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Mike: Hey everyone. I’m Mike Sullivan. This is MO.com. Joining me today is Adelaide Lancaster. She’s an entrepreneur, author and partner at In Good Company. Adelaide, thanks for joining us today. Can you tell us a little bit about In Good Company?
Adelaide: Sure. Yeah, so my partner Amy Abrams and I run a company called In Good Company. It’s a community and a business learning center and a work space and a co-working space primarily for women entrepreneurs in Manhattan. We opened in 2007 when the idea of co-working was known but not very widely known. So we started to have all of these interesting experiences that happened then when we would be describing what we were doing. Then people would be like, so you’re working in someone else’s office? Obvious misconceptions about what co-working was. And since then it’s been great, the concept has really exploded and now people know to look for co-working spaces so that’s really helped us and benefited our business.
But we support probably about 300 entrepreneurs at any given time in a variety of different kinds of ways. And we’ve expanded to include full-time offices and desks and that kind of thing as well. But it’s been a very rewarding and wonderful experience to build this community that’s actually been very consistent for the last several years in New York, especially as the economy has gone up and down, these folks have sort of been each other’s rock, which has been great.
Mike: You and your partner wrote a book that required a lot of input from other entrepreneurs. Can you tell me a bit about the book and the experience itself?
Adelaide: One of the things that we have noticed, so, at In Good Company we run a lot of programs and classes, probably about up to 30 a month. We run a lot of those ourselves and both my experience in training and my partner’s as well is in counseling psychology. So we do a lot of one on one consulting with people and a lot of group facilitation. Over the last eight years, we’ve had a lot of exposure to entrepreneurs and the challenges that they run into and sort of the “nitty-gritty” experience of entrepreneurship behind the scenes.
One of the things, well, there is actually two things. There’s, that we noticed a lot that really bugged us that we ultimately wanted to address and we chose to do that through a book. But one of the things was this sense of disenchantment that can happen in entrepreneurship. So I think, often times when you’re getting started it’s a scary, slash, exciting experience. But you have a lot of hopes and dreams about what it would be like to be your own boss.
At first it really seems cool that you can work from home and be in your pajamas and there’s a lot about the experience that can kind of fade pretty quickly, and reality can set in. And what we’ve also found is that people will start building their business, their business gets some momentum, and then they continue to follow the direction the business goes. And so we were talking to more entrepreneurs that were saying I like being an entrepreneur for these reasons, but they weren’t really getting the most out of the experience that they possibly could.
So we looked at all these people saying, like you could get more, you could be happier, you’re not having the job that you want. Your business is doing well, but you’re not excited about your everyday experience. So this sense of sort of dissatisfaction or disenchantment we really didn’t like. And if you think about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Even though it’s extremely common and it happens to us from time to time, it doesn’t make a lot of sense because you’re your own boss. You can do, create your own job, you can do whatever you want. So why are we giving ourselves jobs that we don’t always love? And so I think that it’s just a different kind of approach to business to really prioritize satisfaction.
So for us we wanted to look at that, explore that a little bit more. And then the other thing that we were seeing was, a lot of entrepreneurs who were kind of reflecting on their success. Wondering if they were successful because they hadn’t always pursued the biggest possible version of their business.
For us, again, we always go back to satisfaction and how are you leveraging this opportunity of entrepreneurship. And so when people were saying, “Well, yes I have a successful business but should I feel badly that I don’t have fifteen locations instead of five and you know, maybe that’s enough for me and does that mean I’m a bad entrepreneur, bad business owner?”
So again, this was one of the issues that we really wanted to explore. So our book, “The Big Enough Company, Creating a Business That Works For You,” sort of puts those concepts together and really, you know, looks at, what is the definition of success, what is it that you want to get out of your business, and does it really have anything to do with size or is it more about what you need and your own level of satisfaction?
Mike: Well, writing the book you interviewed a large number of entrepreneurs in a pretty short period of time. Tell me about that experience and what you gained from it.
Adelaide: We did. It was a whirlwind. As I was sharing, that we interviewed about a 100 entrepreneurs in about 10 or 11 weeks. It was completely insane and fun and crazy and we really wanted to get a wide sort of swath of people. So we interviewed people all over the country. Most of them were in person, some of them were virtual. We probably should have leveraged this technology a little bit more in doing so. But we, yeah, no, so it was really very interesting.
