Hi, I’m Melissa, I’m 45 years old and I’m an entrepreneur. Never in my life did I imagine I would one day write that sentence.
To my mind, entrepreneurs are more exciting, creative and interesting people than conventional me. An entrepreneur is ready to sacrifice family life, friends and even their own homes, in pursuit of success.
An entrepreneur was never someone I could aspire to be.
Or could I?
I began my career in a typical corporate environment, joining the graduate training programme of a major UK company and enjoyed a variety of jobs in marketing, sales and communications. I was moderately successful, my career was enjoyable and challenging at times. But I could never shake the feeling that I was forcing myself into a mould, trying to be something that I wasn’t, and worse, that everyone could see through me.
When I returned to work full time after the birth of my two children this sense of not belonging intensified.
By now, I was in my mid-30s. I had taken four years out from my career while the children were very young and we had moved from London to be nearer to my home in Scotland. I’d notched up some hard life knocks and was struggling to rediscover my identity. I wondered if I had lost my mojo; if I was destined to always be just someone’s wife and mother.
Losing my confidence
Still, I battled on regardless. With a demanding job and two young children, there wasn’t time for anything else, but gradually I became more and more stressed and was constantly blaming myself for everything that seemed to be going wrong in my life. The innate confidence I’d taken for granted in my youth had eroded, until it dawned on me that I was making myself ill.
Ironically, my saviour came in the form of a new female boss who was a bully. When backed in to a corner I rediscovered the strength to stand up for myself, which in turn gave me the boost that I needed to finally make a change.
While recovering from that situation, a friend introduced me to Dominique King. Dominique had incredible energy, confidence and an exciting vision. She felt like the antidote to everything I felt about myself.
She wanted to start a business, and had no fixed ideas about what that business would be. Like me, Domi wanted a new challenge, to be in control and free to build a professional life that fitted with her values and didn’t mean compromising time with her family. Most importantly, she didn’t want to do it alone and had spent the last couple of years searching for someone to join her on the journey.
After several meetings, a lot of soul searching and some (quite hard) conversations with my husband we concluded there was never going to be a better time for me to take this leap in the dark. Instead of finding another salaried job, I was going to embark on an entirely new and surprising adventure with Dominique, to set up our company, Wunderlife.
Together, we created a new product for families like ours that love the outdoors. The Brug is a picnic blanket that turns in to a shoulder bag, to make packing for a family day out as easy as possible. We created a brand and designed our website, travelling to India to find our manufacturer. We’ve sold the Brug all over the world, run a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and been selected to appear on the Channel 4 show, Buy It Now. Being a business owner has been a huge learning experience and often stressful but it gave me a deep sense of fulfilment and helped me rediscover confidence in my own abilities.
If there is a downside it’s that starting a business, especially a product business, is financially very challenging and we have never been able to pay ourselves a salary. I soon realized that I would have to make time to earn money again.
When the opportunity came up to work with another inspiring woman, Dani Trudeau, to set up Tribe Women, an enterprise school and community for women, it felt like the stars had aligned at exactly the right moment.
How brilliant to be able to draw on my recent experiences, to work with women, supporting each other to step out of our comfort zones and achieve things we never thought possible, without sacrificing our health and wellbeing, or that of our families. To become an entrepreneur.
What have I learned on my entrepreneurial journey so far?
1. I’ve finally learned to listen to my intuition and trust that it will take me where I need to go. I did not know that starting a business (something I had never done before) with a stranger was a good decision but I felt that it could be. I’m so glad now that I listened to that positive voice in my head.
2. Authenticity is important. Only when I stopped trying to be something that I wasn’t, did I finally accept that me, my authentic self, is all that I can be and that’s enough. If it’s not, then the environment is wrong – not me.
3. Don’t do it alone. Surround yourself with good people who inspire, challenge and support you, and accept you for who you are.
4. Stay curious and open to opportunities. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to get things wrong because you will learn and grow from every mistake.
5. If you have an idea and a passion, find ways to pursue it, every day. Whether you have a lot of time, or a little, if you work on it consistently, you will make progress.