It’s Not About You, It’s About The Mountain

Behind the scenes at APW


Years ago, I heard Oprah say one of her particularly smart Oprah-isms that I filed away for possible future use. She said about her best friend Gayle, “When you become famous and you have access to lots of different things, a lot of people lose oxygen and they can’t make the summit with you. [It’s good] to be able to have somebody who not only can make the summit, but stand at the summit with you and rejoices in your being able to make it.”

At the time, I filed it away as a lovely description of friendship. Over the years, it’s stuck with me as something more than that. Life, it seems, is a series of climbs. And when things get particularly arduous, you lose good people. There are always people you love who just can’t make that particular summit with you.

Right now I’m on the climb of motherhood and of business. They’re both struggles, and I’ve learned to value the people that continue to be able to keep the faith, step after difficult step. But I’ve also learned that as we climb, we lose oxygen ourselves. And as the oxygen thins, the focus shifts. It shifts from just being about you, to being about the mountain. It’s not about you on the summit; it’s about the summit itself.

Starting a business is, in a sense, an exercise in pure ego. It requires you to have a vision, and decide that your particular idea is different enough from everyone else’s idea that it’s worth pursing. If that sounds like an exercise in self-importance, don’t worry, the business will knock you down as soon as you’ve set yourself up. You’ll have to have enormous faith in your vision, in something nobody can see. The early days of business are like living in an invisible world. You can see the outlines of what you want to build, but almost no one else can. Frankly, it’s exhausting.

When I started APW, I had a really clear idea of what I wanted it to be. Within a month of opening my Blogger account, I knew what I could make the site become if I put enough work into it. Almost everyone else thought I had an adorable hobby, and for years, I lived with near constant condescending comments about my little website. But I knew what I wanted to do with my work, so I put my head down and got on with it. I cried after parties where I’d had to talk about my job, but in general, I just shut out the noise and kept going.

Starting a business can take a deep well of confidence, as you keep pushing to prove yourself. Starting a business is like getting to Everest base camp. It’s a lot of work. It takes a lot of faith. It takes a huge amount of determination and resources. And if you’re lucky, you make it.

Building a business is intensely hard, but at the end of the day, it’s about you. It is, on some level, about working to create a life you want. Want to travel? Try to incorporate that into your business. Want to work in a sunny office with people you love? Figure that out. Want to support your family while staying out of the cubicle? GO. If you’re setting up shop from scratch, it’s your job to create something that works for you.

When most people start businesses (we’ll exclude MBAs and people otherwise trained to start huge businesses), their driving goal is to build a sustainable company. Given that something like eighty percent of businesses fail in the first year and a half, for most of us, the dream is to build something that can support our families. That’s base camp. You can prove to the world around you what you’ve accomplished, and you finally have a bit of a break. Instead of working eighty hours a week, maybe you can hire someone to work forty of those hours for you. A sustainable small business is something to be tremendously proud of.

But what happens when you’ve reached that point that you barely dared to dream of? What happens when you’ve built a sustainable small business? At that point, you have two choices. The first is the most reasonable: sustain your business on a small scale. The second is the are-you-crazy-you-want-to-climb-Everest? option: keep pushing. The catch is this: if you decide to keep pushing, it’s not about you anymore.

In the last month, I marked the anniversary of working for myself for more time than I’ve ever worked in one job. I also realized that I’d achieved everything I set out to achieve. More than everything, actually. I wanted desperately to write a wedding book, but I never expected to do particularly well, I just wanted to not embarrass myself. My goal was to build my business to the point where I could no longer be regularly embarrassed at parties. Turns out, I built a company I can describe proudly over cocktails.

So now what? A few years ago, I wrote this:

I started my own business because I wanted to scale my business to my life, and because I was tired of scaling my life to my business. There might be a point, in ten years, where I want to run a five million dollar a year business. I don’t know, that does not sound appealing, but hey, I know I’m ambitious and you never know. But right now? Right now I want to be able to leave work early to have dinner with my husband. I want to take a nap when I’m exhausted, I want the freedom to raise a newborn, or pick a sick kid up from pre-school. Right now, I have no interest in scaling my business to fit the ideals of a largely male financial establishment. For me, at this moment, owning a business is about doing work I love. It’s about getting emails from people who asked for a raise because of something I wrote. It’s about proudly supporting a family. It’s about quality of life.

