Quitter to Winner

Thursday, October 21, 2010

INTERVIEW: Engineer > Career break > Ice Cream shop owner

Jim Ingram opened Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream seven years ago. A total 180 from his engineering career. Jim shares the why and how of his transition.

How did your career break come about?

I wasn’t one of those guys who hated working for someone else. I worked for a good telcom company with decent pay. Got my masters for free. I left at five every day and never took work home. It wasn’t bad. I did that for about 13 years. But one day I recall sitting in a meeting. I looked across the hall at a guy 25 years my senior. He worked at the same company for many years, probably doing pretty much the same thing day in and day out. He looked pretty beaten down. I didn’t want to be that guy in 25 years. While I was comfortable, I started to think that something was missing. It was like a dull ache. I thought I should push myself before it’s too late.

I took a director-level position with a tech startup. Going from a comfortable job to startup was a big risk. It crashed and burned after 18 months. After my layoff I went to the beach wondering, now what? I had essentially been working most of my adult life without a real break. I thought, how could I make this an opportunity? Travel was my first choice. I drove cross- country, coast to coast. I spent that summer living out of my car, camping or couch surfing and journaling. I didn’t think much about future during that time. As I was heading home I got a call from a buddy asking if I wanted to do another trip backpacking through Australia and New Zealand. That turned into another year of travel.

How was your reentry into the workforce?

My heart wasn’t in the job hunt. After all that time off, I thought about what I really wanted to do. I realized I had a chance to do something very different. I started to look out of the box. One day I was having breakfast with my dad. We were talking about his long run as an ice cream shop owner. It sounded like a fun business. It was also serendipitous. In an entrepreneur class I wrote a business plan to start an ice cream shop. So I had a rough plan and 40 years of real-life experience to tap into. My dad discouraged me at first but he came around. He said if you find a good location, go for it. That’s when another fateful incident occurred. I ran into a friend I hadn’t spoken to in years. She knew someone who was looking to rent the space I’m in now. It was perfect. Everything was lining up. I thought I’d give it five years. If it didn’t work, I could go back to engineering. I’ve been at it now for seven years.

Peoples’ careers are very much a part of their personal identities. How did you manage the “identity crisis” of a career transition?

I didn’t have much of a crisis. I did get a masters in engineering. I was going down corporate path pretty hard, and I did take it seriously, but I didn’t live to work. I didn’t work late or take work home. I actually work much harder and longer hours now owning my own business. I have to say the transition really wasn’t a problem for

How has your life improved since becoming an entrepreneur?

One thing I always tell people thinking about starting their own business: it’s a lifestyle. It’s so intertwined with your whole life. That’s why it’s so important to create an environment you enjoy. For my shop, summer is very busy. It’s fun but exhausting. The rest of the year it all balances out. It requires sacrifices, but that word sounds negative. The rewards so far outweigh the negatives. I take the month of January off. It’s sometimes tough to find a life/work balance, I’ll admit. But I try to remind myself of my Dad’s saying: I’m not going to work; I’m going to play.

Creativity is unlimited with owning your own business. If I have a cool idea, I can try it out the next day. You can’t always do that in a corporate gig.

An unexpected positive to my business is my connection to the community. People in town know me. Kids say there’s the ice cream man. It’s unexpectedly satisfying. I’m also creating jobs for high school kids. For some it’s their first job. The work habits they learn here will stay with them for their career.

Do you miss anything about your corporate gig?

I had a pension, health care, three or four weeks of vacation, and nights and weekends off. Those are the obvious perks. But one I didn’t think about was the social network built into working with a big company. When owning your own business you have to create your own social structure.

What advice do you have for someone considering:

A career break: If you get laid off, I recommend taking a break if you can manage it. It’s a great opportunity to do some things you can’t do on two weeks vacation. You can also decompress. You can view it as an open slate and look for opportunities.

An entrepreneurial venture: My dad’s biggest concern with my decision was, why throw it all away to become ice cream guy? What I’ve learned is that when you start your own business, nothing is a throw away. I was a supply chain engineer. That thought process in my old career works with how I deal with suppliers, vendors, and manage the numbers. I was also a shop supervisor. I found out how to find the good in people. My work experiences all became relevant in some way at the ice cream shop.

I also recommend viewing it as an adventure. There are a million reasons not to do something. There are another million reasons to do something. I didn’t want to look back on my life with regrets, wishing I had done something.

Talking to other people in the industry helps a great deal. I went to a local ice cream conference and spoke to vets in the industry. A lot of people helped me out. I’m willing to do the same.

What was your biggest obstacle when you started your business?

