What do you do when your job future looks uncertain? Worry? Escape to a good book? Start knocking on doors to see what opens up? In April 2020 I took the latter path. I learned that my job at a nonprofit was going to change in July but didn't know much more than that. Here's the month-by-month journey I've been on since then.
Faced with job uncertainty, I applied to INVANTI's Founder Studio.
I joined the Founder Studio and spent three months researching passion areas that also presented compelling opportunities. These included the disparity of teachers of color, therapeutic benefits of getting kids with autism into the outdoors, and peer-led groups for mental health. The passion that kept coming back to me was providing support to parents of children with special needs.
I started a new role at the nonprofit with significantly more responsibility and less time to pursue my startup dreams.
In September, I had a visceral experience with co-workers that left me saying, "I don't know what it'll take but I never want to feel this way again." I continued to clock many hours for the nonprofit that were equal parts exhilarating and demoralizing.
Recognizing I needed to craft my exit plan, I participated in the Founder Studio's Build Sprint after-hours to put structure to my parent support concept. I logged 25+ conversations with parents and professional stakeholders, getting feedback on the evolving concept.
MARCH 31, 2021
This is the day I turned 40. This day is also worth noting because I gifted myself permission to launch a startup in honor of this milestone birthday.
My husband and I ran the numbers and determined what it would take for us to live off of one income for awhile. I gave 8-weeks' notice at work. I continued working on the business after-hours.
My day job in fundraising was crazy as ever as we drove towards our June 30th fiscal year end. My after-hours job took shape as I drove towards a June 28th pilot kick-off of a minimum viable product (MVP). Funny story: the name Empowered Together came from the email address being available on gmail without any other US entity by the same name.
I left the nonprofit and kicked off the pilot after weeks of furiously recruiting participants. I ended up with 13 people committed and 11 who actually used the MVP set up on Mighty Networks' platform. I built the plane as I flew it, pulling bits and pieces from various sources to build community and create content.
For five weeks, moms of kids with special needs came together in live video calls, in social feeds, and in small groups focused on specific needs like Behavioral Therapy and Care Coordination. I focused on delighting pilot participants as I led them through weekly objectives aimed at planning their journeys as parents. Participants raved about the experience. Half of them even contributed monetarily at the close of the program. And two of them took me up on my offer of care coordination. I also registered Empowered Together, LLC this month and opened a business bank account.
I took some time off with my family before my husband returned to teaching and my kids to school. As an aside, the July pilot's success is due in large part to my husband, a school teacher, being the primary caregiver to our two kids that entire month. Thank you, John! There's a reason we've been married 10 years now. ;)
I refined empowered together's offerings on Mighty Networks and geared up for an intensive later in Sept. Early on, I got to see how a couple of my assumptions were inaccurate -- much of what I set out to do was based in trust. Care coordination, for example, was a service I offered pilot participants but only two moms, both of whom I'd known for years, took me up on the offer. Similarly, paying $750 for an intensive is a decision grounded in trust that the experience is worth it. The intensive got shelved due to low enrollment. I shifted focus to recruiting basic members whom I could delight with the community experience before they make a decision to dive deeper with the intensive and/or care coordination. This month I also got pro bono support from Marilyn with design and Angie with marketing strategy support.
The month's only half gone but I've been exploring funding through a shared earning agreement and a couple non-dilutive opportunities. Advice from the team at INVANTI and Mary Kay at CT SBDC have helped shape the course of empowered together. I connected with the AuthenTech and Faith Driven Entrepreneur communities. My cousin, Evan, has been a great sounding board for how to grow the business. It's starting to feel like I'm rounding the bend on actually being an entrepreneur and finding my footing.
From here on out, I'll be reporting back on the startup journey. I'm planning to reflect on imposter's syndrome, what it's like to be a female entrepreneur, balancing work and the rest of life, and how we derive our identities as founders. Comment or reach out to chat more. :)