And that’s still mostly true. I do, in fact, want to be able to pick up my kid when he’s sick. But these days, I want more than that. I also want my employees to be able to pick up their kids when they’re sick. I want to support my staff doing work they love, and I want to give them raises when they deserve it. It turns out I want this business to be able to support more families than just my own.

I’ve been reading Sophia Amoruso’s excellent #GirlBoss, about her eBay-started company and its meteoric rise. At one point she says, “Not too long ago, someone told me I had an obligation to take Nasty Gal as far as I possibly could because I’m a role model for girls who want to do cool stuff with their own lives. I’m still not sure how to feel about that, because for most of my life I didn’t even believe in the concept of role models. I don’t want to be put on a pedestal.” And that, I think, sums up decisions about company growth. As APW becomes bigger, it becomes more and more important to me to fade into the background. While I’ll always write, what’s important isn’t what I think people should do with their weddings and marriages, but what you all are doing. What’s important is not that I started this site, but that my killer staff has helped grow my vision, and push it in ways I’d never expected.

Do I want to take APW as far as I possibly can? It turns out, yes. Not so much for girls who need role models, but instead, because the mountain is there, and it calls. And I’d rather fail climbing, than not try. I’d rather let my ego go, and let the climb remain. Besides, I’ve always enjoyed a good failure, because at least then you know you tried.

I have no idea what’s beyond base camp. I had enough ego to start a blog and turn it into a company, but I’m not a crazy person. I never imagined taking it farther than this, so who knows what the road up looks like? All I know is that I’m taking it with the best company imaginable. And beyond here, I have the freedom of it no longer being about me.

Let’s climb.

This APW entrepreneurship post was sponsored by Squarespace. Squarespaces mission is to provide creative tools that help anyone give a voice to their ideas. Sign up for Squarespace today to get started on your own climb.


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  • KC

    I think “not just bigger/more profitable, but *good*” is part of my business philosophy. Yes, one might occasionally take on projects or whatever that aren’t your ideal, but that’ll keep the ship afloat – but I like being able to excitedly talk with friends, not wall-street-ers, about my work. I wouldn’t want a Forbes writeup, wherein the company is reduced to its financial bottom-line (I have no idea how they ignore the rest of reality like, say, being decent to employees and not screwing over your customers and following through on promises. But they do.). But bigger isn’t necessarily bad; it’s just harder to keep the good things going in some ways.

    (also, yes on the invisible phase of some businesses; it’s a lot like art/fashion/whatever in that way, in that if the person you’re talking to hasn’t seen something like it, they can’t visualize it. Auuuugh. But at least that tells you you’re tracking out a new path?)

  • Mo

    I love this. Climb that mountain. You have so many people rooting for your continued (and well-earned) success!

  • Lena and Aggy

    I oddly like the comment about the “80% of businesses fail in the first year and a half” because after being in business for almost a year and a half, I’m feeling like I may kind of have this thing dialed (though not as dialed financially as I want it to be).

    • KC

      Yes! It’s kind of like how some divorce statistics are “reassuring” – you get to three years and go “whew, we made it past that hurdle!” – and so on.

      • Lena and Aggy

        Hahaha I never even thought about that. You’re totally right though.

    • Brooke

      I know, right! Sometimes it hits me that I’m super proud of myself for having started a small business that actually worked.
      And then it hits me that I’m deep-down terrified it could all go away in a second. But still, ya know, the pride is there. ;)

  • Brooke

    I’ve been mulling this exact question over for a year or so now. I have a small business that I’ve built up to the “sustainable” level and then some–I have more clients than I can handle and keep a waiting list. Which is great! But it makes me wonder whether it’s time to start looking into hiring more people to cover the demand, or whether my “sole proprietor with a waiting list” model is going to be the right one for the long term. I worry that if I start heading for the summit, I’ll get buried in paperwork and administrative stuff–the not fun part of the job–while the people I hire do the fun, rewarding stuff. And, like you, I worry about fairness to these hypothetical people I could hire. I worked for other companies as an independent contractor before I struck out fully on my own, and sometimes felt like I was being taken advantage of by those companies. If I were to hire more people, would I be able to afford to pay them a fair wage and still keep enough to cover my time and administrative costs? I don’t know.