I bought the place in October seven years ago. I had to build out the kitchen and buy the equipment. I never worked a cash register. I had to learn everything from the ground up. I finally opened for business in the middle of winter. An ice cream shop in the winter. Needless to say there were a lot of lonely days. I certainly worried sometimes that it wouldn’t work out. But it was good in a way. It gave me a chance to work out kinks while it was quiet. When summer came around, I had more flavors and knew how to run things. Getting the word out took time, too. Word of mouth has been very helpful.

I’ll ask you the same question you ask others on your blog: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

It’s tough to call yourself a failure if you try and give it your all. It’s a life experience. You could define some things as a failure, but you don’t have to look at it that way.

Finally, why do people love Mt. Tom’s ice cream so much?

It ties to the philosophy of starting a business. How can you create something better than competitors? If you don’t have a good product, people won’t come back. I’d have to say my ice cream is really creamy and good to the palette. I try to add something unique to each flavor as well as come up with new flavors. I recently made maple bacon ice cream. A lot of people tried it, and tons of people talked about it. I also made Guinness ice cream for St. Patrick’s Day.

People also like the experience. In an era where you can buy just about anything on-line, I think it's never been more important to foster the 'experience' aspects of your business. Someone once told me as ice cream shop owners, we're selling 'memories'. I clearly and fondly remember going to the local old-fashioned
candy store when I was a kid. If I'm able to create a memory or two like that with my shop, I will have succeeded beyond my greatest expectations.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

INTERVIEW: Serendipity and sports cars with Robin Hood Rally's Kevin Sweeney

Kevin Sweeney, VP of Business Development with The Robin Hood Rally always loved motor racing. He never dreamed a casual business lunch would lead to a partnership with a road racing reality show. Kevin shares the how and why behind his involvement with a startup as well as tips to help others follow their out-of-the-blue opportunity.

What were you doing before Robin Hood Rally?

After graduating college, I joined an entertainment company as a tax accountant. Within six months I was miserable. I decided to do some temp work. What was supposed to be a three-week assignment turned into an eight-year career in finance at Cadbury Schweppes. I then joined a marketing division of CBS as their lone finance guy. It was exciting to be a part of a major television network. Our whole department had TVs in our cubicles so we could watch “our product” during the day.

After two years there the company was purchased by Viacom. I left to join a regional recruiting firm in lower Connecticut to do something much more entrepreneurial – headhunting! I am still at the firm after 12 years. On the side I’m one of the co-creators of the Robin Hood Rally along with Stephan Condodemetraky, (Creator and Exec. Producer, Michael Ferrier, CFO, and Steven Higley, VP of Operations).

Why did you decide to help build Robin Hood Rally?

I have been passionate about motor racing since I was a kid. I grew up in the Toronto, Ontario area, and my Dad was an avid racing fan. My parents are British and my Dad spent a lot of his youth watching many motorsports legends race in England, including Juan Fangio, John Surtees and Mike Hawthorne. Needless to say, I was brainwashed early in life and have amazing memories going to F1, Can Am and many other road racing series at Mosport racing circuit near Toronto. I always wanted to get into the motorsports business at some level. I had an opportunity to work for Skip Barber in sales, but the salary was prohibitive and would have required relocation. I sought other opportunities along the way, but nothing panned out. However, I didn’t lose my belief that something good would happen if I kept looking.

About two years ago, I received an automated email from Stephan about The Lime Rock Club, a motor sports project he had helped build. I called him and we decided to meet for lunch. He shared his idea about the Robin Hood Rally and I was hooked. I knew I could help build this and it was the entrepreneurial opportunity I had dreamed about. We believed from day one that we could make it work. We knew that nobody had ever tried, nor succeeded, in pulling off a concept like this in the U.S.

Would you consider your current job a career reinvention?

I would certainly classify this venture as a major career change, but also an extension of who I am. I have always had an entrepreneurial spark and knew I could not let this opportunity pass by without putting my heart and soul into it. Stephan, Michael and Steven never wavered in making this idea become reality and I truly feel blessed to have such incredible business partners and friends. We have poured thousands and thousands of hours to make this happen and have been unrelenting in our execution and belief.

Creating and funding a reality show in shaky times is pretty risky to say the least. Despite the obvious stress, why would you rather be doing what you’re doing instead of a corporate gig?

I have done the “corporate gig” for many years. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about what it takes to successfully build and maintain a business and relationships. I have always wanted my own business, but so many of the business models via franchising, etc. were pre-built by someone else with their own vision and passion. I wanted to help create something that has never been done before. We have had many naysayers along the way, which only pushed us harder to succeed. I knew this my shot and I was going to make it work with my business partners no matter what. I have sacrificed a lot of time with my wife and son over the past couple of years, but now that the show is taking hold, they have been able to spend a lot more time with me and be a big part of the excitement. My wife has a good business mind and has also helped keep me grounded throughout this process. My family has been so supportive and I’m very grateful.

