At the end of last week’s column I promised to tell you about the parts of launching a startup that were actually easier than I expected them to be. The truth is, there weren’t many, but I did luck out when it came to finding office space.
I live in Orange County, California, home of some of the most expensive real estate (commercial and residential) in the country. As a service business we didn’t need a lot of room; just space for five of us, a conference room, and a kitchen area. And, since money is always tight in a startup, I hoped to spend less than $2,000 a month.
When it came time to search for office space, I had so many other things to worry about and was still working at my job at Entrepreneur. So I did what surprisingly few entrepreneurs do — I asked for help. My boyfriend looked online for office vacancies in a neighboring city where we thought rents would be cheaper. Then we did drive-bys, checking out the buildings. Some looked like they were built around the time of the California Gold Rush. Others seemed fine, but further research showed that none were wired for the high-speed Internet capacity we needed.
Finding myself back at square one, I came up with Plan B — I punted. Plan B didn’t really involve me. I called my friend Walee, an entrepreneur and born negotiator who enjoys new challenges, and I asked (more like begged) him to take over the hunt for space. He had me look at a few buildings, but the offices were dark and depressing.
So far it doesn’t sound very painless, does it? Well, after I put it in Walee’s hands, it got simple. He had a surprise Plan B of his own — find an office big enough so it could house his company (which had outgrown its space), my company, and the warehouse he needed. And that’s how I ended up in close-to-home Irvine, with space for five, a conference room, a warehouse that easily houses the refrigerator and water cooler (you never drink the tap water in Southern California), tons of parking spaces, and some never-used desks that had been hanging around. The office is bright and sunny and we got a very sweet deal on the rent.
There are several morals to this story. First: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Too many entrepreneurs are either too proud or too embarrassed to reach out to others, thinking that asking for help portrays weakness. It doesn’t; it means you’re smart. There are only so many hours in a day and being a startup entrepreneur seems to consume every single one of them. So think of all the people you know and how they could possibly help you with some aspect of your business.
Most business owners mistakenly think networking is something you do with strangers. That’s wrong. You’ll get much further if you work your friends, colleagues, and relatives. Do they have some skills you lack? I know I’m not a good negotiator, so I often ask Walee to help me. Or maybe someone you know possesses knowledge you’d otherwise have to pay a lot for. My sister Robin is a human resources V.P. and has come to my rescue over the years more times than I can count. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know if your friends can offer up a sales lead, some extra furniture, or even a friendly banker. Of course, this is a two-way street, so be prepared for paybacks (believe me, I’ve done my share).
All business owners, whether newbies or experienced, know to expect the unexpected. Which leads to moral number two, which I’ve stolen from the Scouts: Be prepared. Entrepreneurship and surprises are joined at the hip. So when your well-thought-out plans fall through, as many inevitably will, you can avoid panic and the resulting bad decisions if you’ve already formulated a fallback plan. I am convinced that one of the secrets to business success is how quickly you can create Plans B, C, and D.
When you’re starting out (or even if you’ve been in business for years), you need to figure out what tasks are worth doing yourself, which are better outsourced, and which can wait until next year.
And perhaps the most important moral to this story: Take the time to appreciate what you’ve accomplished. While I was writing this column close to midnight, one of my partners, Maria Anton, sent me an e-mail that I’d like to share: “I realize I’m not really appreciating the full implications of [starting a business] since, when it’s yours, you end up being worried about so many other things, like will we make it? If we could just pull ourselves back and look — it is so cool. We’ve always talked hypothetically what it would be like to be on our own, yet I never thought it would happen. It was only a wild dream. But we’re doing it. If only we could appreciate the moment now.”
Thanks to that note, I do appreciate how far we’ve come in a relatively short time. And how grateful I am to those who’ve helped us get here. So before you move on with your day, take a moment to savor your achievements.
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