    • KC

      I think that’s a “know yourself” thing… but also might be a “can I hire someone to do the paperwork/accounting/etc. part?” thing. My very best former boss ended up quitting his managerial position and launched into consulting because he wanted to get his hands back on the actual projects again instead of managing, because that’s what he enjoyed (and what I enjoy, too!).

      I think the “fair wage” question can sometimes be answered by having a more transparent bottom line. If I hired people on, I would probably either go with a particular agreed-upon percentage-of-project, or would go for “paying” us all agreed-upon hourly rates or salaries (with more money going to those who are doing the things no one really wants to do and less money going towards those with less responsibility) and then profit-sharing out any extra. But that might just be my socialism cropping out…

      Another possibility that I’ve seen put into action for people who want to remain one-person shops (who don’t want to grow administrative structure) is a basically a double-referral network – multiple independent contractors who pass jobs along to each other as they either fit better or as particular people are too swamped to take something on. But there you’ve gotta really have some strong trust going on. :-)

      Good luck!

      • Brooke

        I have thought about hiring someone to do the paperwork. It would be nice to have an assistant to keep on top of my schedule and e-mails! One of these days, I might decide it’s worth it. :) Yes, the places that contract out people in my business usually pay on a percentage–you get, say, 60% of the money you bring into the company. But in a business where wages just aren’t that high, paying someone only 60% of the money they bring in just doesn’t seem fair. A fairer wage would be more like 80-90% of what they bring in, but would that cover the administrative costs? Maybe not. Especially since expanding would probably require renting and furnishing (my equipment ain’t cheap!) a commercial space instead of working out of my home. We’ll see.

        • Sarah E

          I’m currently one of those assistants for a business consultant. I do admin work for her biggest client, which frees her time up elsewhere. It reduces costs in the long run because A. I’m good at my job and can handle the tasks in low amount of time. B. It’s cheaper for me to get things done (at a living wage for my location) than for her to do them. She’s a great boss, so I don’t care that I’m doing somewhat mindless work. It’s nice to check tasks off.

          If you’re interested in an office assistant like that, ask around and see who you know, that’s the best way (I’ve found) to get good employers/employees. Plus, the less time you’re spending on paperwork, the more time you can spend with clients, which both brings in more $$ and lets you do the work you want.

          All just food for thought. . .

    • Lawyerette510

      I think it’s a real consideration and challenge, and the shift from sole proprietor to employer is huge. But it can be rewarding, as it means that if you want to/ have to leave town or be out of commission, you can evolve your business to support that beyond just the support you have from your financial savings. That said, a desire to grow the business bigger than just you is what is key. There are ways to do that and remain plugged into the work you do; although there will be periods when you’re focusing on the business more than the work. The good news is, as you grow, you can find people whose talents and interests compliment yours– maybe you find a professional assistant (think paralegal for an attorney/ vet tech for a vet etc) or a colleague who is great not only in the substantive work but is really interested in bookkeeping/ business plans/ management etc piece; someone like that probably wouldn’t be the right fit if you’re just wanting to increase your own bandwidth, but if you’re wanting to grown bigger than yourself while maintaining your substantive work, they would be a key player.

      As for the time and administrative costs, there are so many ways to manage this. You can use a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) as a one-stop-shop to manage payroll, benefits, and give you HR advice, or a payroll service. If you’re in a professional context, where the person working for you is a licensed professional who is exempt from overtime laws, then that is less of a time-investment for you, as you’re not dealing with someone reporting time. However, sometimes what professionals need is someone who is hourly/ non-exempt to free the professional up for more hands-on work at the higher level. In that case, it might be worth it to spend a little of your time on that because of the ROI.

      I agree with KC, that some of it is about knowing yourself– being the manager of other people can be really challenging and you’ll want some resource in your corner (a PEO with good HR consulting available on-demand to you is one way to accomplish that; an employment law attorney with experience in employment advice and counsel is another; and free-lance HR consultants is a third) if you go down that path.

