Lesson Learned #1: Talk to Smart People
Third Space is a co-working + childcare concept in Omaha, NE, the brainchild of yours truly, Kate White, who is new to all things business, spreadsheets and pro formas. This blog is a documentation of my journey to entrepreneurship.
The First Conversation
I started my job as a UX Designer for Aviture, a progressive software development company in Omaha, in June of 2015. I had been mulling over the co-working + childcare business concept for 6 months at that point, talking mostly to my husband about the idea and complaining to the air that someone needed to do something about the professional parents’ transition back to work because it is so horrible.
At the time, Aviture had a startup incubator of sorts called The Garage which would invest in technology startups with both investment money and development hours. The Garage had what I saw as a “gatekeeper” in a man named Jeff Hanson. He was the one who talked with startup founders, vetted ideas and recommended them for entry into The Garage. I had heard about Aviture employees getting feedback from him on startup ideas to help decide if they were worth pursuing or not. I thought he could tell me once and for all that this co-working + childcare idea was crap so I could get it off my mind and move on with my next random idea to noodle on (personal aside: my previous random idea was to become a hand letterer on the side… Let's just say that's been officially back-burnered.)
I finally got the guts to set up a conversation with Jeff eight months into the job. I explained my frustration in working for three different companies while still breastfeeding, how it seemed so unfair that I was technically allowed to work remotely yet couldn’t realistically do so with a baby at home (which resulted in stress at work and sadness at the familial separation). I told him how this frustration was the basis of the idea for a “transition space" for professional parents to return to work after their parental leave. And what if companies would form a partnership with this space to show off as a benefit for employee attraction and retention?
I'll be darned, he took the bait. He told me the idea had potential and I should fill out a startup profile to help me think through things like the customer problem, competitors in the space, target market, competitive advantage, etc. And that’s the moment the fire got started.
So many smart people!
Since then I’ve continued to setup monthly or bi-monthly conversations with Jeff to get feedback on my progress and advice on my next steps. I’ve since learned that he is technically the “Senior Advisor” for the Garage and Aviture, a Startup and Private Equity professional, Investor and former CFO who has worked for the likes of Disney and GE. The man knows what’s up. He encouraged me also to get feedback and advice from my boss, Mark Griffis, who is running his third (or fourth?) successful business and has mentored many a startup founder. So I meet with him as I have progress to show, which for me has taken courage since… ya know. It’s my boss.
These two mentors have been the biggest influencers on my development in the field of business and startup formation. They’ve allowed me to access their own connections for feedback and networking, which is an extremely generous act, as my interaction will reflect back on them. I really can’t give them enough credit for my growth in this area over the past year.
I have additionally sought out advice over the past ten months from people in or previously in the co-working space, the childcare sector, the startup scene, sales, marketing and even other new business owners. I’ve hit up my beyond-intelligent co-workers countless times for various advice, and I’ve been interacting with and surveying Omaha parents about their needs for a flexible childcare option. These conversations, not to mention the hundreds I've had with my ever supportive and positive hubby, have absolutely shaped the future of Third Space, have kept me humble and accountable, and most of all have made the concept real.
You noodling too?
If you are in the “noodling” phase of an idea and want to take it to the next level, my advice is to just starting talking. It takes courage to put yourself out there, especially if someone you want to talk to is extremely successful, smart and/or wealthy. I’ve found that people are receptive to humility and are typically willing to bend and ear if you'll just ask.