Although I consider myself entrepreneurial in spirit, I've channeled that energy into helping launch innovative programs within the framework of a mega-company. Today, it seems that an increasing number of women are stepping off the corporate ladder in favor of launching their own businesses. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a group of inspiring, enterprising women from across the county who did just that. The reasons cited were as diverse as their business interests, but a couple of trends did emerge.
Probably the most surprising to me was that money wasn't a primary motivation. With that said though, there was a strong sense that these women felt their business offered them a more significant opportunity to create wealth over the long term.
Of the factors cited, self-determination was the leading reason for making the leap from executive to entrepreneur. Paulette Carter, founder and CEO of Portland-based PCD Group, an interactive marketing & technology company, says, "I decided that I didn't want to ask permission any more. I wanted to do things my own way and at my own pace." This also was the case for Amy Kopelan, founder and CEO of Bedlam Entertainment. "I had a vision and energy of spirit that was incompatible with a corporate structure. I wanted to be able to run with it [my vision] on my own terms," notes Amy.
For employee performance advisor Lori Dernavich, the choice was, well, simple. She states: "Put simply, I didn't like taking orders from others. I thought I could do my job faster and be of more value to my clients if I did things my own way. I admit I wasn't an easy employee to lead. I had my own opinions and challenged my bosses. If I didn't agree with them, I would find a way to work my methods and ideas into my work. I wasn't arrogant — I see it as having high expectations for myself and for others. I found myself grumbling and complaining about how things were done on the job. That wasn't healthy for me or for my company. I knew I'd only be happy if I stepped out and did things on my own. And THAT has been healthy for me and for everyone around me."
Sandy Sabean, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Womenkind, wanted to be "free of all the politics and bureaucracy in favor of a journey of self-discovery and personal challenge." What motivated Womenkind co-founder Kristi Faulkner, who serves as the company's President, was that "my success or failure would start and end with my own actions."
Market opportunity was another leading motivator. That's what prompted Cari Sommer and Lauren Porat to launch Urban Interns. "We spotted an opportunity in the market, and wanted to fill it before someone else did," says Cari. Evolved People Media CEO Nicki Gilmour adds, "I had built businesses for other entrepreneurs and had experienced the joys and woes of creating a brand and building a publishing company from a very early stage. I knew the work it involved. But, I enjoy start-ups, so when I saw a need in the marketplace, I decided this was the time to start something for myself. Fortunately, I had the money to do so."
Sara Holoubek of Luminary Labs and Paige Arnof-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls are two examples of "accidental" entrepreneurs. In 2005, Sara left a C-level position at a rapidly growing start up. She says there was no master plan — she was simply burned out and needed a break. She adds, "Within a week of leaving, a firm said 'if you won't work for us now, will you help us solve a problem?' Of course, I said yes." From 2005-2009, Sara built her reputation as an independent strategy consultant. "When the recession hit," Sara says, "I found myself in a unique position: excess demand for strategy and problem solving. I had a choice: continue independently, or scale. I chose to scale. I have always enjoyed building, so this didn't come as a surprise.
What I didn't expect was the sense of responsibility to create real value, from the jobs created to the client work, to help all recover from the greatest recession of our time." As with Sara, after Paige left a corporate gig, people kept turning to her for help. "I finally said 'yes' then the floodgates opened, says Paige, "Actually, it's not really a bad way to start a company. You have customers before you even admit you are open for business."
Another driving motivation was a desire to more closely align personal passions with work lives; hence, I think of this group as "mission-driven" entrepreneurs. After a career in the mortgage industry, Julie Brosterman realized that her dream was to start a company that would tap into her personal passion for wine, food and travel. She launched Women & Wine in January 2006 as a launching pad for a new lifestyle brand with a primary focus of connecting over a glass of wine. Similarly, after Laura Probst launched a strategic cause-marketing platform at WebMD, she realized that she wanted to be able to do this for other companies and organizations. About the same time, she and her husband decided to move back to the west coast. "No one else was doing what I wanted to do on either coast," says Laura, "so I decided to make it happen for myself." And so, she started Do Good. Make Money.
The Reinvention Institute, which helps individuals and companies transform their businesses, their careers and their lives, evolved out of Pamela Mitchell's desire to leave her job on Wall Street and make a career change. She went in search of a "rule book" to help her put together a road map for switching careers and, when she didn't find one, she created her own. It worked, and after a successful ten years in entertainment, she decided to create a company to teach others that road map. Through this exercise, she said she found her calling. "I know this is what I am meant to do," says Pamela.
For more insights from these and other enterprising, inspirational entrepreneurs, check out our related articles Important Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs and The Lessons of Enterprising Women. And, for more resources to start or grow your business, don't forget to check out the Citibank Small Business Guide Series.
This article was written and contributed by Linda Descano, CFA® - President and Chief Executive Officer