      Also, look at how you’re running your business now- are you incorporated as a business entity or are you Brooke DBA Brooke-the-Kick-Ass-Professional? If you’re going to hire employees, I strongly suggest incorporating as an entity and respecting the corporate veil.

      Finally, I love KC’s suggestion about base-wage plus profit-sharing as a way to feel good about what you’re paying employees and at the same time be financially stable.

      Whichever decision you make will be the right one for you, because you know your goals/ dreams/ motivations better than anyone! Good luck!

    • Anne

      Brooke – I have no idea what you do, but I was in a similar boat about a year ago.

      My business was at capacity (I’m an educational therapist) and didn’t have an interest in taking on more staff. Lots of people like my accountant encouraged me to hire others. I let it sit for a couple of months, and decided to trust my gut. Right now my husband and I are launching a website to share the educational therapy materials I use with my students.

      • Sarah E

        The business consultant I assist is considering a similar move, so she can scale her business beyond one-on-one time, plus work toward her goal of working while living abroad in 5 or 6 years. My mom, a personal trainer, is on the same track. Sharing her knowledge online and developing materials (videos, ecourses, etc) that she can share digitally will allow her to pursue personal goals without sacrificing income from lost one-on-one client time.

        • Anne

          That’s awesome!

    • Meg Keene

      I will say, about that part of the climb, which I’ve already made—if you decide to hire staff, a lot of your work will switch to being managerial. There is just no way around it. I like the big picture business stuff, and I LOVE working with a team of smart ladies (and helping each one of them make their own climbs). So it works for me. But the bulk of my work now is for sure management, accounting, budgets, big decisions, meetings, contracts, etc. I write some as well, but that’s something I carve out time for. As the company grows, I shift more and more to the CEO role. If I didn’t really love that role, I’m not sure growing would have been the best option.

      You also need to think about hiring people as empowered staff (our model) vs. hiring freelancers on contract rates. The first lets you grow more, the second leaves you with more control… ie, it can still be about you.

      • Lawyerette510

        As someone who works in employment law and HR, the model of empowered staff is one that makes my heart sing! It’s not necessarily the easy route, and it takes some nurturing, but it is so rewarding for employees and in the long-term leads to cementing a culture and being part of a scale-able business model.

  • Victwa

    East Bay Hills! This looks like Wildcat, but I think it can’t be– I’m dying to know where you took this…

  • ColoradoLaurel

    I love this so much right now, as someone living in the mountains and trying to wrangle my ducks before starting a small business in a field in which businesses often experience meteoric growth. Adding #GirlBoss to my must-read list. May even let the husband read it, too!

    • Anne

      What are you planning to do?? I love hearing about new small business plans.

      • ColoradoLaurel

        We are laying plans to start a brewery. Still in the dreaming/holy shit this is going to take everything we’ve got stage. But it’s good to have a dream. And a tasty product that requires refinement and testing.

        • Anne

          That sounds audacious and fabulous. I’ll raise a glass to that!

  • Elizabeth

    I love this site and have gotten so much out of it beyond help with my wedding. However, I can’t help but feel slightly troubled by this post, not because I don’t think it’s true, but because I think it needs to be acknowledged that there are lots of people in this country for whom this is not the case through no fault of their own. It takes a certain amount of privilege to be able to say “I’m going to start my own business, though it may fail.”

    But if you have that privilege, and you want to use it to better your life and the lives of others, there isn’t anything wrong with that. Climb that mountain, but know that it’s not “losing oxygen” that holds some people back from doing the same.

    • KC

      I think it depends on what “losing oxygen” is a metaphor for (and whether the mountain is Acclaimed Success In The US or just plain getting through life). Every friend brings their own set of skills and experiences to the table, so if “losing oxygen” just means “doesn’t ‘get’ what you’re doing now and doesn’t have the resources to help or keep up” (rather than ‘they’re lazy’ or ‘they’re not good enough’), then I don’t find it insulting.

