An Entrepreneur’s Soliloquy

How do we measure success? No, I’m really asking.

Every organization has different metrics. Maybe for some, it’s maximizing shareholder value. Perhaps it’s the number of lightbulbs sold, manatees rescued, or lives changed. It could be staying afloat through the year. Or the day. Success can be an end, and also a beginning. However we define it, though, we must define it.

Not that it’s easy. When you operate to serve a mission, metrics are tricky because sometimes they are intangible. Sure, we can look at sales history and consider growth to be a success. But how many people made a Meal Kit and felt empowered to cook again? How many customers shared a meal with a family member, friend, or even stranger that they otherwise wouldn’t have? Who decided that they felt better, both physically and mentally, after eating a healthful meal and made a personal decision to stick with it? Whose day was better because they chose to shop with us?

Don’t get me wrong – financial metrics are important. Hugely important. They determine whether or not we can continue to exist, and we can’t very well make an impact if we don’t exist. Ultimately, though, every decision we make is based on the fundamental question: “will this help us serve our mission?” Reconciling the answer to that question with the need to be economically sustainable is a challenging task. And just as the business faces these questions, so does the person.

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Travel is a contemplative time for me.

I spent the holidays stomping on formerly familiar grounds, from which I ripped my roots when I was about 17. Despite my lingering adolescent stubbornness, quixotically proclaiming that to remain in the place I was raised would be to admit defeat, returning to my family is unrivaled medicine. Cozying up in a place without expectations, where I can be who I am–in my least attractive state–and still be loved, is a feast for the soul. The holidays only amplify this feeling. There is a year’s end, a time to be grateful, and a fresh start that launches like a rocket after the world counts down in relative unison.

Still, returning to work after a vacation is always hard, and returning to life as a fledgling entrepreneur is harder still. With a full spirit and the temporary high of the calendar tabula rasa fueling me, I returned to Portland to face my still-new business in a nebula of both resolve and uncertainty. Running a business is hard, hard, hard. While I always assumed that if I worked in a cubicle for a long period of time I would wither and parch like a sad little potted plant under florescent lights, there are parts of me that envy those jobs. Clocking out, passing the buck, getting paid…I can’t say I don’t dream of these niceties. Beyond that, what about the existential questions? How do I know when to continue and when to call it a good learning experience and move on? Where is the line between perseverance and blind stubbornness (“Founder’s Syndrome,” I think it’s called…)? What does it all mean?!

This would be a nice place for a grand clarifying answer, but as this is life and not a fiction, I don’t have one. But I can say this (to myself): during our first market day of 2013, I saw smiling faces. “The Sheriff,” always the first customer at our morning market, was there this year as she was in the last. Ray came with his My Street Grocery shopping bag, which he fills each week. Al bought fruit and juices for himself, and for Michael, who couldn’t come because she was caring for her mother. We sold Meal Kits to be prepared at Central City Concern’s weekly nutrition and cooking class. Regular customers brought friends. Old friends became customers. People stopped just to tell us that they liked what we were doing. The rain fell from a sunless sky and I was basking in the warmth of a job–a community–that means something to me.

So, there you have it. My passion for this cause is strong. The burden of the day-to-day in any business can be draining, but nothing about my work is complete. There are hundreds of doors yet to be open, hundreds of hands outstretched in support, and hundreds…and hundreds…of people in need. I don’t have a perfect definition of success, but I know that my work hasn’t scratched the surface of impact yet. So I’ll call this my truth. My axiom. From there, I’ll assume the details will work themselves out.

Happy New Year. I’m glad to say that I mean each word in that phrase.

2 Responses to “An Entrepreneur’s Soliloquy”

  1. Geoff says:

    Powerful words – I appreciate your thoughts and enjoyed how eloquently you expressed them. Everyone at OTC appreciates the wonderful work that MyStreet is doing!

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