Looking back on your transition, what would you have done differently?

Since this is our first foray into producing a TV show, everything was new. We learned so much OTF (one of my newly acquired acronyms in the TV world) “on the fly.” Not only were we involved in production meetings, camera shoots, interviews and the creative process, we also had to contend with the massive logistical issues of getting 55 participants with their racing trailers, families, etc. to each of our racing sites. We planned and executed as best as we could, given our very small team. It really is hard to say what we would have done differently since everything was new to us.

Many of my readers/followers are contemplating an entrepreneurial venture. Business development will be a necessary component to their work. Can you offer any tips/best practices when it comes to drumming up business?

After 12+ years in the headhunting business identifying top finance talent for my clients, one must have a system that works for them to bring in new business. I would recommend “relentless consistency” as one my keys to gaining new business. There are millions of written gems that one can use to motivate themselves and others. I like what John D. Rockefeller said, “the secret to success is to do the common things uncommonly well.” You must embrace networking and gaining new contacts because you never know who might know someone that can help you. You also have to be willing to help others throughout your journey. I believe that is one of the primary reasons we are on this earth.

Speaking of business development, what’s next for Robin Hood Rally?

We have come a very long way in a very short period of time, and gained some incredible relationships and learning. This has allowed us to take our project to the next level and engage with some big players in the entertainment industry. We are feeling even more confident that our show and concept will make it to a major TV network. We also have a number of other projects in the pipeline that will work well with our business model. We have now become growing production company and have a better handle on how to incubate new projects. We’ve built a foundation that gives us greater flexibility and the ability move much faster and efficiently with new ideas.

Be sure to read our earlier interview with The Robin Hood Rally's Michael Ferrier.

Monday, October 11, 2010

INTERVIEW: Part two with anti-resume career coach Angela Lussier

Angela Lussier is an award-winning speaker, author of the Seth Godin recommended book The Anti-Resume Revolution and chief creative career consultant/owner of 365 Degrees Consulting in Springfield, MA. Her advice can be found on Yahoo!, NBC, ABC, The Ladders, and in many career and business books. Speaking engagements and clients include TEDx, Boeing, MassMutual, Comcast, UMass, Westfield State University, and many others.

Below is part two of Angela's interview. She shares success stories of her clients, her take on sabbaticals and career reinvention, and her own Quitter to Winner moment.

How do you guide someone with multiple – and unrelated – passions and interests?

It’s not as hard as it sounds! Often times, what looks like a mish-mash of random skills can actually be turned into an interesting pitch for quite a few jobs! For example, I worked with a client who worked in sales and marketing in the casino and hotel industry for quite a few years. He also worked part-time at a nursing home and animal shelter. Before his work in the hospitality industry, he was a healthcare recruiter. At first glance, this looks like none of it goes together – until we realized that he would be a great candidate for a high level position in an upscale retirement community. He had all the skills for the job, and brought in an interesting perspective from the hospitality field. The key was in how we pitched his skills and telling the story about why he would be more of an asset to the company than the people who were coming directly from a similar position. It worked, and he loves the job.

Can you give an example of someone you’ve worked with that’s now doing exactly what they want? What was their process like?

I was working with a journalist in western Massachusetts who wanted to move to Washington DC. She was quickly learning that strictly being a writer for a newspaper wasn’t going to put her in the running for many of the higher tech jobs. She took on a multi-media role at the paper and started producing videos for their website. She did a ton of networking and built herself a website with her video clips, articles, and resume. With her new experience, she was able to land a job as a producer at a television production company in the heart of Washington, DC. She is now not only producing, but creating many written materials for the company as well with her strong journalism background. While her journalism experience alone wouldn’t have landed her the job, the fact that she coupled it with a cutting edge skill is what made her a competitive candidate with an edge.

What advice do you have for someone considering a career reinvention after working in the same job for 20+ years?

My first piece of advice would be to make sure you are thinking about the big picture, not just the allure of a change. After 20 or more years at the same place, you get used to the benefits, the perks, the rapport with co-workers and management; you may start to gain flexibility as a reward for your commitment. You have accrued many weeks of vacation, sick days, a pension, a retirement plan, a solid and reliable paycheck that may continue to grow, a commute you can do with your eyes closed, etc. In my experience, when I see a professional get to the end of his/her rope and want to quit and do something else, these are all the elements that often go unconsidered. Don’t forget that when you start over, there will be a lot of changes in your life that you may have not had to think about in a long time. The emotional charge that comes from greener pastures may make you overlook the most obvious stress of a complete lifestyle change, so make sure you are considering all of the elements and not just job responsibilities!