      (the reminder that many people have weight that means that launching a small business is less of a viable option, though, is useful. Yes, you can start a small business as a second job while you keep your full-time money-bringing-in work going, sometimes; but that seems like it’d be harder/impossible if you’re already doing the work-multiple-part-time-jobs-for-barely-enough-money-then-work-at-diaper-changes 24-hour shift, or in many other cases)

      • Maddie Eisenhart

        Having started a small business, I read that part as being about how all-consuming owning your own business can be, particularly when you’re just starting and especially when you ARE working another job, and still trying to juggle being a human being. The people who are willing to put up with that while you’re trying to make something of your idea, those are extra special people. As the partners of entrepreneurs can often attest.

      • Meg Keene

        I would say, for the record, that my friends from home (AKA, the ones with far, far, far less privilege) are the one’s who have never ever lost oxygen. Growing up a particular way creates a life long bond, of just understanding each other in a way nobody else does.

        I always worry when the assumptions are that people with less privilege are the ones who can do less, or can’t keep pace. It’s a big huge vast conversation, but having grown up in a seriously underprivileged environment, I have to say… my home friends are never the ones losing oxygen. Privilege gets you a lot of things, but it doesn’t make you tougher than everyone else.

        • KC

          I think a lot depends on what “do less” or “keep pace” means. If the desired support is, say, to fly out to NYC for your awards ceremony, then if someone has remained in a position of less privilege, financial restrictions are going to mess with that and hence privilege in that direction is going to play a role. If it’s learning a whole new vocabulary to understand what it is you’re excited about (shoutout to the spouses of academics…), available time/energy would potentially play a role in how hard or easy that would be (but those life-long-ers would be more likely to choose that way to invest limited resources, if they have the resources to invest – but they might not always).

          If it’s “cheer for you instead of seething with jealousy”, though, then the ones who have your back and have been rooting for you to truly knock it out of the park (not just “I’d love for you to knock it out of the park… as long as I do it first, or twice, or better”) will be the ones who aren’t “losing oxygen”. Especially when they know what it comprehensively means for you to get that far.

          As a side note, I don’t think there’s only one way of not-losing-oxygen. I have friends who have been *so glad* that I’ve achieved something, just because I’ve achieved it, not because they have the foggiest idea how technically difficult it was to achieve (they believe me that it was difficult and that I’m proud of it, and are proud of it on that basis, and… that’s about it); and I have more acquaintance-y friends who totally know exactly how technically difficult Thing X was to achieve and high-five me for it, but aren’t as blissed out that I personally and specifically have achieved A Thing. Putting the two together is fantastic, but getting every kind of teamwork and support for the multiple facets of your life, all in one person, is pretty rare. :-)

          • Meg Keene

            Agreed on the last paragraph.

            With the first, it’s, I donno… more complex for me. I can’t imagine anyone being able to fly to NY for an awards ceremony (unless I was paying, I suppose). That’s something that’s just beyond my ability to imagine. (Which is funny, because I clearly operate in a world where that happens… but I think we never outgrow our primary lens with which we view the world, in a lot of ways.) So I think there on some level maybe our backgrounds just play into what our base level assumptions of what support looks like. For me, it tends to be what you really nicely describe, in the middle there.

            Anyway. There is a reason I wrote in metaphor, which is, “losing oxygen,” means different things to different people. And we’re all experiencing support and lack of support in different ways. For some people it would be a friend who chose not to fly to NY for an awards ceremony. For me, it’s more the ability to know how far each of us have come in a lifetime and cheer each other on. But all the ways of experiencing support and lack of support, are valid and important to the people experiencing them. So this was less about how X kind of support is important, but more about how people that keep pace with you over the course of your life are so valuable. (And people that can’t keep pace on a particular climb are still often beloved, just can’t do it on that climb for whatever reason.)

          • KC

            The flying to NY for an awards ceremony is also totally out of my world and would baffle me – but yeah, you’re now at that Awards Ceremony level, which comes with decorative paper straws, congratulations! ;-) (I remember how deeply you feel about paper straws…)

            But, yeah, people who weren’t born into that or near that are less likely to expect that particular shape of support (which we also see in reverse sometimes in comments on APW: people who weren’t born into or near a kind of community where people physically pitch in to, say, set up chairs or do dishes or bring something for a potluck, aren’t expecting that kind of support and aren’t expecting people to want that kind of support)(I guess: what’s a ridiculous, practically insulting demand of support: expecting someone to fly to Vegas (me: !?!!!) for a bachelorette party, or expecting someone to help hang twinkle lights in the reception hall (me: sure!)? It depends where you come from!).

