for my private school tuition and it became quite clear, I knew you can make things or provide services to earn money.   As I became an adult, I understood this experience is fairly unique and was key to the person I am today.

I went on to college because education was very important to my grandparents and my mother. They felt a college education would give me a life without the financial variability they had experienced and therefore my life would be easier.  What they didn't know was that the deed was done, the veil had been lifted and I saw the possibilities and advantages of entrepreneurship.  Even while working at the career I had been trained for, I always supplemented with things like selling real estate, spa products, high end baskets and whatever else came my way.  I couldn't help myself and I excelled at it mostly because I had that God forsaken drive to do it better than anyone else.  A compulsion to not leave well enough alone when encountering a system that could be better.  About 5 years ago I took my experience in healthcare and the frustration of caregiving for my mother after a stroke and developed a professional patient advocacy model.  This model was solely based on a theory that if someone with medical knowledge was coordinating care and advocating for best delivery of that care, quality of life would be improved and medical errors diminished.  It was just a theory but it proved to be true.  I got my first client, then another and another all by word of mouth.  I helped these families navigate health crisis', chronic illness, end of life decisions and planning and transitions into higher levels of care such as assisted living.  I dealt with complex family dynamics, mental illness and senior citizens who were losing some level of control and were none too happy about it.  What was certain was that I was helping and providing solutions, which I thrived on.

Fairly early into this endeavor, I saw how technology could make the process easier and more efficient.  Surely it would be better if I could communicate in real time with families and care teams rather than sending batch emails giving updates and fielding communication from companions, home health workers and visiting rehabilitation specialists.  Storing medication lists, insurance cards and health records in folders on kitchen cabinets would be much more efficient if held someplace on the web where it was accessible but only to people to whom you chose to give access.  What if I could also measure and trend biometrics like blood sugar, daily weights and oxygen use as well so physicians could monitor these trends and offer guidance preventing a health crisis.  I searched long and hard for such a product but couldn't fine one.  This is how I came to develop software.  I created a prototype to use with my clients and it worked.  It did all I thought it would do and much more than I could have ever anticipated.  From there, it has taken on a life of it's own and I am the nurturer of this ever growing but often fragile, seemingly living thing.  It was an accident like the baby you didn't plan for but now couldn't imagine your life without (yes, I had one of those too).

While the highs and lows are often agonizing and completely time consuming, I find I must see it through.  I will defend it,  fight for it, beg for money to fund it and trample anyone who makes the slightest attempt to damage it in any way.  God help anyone who tries to stop me. Won't you join me on this exciting adventure of courting investors, working with coders, marketing, selling, building a brand all while raising teenage daughters, caring for a disabled mother and building a life with a new husband.  Maybe you too suffer from an unyielding drive to improve a process, outsell anyone and a (semi) delusional belief that you can change the world. Grab a whip, pull up a chair and fasten your seat belt.  It certainly is a bumpy ride.

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