When we go off road, we meet people, visit a new business or two, and go places that couldn’t seem more different. And yet, look around and sure enough, we see so much that’s familiar. Entrepreneurs may live, dress and launch differently, but they are all driven by the same zest for life and visionary dreams no matter where they live.
This summer we worked in poverty-stricken areas of Guatemala, both urban and rural. Our client, Barefoot College, is opening a regional center in the mountains, and we met some of the players in that process; local leaders, women in poverty and enterprise partners.
New Business among urban poor
Driving through streets of urban Nebaj (a city housing 30,000 people in just a few square miles) you see block after block of storefronts. Most of them are garage doors that open onto the street.
One morning we hopped into the four-wheel drive truck chartered from a local we met the night before. The streets were already beginning to bustle. Trucks blocked many of them to deliver goods and ingredients.
In the evening, we came rolling back into town, our truck dirty from all the holes we left in the mountainside. We dropped our things in our rooms, showered off the grime and ventured out in search of dinner. As hunger set in we walked through the first door that served familiar food, shortening the distance between now and sustenance.
But after dinner.. oh, after dinner… we stepped out into the streets with new eyes, new noses ready to take in everything we were too focused to see before.
Now we could see what was behind these rows of garage doors: carts teaming with traditional foods, stacks of fabric or necklaces made by hand, a gym amounting to a pile of weights, a mirror and a stereo, and in some cases clothing and electronics promising a connection to more distant places. We walked taking in all there was to see, peering in to see what was behind each turn.
I couldn’t help but feel my excitement rise. Each shop was a dream, a hope for a better tomorrow.
After rows and rows of small businesses, between two dingy storefronts, I discovered a beacon. This new business was a little bit different. The lights were a little brighter, the floor a little cleaner. This business was someone’s new fresh idea. It was fresh and modern and clearly on a budget. They knew they needed to start small and pared down to a clean sparse look with stools at high tables for seating. The counter was set back from the street and there were people stopping to look at the basic menu and see what this beacon was about.
Remember when everything was new?
Remember those days? When your business was shiny and new? When you were bootstrapped and leveraged, but your new business was your own? You had climbed that first mountain and opened your doors.
Dozens of mountains and milestones later, you are feeling tired but accomplished, weathered but confident. You’ve made it this far, you’ve taken a breath and you are ready for the next mountain. More new territory, a new line of business, a new store, maybe it’s time to figure out how to spend less time in this business.
Whatever the next hill; stop and close your eyes. Breath in through your nose and remember that smell. The smell of your new business; the fresh crisp smell of the ink drying on your first contract. Breathe it in.
Open your eyes and bring that excitement and energy to the next phase of your work.