            And yes, people who can’t keep pace with you in a specific way on a particular climb… you may catch up with them on a later one. Or they may eventually be the appreciative audience for your spectacular summit photos. :-) It’s just that it takes a special person to keep pace with you all the way up one mountain, and it’s worth celebrating that specifically, not that those who couldn’t fulfill all those wants are necessarily “bad” or “lost” friends.

          • Meg Keene

            OMG THIS. You just figured something so obvious out for me. Like, when we’re asked to spend large sums for bachelor(ette) parties I’m always just FLOORED (regardless of if we can afford it or not, because logic no). But if you don’t ask me to like, haul shit, and you need shit hauled, I’ll assume you’re mad at me. OH THAT’S WHY. <3

          • KC

            YAY! (I hadn’t totally connected those dots until today either. But yes, that’s me, too. Please don’t ask me to join you at a $200 Spa Experience. But I will totally drop $200 and months of planning and two days of intense baking to make you a super-fancy wedding cake for several hundred people. Or haul chairs. Or babysit your drunk aunt. Or wash dishes. You name it; as long as it’s not conspicuous luxury consumption that I don’t particularly enjoy and that is theoretically “for my enjoyment”, I’m happy to do it!)

            Now… any ideas on how to facilitate communication between these two groups of people? ‘Cause I’m at a loss…

          • Ha, that is a great way to simplify a lot of the debates I’ve seen on posts that talk about the community pitching in to support a wedding. For me too, hanging twinkle lights sounds totally normal (an honor, even!) whereas flying to Vegas sounds ridiculous — and even if I did it for a friend I really loved, I would feel like it was a little bit of an imposition. And there are definitely people who feel exactly the opposite!

          • Mad

            Then again, some of us born into communities in which a bridal shower, a couple’s shower, a lingerie shower, a fancy bachelorette, a $200 bridesmaid dress, and a big-ass diamond are the norm have since re-thought what that all means and are actually insulted at all of it….even though we were raised around it.

            I also have to say it’s much worse when people only expect THAT type of support and don’t recognize that I will glue gun my little heart out for hours, but I refuse to buy you a new corset, a mixer, a cake stand, and also chip in $100 for the bachelorette hotel plus pay for all my own drinks and food plus obviously some of yours because you’re the bride goddammit. Personal experience. People talk shit about people.

    • Meg Keene

      I grew up in the second poorest city in the country, so I get that. It’s an important discussion to have, and one that I’m committed to having. Growing up in essentially inner city schools, if there is one thing I’m dedicated to, it’s working with high schoolers grappling with pulling themselves out of shitty situations. In fact, I was able to put my (and the businesses) money where my mouth is on that, in the form of a considerable scholarship this week, and that was a huge deal behind the scenes.

      This is a big and complex conversation to have, and I always caution people to realize that you can’t tell all there is to tell about someone’s privilege by the way they present. There are lots of ways to surmount our obstacles, and some of us do surmount parts of them with entrepreneurship. That’s what can make it such a powerful and important tool.

      • Anne

        That’s fabulous about the scholarship! That’s one of my dreams someday. Are you able so share any details?

        • Meg Keene

          SURE WHY NOT! Because I love bragging about awesome people. Our son’s main caregiver/ second mom has a daughter that got into Harvard’s summer program on a scholarship. This is obviously would be a pretty huge deal for anyone, but it’s a SUPER huge deal for a struggling family in East Oakland. Anyway, the scholarship was huge, but didn’t cover everything. So APW was able to give it’s own little scholarship this week. Then David and I (and Maddie helped because she’s awesome) were able to help her raise the rest of the money, and she met her total about an hour ago (and leaves on Friday).