Our goal was sort of twofold. So one, we wanted to have a really wide range of stories showcased, because we really don’t believe one size fits all. I feel like this is a great thing about your site as well, is there is such a variety, and different stories and different answers speak to different people, and so we wanted to really show that. But we also wanted to look and sort of talk to entrepreneurs who hadn’t been recognized for their business success. So it may sound counter intuitive but there are a lot of people who, in their own industries, they are seen as leaders or visionaries. But they don’t necessarily raise their hand and say like, I want to be an entrepreneur celebrity, and I want to hit the conference circuit and I want to you know, do all the keynote speeches, and that kind of thing.
The benefit of talking to these folks is that they have been incredibly smart and thoughtful about their business and the direction they want it to go. But they haven’t been, indoctrinated with the this is the one way to do things. They didn’t have incredibly polished stories; they just had very honest stories. So I think that they were a little bit more willing and candid when they were talking about the challenges that they had had or mistakes that they had made in the past. So, I think I’m just really impressed by the content and the quality of the kinds of experiences we were able to include, and it was just a privilege to be able to see the backside of things and sort of hear the behind the scenes making of these business.
Mike: You mentioned earlier that bigger is not always better. Can you expand on that a bit?
Adelaide: I think that in our culture, it’s really counter intuitive. It sort of seems like, at least the way that in the times that I was growing up in, bigger was always better. People like the flashy cars, and the bigger houses and we’ve all been in this kind of consumption mentality. And I think that, I mean, that’s certainly been true of every area of our economy and it’s definitely been true of small business too. Oftentimes the businesses that get featured are the ones that are the fastest growth and now they’re in . . . it’s just the overnight success, like this myth of that all of a sudden you can kind of make it big and that you’re going to be a huge success and get rich quick and all that kind of thing.
Certainly that’s not everybody’s . . . I mean of course that’s not everybody’s goal. That’s a lot of the people that we work with and talked to and wrote the book about. But I think that it can be pretty hard to reconcile, what are your own goals and what do you want to get out of the business, versus, how can I kind of find a success and either replicate it or repeat it in some kind of way. And so those have been the prevailing models of business growth that are talked about in magazines and wherever, that you learn about entrepreneurship, certainly business school. But most entrepreneurs don’t go to business school, but, I think that’s what we look at to be as success.
So most people have had the experience when they start a business that somebody will be like, this is great, when are you going to open another one? It’s always about more. And I think that a lot of people pursue that at their own peril. So that there are compromises that come with that, and come with that mentality. And for some people it totally makes sense. And I think that it goes back to, what are your goals for the business?
So 30% of the businesses that we interviewed are angel backed or venture backed. And for them the goal really is to be as big as possible because it, I mean, it’s part of how their funded. It’s part of their growth expansion strategy. But more than that, like more than being an automatic sort of the default mode, they would, in a sense, given what they wanted their business to achieve. I think for a lot of us, it doesn’t, we don’t have to be the biggest. Maybe we’re just the best in our category and that provides us the benefits that we’re looking for and that should be what success is defined as.
So I think our goal is really to more get people to reconsider what does success mean, and bigger isn’t always better. It can’t always be better. Sometimes it’s better, but not always.
Mike: Are there any particular skills you feel once you develop in order to best prepare them for entrepreneurship?
Adelaide: It’s interesting. We’re asked all the time, are entrepreneurs born or made, and can you learn how to do it? I really think that the only, the only common thread that I think you have to come to the table with is perseverance really. I think that pretty much everything else can be learned. And I also, and part of that is because I believe business can look a lot of different ways. I think you can have a very successful one woman or one man shop, and I think that you can have a very successful big business. I think that running different kinds of businesses takes different kinds of skills.
But I’ve seen people who are incredibly, maybe they’re introverted, and they’ve arranged their business to work for them. So I think that pretty much everything is possible. Every permutation you know can be a successful business, so no matter what you bring to the table you can create something that reflects that. But I don’t know that perseverance you can get around. Because I think, I don’t know. Running a business is really hard work, no matter what way you do it. And so if you’re not, if you’re kind of like a loafer, I don’t know that it’s going to be for you?
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