We are at this tricky spot as a venture where we don't quite have enough hours/funds to pay a full time employee, but we almost need one in order to keep up with business and to continue to help business expand. I have been running this landscaping company while working a full time job with a high burnout rate for the last year. It hasn't been easy.
So a few weeks ago I phoned and met with a couple of friends to talk about how we might fund this project further. I had to figure out whether I needed for profit investment or non profit grant funding and how to get it. It was urgent because I have a sense that if I have to work the current model for another 2 years let's say, I might just implode. It is high energy. The basic answer I got back from my friends was that I need to work my model until it runs smoothly and shines. Whether for profit or non profit, no one really wants to fund an experimental venture. They want to come in when there is significant proof of viability. They told me that I would have to bootstrap until my model sang.
This was a hard word to receive in some ways. Bootstrapping your venture when you are 24 is one thing. Doing it when you are 36, have two kids, and are already working a job that is 60 hours/week is another. Most mornings I am up at about 4:15 working on writing or the business. I often finish the day with a few emails or bids for jobs to customers. If I could eat Ramen and work on this stuff in an apartment 12 years ago it would have been a bit easier I think. But, in a lot of ways the answer I received about funding was something I already knew. There are no shortcuts in starting a good business.
When I was 11 my good friend J.P. got a new device for his Nintendo called the Game Genie. It was this crazy thing that allowed you to plug in cheat codes to any game that you had. You could add lives, weapons, etc. etc. etc. until Kingdom come. It described itself as a "Video Game Enhancer". It was anything but. What I quickly learned was that short cutting the game did two things. First, I tired of all the games quickly. Since there was no challenge they made the video games boring in a hurry. You never had to earn anything through game play. Second, the more I cheated the worse I became at the games. I loved playing sports games on my Nintendo, but what I discovered was that after using the Game Genie I was worse at those games. My friends would beat me when we played once I had used the Genie. I had gotten sloppy and learned bad habits because I had been using shortcuts. This lesson is true for any startup social entrepreneurship.
If I had started with a 100K grant instead of 15K of my own money, this whole venture would have been hopeless. Part of the success of what I am doing IS the fact that I have had to learn it all myself. I had to learn to use the tools, how to walk into a local business and sell my idea, learn how to fix my equipment, learn how to make jobs more efficient, learn what the life skills trainings look like and so on. And most importantly, I have had to learn exactly what the work is that my employees are doing. If I hadn't done all those reeking filthy runs to the dump with wet leaves and rotten grass myself how would I know what to pay my crews? I also wouldn't have had the relational time with our first 5-6 students to feel out what we need to be training them on in terms of life and faith. What are their strength points that need to be honed further? What are the weak points that need to be addressed? The point is that every little bit of learning as you bootstrap is exactly what you need. I think the best sorts of things in life are built one bloody step at a time. It is the recipe for all things good.
My hope is that we will either get enough business that I can bring someone on full time or that we can get some small funding in the near future. Yet, as much as I want to move onto that second phase where I can hand chunks of this business off, I also can see why understanding my operation and working my operation without any cheat codes or short cuts really matters. I am prayerfully gauging whether it might just be critical for me to bootstrap this thing for a bit longer. For now, I had better get outside and pray while I am swapping the wheels on my Honda lawn mower. The drive system isn't engaging and I have no idea why. Did I mention that I am not REALLY mechanical?
Blessings on your innovations, risks, and adventures! May you follow the Kingdom as it unfolds before you!