          The project was super duper close to my heart, because I got into a Yale Summer program when I was 14, and couldn’t afford it, and people raised all of the money for me to go… which is the way I was able to leave the state for the first time. So I got a unbelievably direct way to pay it forward, and it’s so amazing when moments like that fall into your lap and you can take action.

          So over the moon for her, and so super proud. She’s got a long road ahead of her, but girlfriend has busted ASS to get this far, and <3 <3 <3.

          • This makes me really happy.

          • Anne

            And this is why I think more women should be entrepreneurs! I hope the high schooler has a great experience! LOVE IT!

          • KC

            That is extremely cool. :-)

          • Ally

            Tears! Love stories like this.

      • Lawyerette510

        Congrats on the scholarship!

      • Elizabeth

        I’ve been thinking a lot about this post, my initial reaction to it, your reply, and the relationship between privilege and agency and lo and behold, I went home last night and my roommate had just finished animating an amazing video ( about the very topic! It really drove home the fact that fighting against unequal access to resources and security is important, but it is equally crucial that people (in this case, women) feel empowered enough to try.

        It’s a difficult balance because you want to encourage, without putting blame, but I’m very happy the conversation is happening. Anyway, you should also watch the video because just doing so donates 10 cents to an organization dedicated to empowering women! Yay!

        • Elizabeth

          Sorry! Working link here!

        • Meg Keene

          Yup! That’s it. As someone who grew up without a lot of money, but in and around terrible poverty, I think agency is vital. And so often in these conversations, I see people dubbed as “without privilege” stripped of their agency. For so many, it’s not about ‘not being able to afford to start a business,’ it’s about ‘not being able to afford not to.’ Yes, it might fail, but the system is already failing you, so you have to try something.

          I didn’t personally start a business from that place, but I didn’t have acess to money to start it. I did it for 20 hours a week while I was working 50+ hour weeks, supporting two people, because that was the only option I had. I built it from nothing, into something that supports my family. And for me, it’s important that I’m not stripped of the agency that got me here, because working 60+ hour weeks for years was a special kind of hell. It was a different kind of hell than supporting myself working on my feet all day for minimum wage, but one thing is not unrelated from the other. One thing drives you to do the other.

          Luck doesn’t show up a lot in places of poverty. So if we attribute the success of people who got out as “just luck”, we disempower people. If we tell people that while the system is arranged against you, but you have the ability to work harder than everyone else, and that’s it’s own kind of luck, then we give them agency. And that’s unspeakably important.

  • Suzy Richardt

    So glad this topic is back!! We need more voices on entrepreneurship that are not coming from the usual tech start-up world. Looking forward to the rest of this series. (Right?)

    • Meg Keene

      I’m so tired of all the entrepreneurship voices being from tech start ups. Yes, they have the huge fancy offices and the staff that always seems to feel very VERY fancy, but they also fail at an alarming rate. Because they’re not using their own money, and that’s the business model. Fund a bunch that fail, and a Twitter.

      I don’t want to say it’s not real life, because it clearly is. But it’s very different from running a sustainable business.

      • Sarah E

        Yeah, that’s what bothers me about the Start-up community (which, ironically, is just starting up itself) in my city. I began to get involved, thinking “Yay! Small business!” but after I got pulled away for other employment, I saw the development going largely toward coders/tech industry, and that disappoints me. Part of the fun of being in a smaller city in the Midwest is NOT trying to be a mini SF or whatever and capitalizing on the strengths and needs of local here. So, good for those who can code from anywhere and get involved in such projects, but let’s support all the other (web-based and otherwise) businesses in diverse fields.

      • Alex

        Oh my, I could not agree more! I heard a stat in an entrepreneurship course I took last year that 1 in 10 startups who get money from VCs actually make it. Then there’s all the other ones who fail before ever being able to get moeny from VCs. It’s completely unsustainable. I’m finishing up grad school in engineering, so I’m pretty surrounded by the tech startup scene (and, honestly, it’s probably where I’m going to wind up working first while I’m getting my footing trying to start a [sustainable] company of my own :) ), and it’s just so surreal the amount of money lost in those companies.