What’s your take on the growing popularity of career breaks and sabbaticals?

I think they’re great if they’re thought through. I learned the most about myself when I decided to run my business part-time for 4 months. Even though I was still working, going from working 60 hours/week to 15 was a huge change and gave me a chance to re-evaluate the way I was living. I completely re-prioritized and cut out many initiatives I wasn’t seeing clearly. I think this time is critical for anyone who wants to take stock in their past decisions, present dreams, and future goals. It does wonders to step back and take a break. I also highly recommend going away (even if it’s just an hour away) for at least a few weeks. It does wonders for perspective.

Have you ever left a job without a traditional backup plan? How did you navigate that move?

I did. I should say that I did this because I knew that the consequences would be small and the risk was relatively low. I quit my full-time recruiting job to start my career consulting business without any backup income streams because of the low overhead and lack of financial responsibilities. I lived alone, paid off my car, had no kids, and knew there was a huge market for the work I was offering. It made sense to do at the time, but I rarely recommend that other people do that, unless they’re living in their parent’s basement and have a great idea!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Part One INTERVIEW: anti-resume career consultant Angela Lussier

Angela Lussier is an award-winning speaker, author of the Seth Godin recommended book The Anti-Resume Revolution and chief creative career consultant/owner of 365 Degrees Consulting in Springfield, MA. Her advice can be found on Yahoo!, NBC, ABC, The Ladders, and in many career and business books. Speaking engagements and clients include TEDx, Boeing, MassMutual, Comcast, UMass, Westfield State University, and many others.

Below is part one of Angela's two-part interview about discovering the right career path.

Before we start, quickly explain your anti-resume theory.

The term “anti-resume” means being unique in the way you approach your job search. Rather than relying on one document to determine your future, you create strategic relationships, build a brand for yourself, craft a vision with achievable goals, and do it all in a way that feels right for you. The anti-resume mindset is all about saying no to the old template of following a linear path and creating a future you want, based on who you are and where you are going.

Many of my readers comment/tweet about not wanting, but needing a career change. Is this a signal to make a move fast, or simply time for a vacation? (Or both?)

It definitely varies. I have come across many people who like their job, but don’t like their boss. Others love the mission of the company, but don’t feel respected or appreciated. Some are in the right position, but in the wrong industry. To give an umbrella answer to this question that applies differently for everyone, I would say to first diagnose the main problem that is causing the unhappiness. Underpaid? Too many hours? Long commute? Angry co-workers? Whatever the main problem is, can it be addressed without leaving the job and simply coming up with creative solutions? If not, then now is the time to look at what job responsibilities/fields/locations would be best for what is most important to you.

While some may dislike their job, quitting may not be an option for various reasons. What advice do you have for someone in such a bind?

Assign a fixed number of hours each week to be spent on career exploration. For example, dedicate five hours per week to exploring other career options. This could include setting up informational interviews, taking a class, reading books about career options, meeting with a career or life coach, going to events & seminars, or other methods of research. If you are actively learning about what else is out there while building relationships and keeping track of what you are encountering, it will make each hour of work you do at the job you don’t like much more bearable. It’s about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel by finding the opportunities you might miss if you don’t go and look for them.

“Working for yourself” might sound great when you’re burned out, or can’t stand your boss. How do you help someone figure out if entrepreneurship really is the right next step?

Do it while you’re still employed. This answer is similar to the last one. Dedicate a fixed number of hours per week to building your business. If you straight out quit your job and rely on your income from a new business, you may want to kiss your home, and car, and food, goodbye. First year earnings for a new business are typically low and probably won’t match whatever your cushy full-time job was offering. Instead of creating a panic situation for yourself, see if you can cut back on your hours or get more flexible hours so you can start to build your business while employed. If that’s not an option, try to work in key networking events and meetings during your lunch hour or before your day starts. It will be tricky to schedule everything in the beginning. However you’ll get an idea of whether or not there is a market. You’ll also learn how much you actually enjoy the service or craft you are thinking about going into (before giving up what you already have).

What can someone who’s never worked with a career/life coach expect?

Clarity, a renewed sense of enthusiasm, attainable goals, new ideas, creative solutions, a partner in crime, to name a few! Clients have come to me to figure out their brand, come up with ideas for jobs they would be good at, creative marketing ideas to stand out from their competition, or simply to talk about the rejection they have been facing and how to turn it into a learning experience. It is different for everyone, but I’d say the main service we offer is to keep our clients moving in the right direction, while remaining cognizant of their passion, fear, and concerns.

Be sure to check out Angela's free resources for job seekers.