I started this year with the decision to end an important chapter in my life. It has been obvious to me for some months now that the online business I founded in early 2017, whilst living on a farm in rural KwaZulu Natal, was loosing momentum and getting pushed further and further from my priority list. The less energy and time I had to give to nurturing and growing YOGICOMM, the less it fulfilled its purpose, and the less important it became in my clients’ lives. And so, I’ve decided to close shop. As I do this, I’m taking stock and having a good look at the (online) space I created and why I created it. I would like to share with you some of things that have struck me as valuable and worth carrying forward with me as I embark on a new chapter.
How and why I started my own business
When I handed in my PhD manuscript in December 2015, I set aside the generous, rich mountain of books I had accumulated on my chosen research area - historiography, specifically looking at the cultural history of Palestine and Israel - and took flight. I had been yearning, itching for travel, and for sunshine and hiking, and silly, fun novels and music. So I did all of this for around five months and then returned to my home country, South Africa, to graduate and get a job. I had assumed that the world would be bowled over by my education, my analytical and writing skills, my treasure trove of specialised knowledge. I had decided that I didn’t take myself seriously enough to become an academic, and so I was confident I would somehow fit into a useful job outside of the ivory tower of Humanities higher education. I shouted, I’m coming for you world!
I was met by a deafening silence. I shan't put you through the misery of reading a detailed recollection of the countless job application failures I went through over around 6 months post graduation. However, I shall tell you that it was a horrid, unstoppable treadmill of rejection, followed by lowered confidence and expectations, followed by a flurry of ever more unsuitable job applications, followed by more rejection. I grew increasingly frustrated and self-destructive. I stopped sleeping, I lashed out at the people closest to me. I slumped into a self-perception of uselessness and isolation. I craved affirmation from an external source to assure me that I belonged to the adult, financially independent world somehow.
In this state I generated enough desperate, angry energy to start something. I started drawing up a plan for my own business. I thought, if no one will employ me, I’ll have to employ myself. As soon as I had a constructive project to pour my energy into, things started turning for me. I regained my mental equilibrium and I gained a bit more clarity. I recognised consciously that I have never been motivated by conventional markers of success, and I have never had a specific career goal for myself - like, when I’m 40 I want to be managing director of ‘x’ firm. Rather, my goals are lifestyle driven: I want to travel widely and spend time in nature with financial freedom; I want time to privilege my health and wellbeing; I want to impact people’s lives positively; and I want to have time and financial security to pursue creative outlets.
I started my own business because I decided that I needed a source of financial stability and independence in order to achieve the lifestyle I dreamed of. I chose an industry - online yoga - that allowed me to work from anywhere, that I had a tangible, authentic interest in, and that was rapidly growing.
Growing pains and gains
When I first started YOGICOMM I went through soaring highs and lowest-lows. Somedays I’d feel like I was just exploding with ideas and potential, and that so much was developing. Other days, I felt like I was throwing my own money down a drain on a stupid and vain solo mission. (To be fair, starting an online business whilst living in a cottage surrounded by nothing but mountains and farm-lands is always going to feel a little lonely.) If there was one thing I really wish I could change about this period, it was that I’d slowed down the process of genesis and taken the time to find a business partner (or better, a team). I shared some of my trials and tribulations with my boyfriend at the time, Chris, and he was a tremendous source of support and encouragement. I also had patient, precise, and kind-hearted advice from my father throughout. And I had a dear friend, Becca, who nearly joined the business and was very generous in her advice and skill-sharing.
Anyone who has boot-strapped the start of their own business will know that it is the most intensely pressured experience, that drives and forces you to expand your skill-set very rapidly. I learnt so much so quickly! Within a few months of launching, Chris and I moved to Amsterdam, a European tech startup capital. He had been offered a real grown-up job with a big international firm, and I was ready to take YOGICOMM to the next level. I threw myself into the startup world and made so many mistakes, embarrassing faux-pas, and thrilling gains.
Network, CV and springboard
It very quickly became clear to me that the people who make business grow, the people who are really talented at dealing with money, are not always the creative business starters, or idea generators. I got a privileged glimpse into the eco-system of venture capital. It made me wiser, wearier and more realistic about the value I can add in this eco-system. I saw that I am not the growth-hack, or the money-maker, or the CEO. I learnt to be OK with that knowledge because - out of the blue - I was offered an intriguing freelance consultant role for a medium-sized Amsterdam startup (with 300-odd employees and millions of Euros-strong investment rounds from ‘Angels’). I saw, through this offer of consultancy work, what I was good at, because others recognised it in me. I thrived in this consultancy work, and it arrived in my life at a time when the financial pressure of running my own startup was most acute. It gave me breathing-space. I started shifting focus a little, saving more energy and time for consulting, and less time for my own business.
What is startling to me is that I was never asked for my CV when offered consultancy work in Amsterdam. My education mattered absolutely nothing. YOGICOMM was my CV. The growth-hacks and business-shakers saw something they needed and desired for their business in an aspect of my business. I grew my professional network daily by starting my own business, and I put my tangible, real-life skill-set on show for this new network to see.
By the time YOGICOMM was nearing 2 years in age, I had attracted two financially beneficial work opportunities for myself, and both meshed beautifully into my longterm lifestyle goals. Neither required me to go through a job-application process, and both were positions created organically around my specific skills and potential value-add.
Courage and the fruits of failure
So as I’ve embraced what YOGICOMM has attracted in my life, I have also had less time to invest in growing YOGICOMM, and it has withered. As I close shop, I’m immensely proud of what I did create from scratch with zero experience. My world is expanded for new people met, new places lived and travelled to, and new skills learnt. My business balance sheet is not very impressive. In some people’s eyes I may have failed. But I am totally OK with this. I feel I have gained much more.
I now know that I was rejected over and again in the job application treadmill horror I went through, not because I was unworthy or useful, but because I offer unique skills, and that standardised recruitment structures fundamentally exclude and weed out uniqueness and unconventionality.
I now know that if I want something in life I just have to start. Even if I am embarking on completely uncharted territory and I am a complete novice, I know that it begins with the courage and fiery will to at least do something. Begin. That’s always the hardest part, but its the most rewarding and empowering.