        I stumbled on this site just recently since I’m planning my wedding now (I think from a google search related to “sane wedding planning” or “the knot is ridiculous” or something along those lines ;) ), and everything from the wedding planning things to the finance things to the real life things hits home so perfectly, so thank you for cultivating such a wonderful space!

  • Anne

    THIS: “And I’d rather fail climbing, than not try. I’d rather let my ego go,
    and let the climb remain. Besides, I’ve always enjoyed a good failure,
    because at least then you know you tried.”

    I’m happy to have this conversation continuing too! I’ve been reading APW for many years (at least 5) and it’s been a delight to see Meg’s business grow and develop.

    The challenge that I’m working through right now is having the courage to grow my business in a new direction. We just launched a website to share materials and strategies with other specialists in my field (educational therapy). I absolutely have the vision, getting there is the hard work.

    I think the best part about having started a business already is I’m better able to name those feeling of discomfort and tolerate them with this new launch. Yes, it’s totally acceptable and normal to feel uncertain.

  • I am also of the approach that I would rather give something my all and fail big, than hold back out of fear. I decided about a year and a half ago, after another grant application rejection, to really dig in and give my arts career everything I had. Cause if I did that and still couldn’t make it happen in this country, then…well…at least I will have tried. And I am still trying but have been seeing progress this last year, so it seems to be working so far. :)

  • Liz

    Love this. Thank you for the entrepreneurship posts – they’re the best.

  • Viv

    Loved this. Will definitely remember that metaphor.

  • Kelsey

    Hot damn to this post. That’s all I’ve got, but it’s a heartfelt hot damn.

  • Jackie O

    This was more then perfect timing for me thank you! Im struggling with where to go with my small business next, I opened a small Pilates studio last year with money I had been saving. Its so great to here my thoughts put into words and come from so many wonderful smart women. It is really a blessing to be able to have that power over your life and career, I wouldn’t ask for anything different.

  • Meg, your thoughtful reflections and inspiring journey are a big part of why I stay connected to this community year after year (despite not being married, or even anywhere close, myself). So while you climb, remember there are those of us climbing behind you who’d like to know how the weather is up there!

  • Emily

    I really want to find someone like you to work for! With. Around. :)

  • TravelerK

    Meg, reading this is so inspiring!!! My husband just started his own business (finally, after doing his business semi-pro on the side for years). I’m hoping to create a consulting firm in three to five years (leaping out of good full time employment). I’m preparing, writing, speaking, networking etc. to be ready for the big leap. Reading about your successes is a great joy. Congratulations!!!

  • Kim

    Even with an MBA, and having worked for and trained in running a “big company”, what you say Meg still rings incredibly true. Perhaps it is part of the answer that we’ve started giving to the questions left still unanswered in the professional histories of our parent’s generation. That business should not only be profitable for the sake of upward mobility or whatever corporate ladder dream is still sold in some places.

    It includes but goes beyond pure personal money metrics and atrophied terms like corporate social responsibility and other such “un-words” (though what you write about embodies precisely what that term should have stood for if you ask me). We need to redefine what it means to be a business without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. To me, it’s the business version of “reclaiming Wife”. Same story, different stage. If we can strive to live it in our private lives, it needs to be doubly true to live this in our own businesses, where the scale of positive impact we can have with our creative business decisions is frequently so much higher. That, and as you said…the mountain is fantastic!

  • EGH

    Meg, as a woman looking to start a web based business, I would be very interested in knowing about your design team for the webpage- particularly when you switched over from a blog to your own platform. I’m trying to find someone I can trust to give me some insight into what is possible, and what is affordable to build my webpage for me. In particular I’d like to hire a woman web designer/graphic designer. The kinds of questions I’d like to ask are along the lines of: Is A Practical Wedding a custom built platform or is a customized single use system, what does the back end data management look like, etc? If there’s someone you could forward me to, I’d really appreciate it. I’d be more than happy to pay someone an hourly fee to just let me understand what my option range is for webpage with blogging, submissions and shop/profile pages.

    Also if I can make a request, I’d love to know more about the nuts and bolts of making a business- finding accountants, registering, getting legal advice, etc.

  • Fiona

    This is the best, Meg. Good for you! I’ll be cheering for you as you climb.