How Entrepreneurship is like a Foreclosed Home

I recently made several large changes in my life.  I quit my job, I moved, I launched my own business, and I bought a home.  So needless to say, the day to day is pretty hectic.  When I do have a moment to just stop and take stock of things, I sometimes wonder ‘What am I doing this to myself?  Why can't I just be normal?’  But as an entrepreneur, sometimes you just have to take things step by step. 

All of these changes were stressful by nature, but the home purchase was elevated to a whole different level.  There was not much on the housing market at the time when I needed to make a purchase- see above change in job situation- so a lovely foreclosure came into my life. 

Not to say that the foreclosed home was a hopeless piece of rubble.  Yes, it was neglected.  It needed, and still needs, a lot of TLC.  I am not handy, but I have hopes the house will flourish despite my well intentioned efforts, and we will both become something shiny on the other side of this grand adventure.

During this process, I’ve learned that dealing with a foreclosed home is a lot like entrepreneurship.


1. There will always be surprises.

Some are good and some are bad.  Despite creating an entire Excel sheet detailing all of the predicted expenses, there were still a lot of special surprises that sprung up.  One issue came when trying to convert a separate tub and shower into a combined tub and shower.  Who wants to clean two spaces, right?  The old shower was ripped out, only to discover it was custom built.  There really are no 40 x 32-inch shower bases available from Home Depot or Menards.  Whoops.  So now, the old custom built shower has to be replaced with a new custom built shower.  Some surprises were good though.  I originally thought the decks were rotten and the chimney flue cracked, neither of which was the case.

In entrepreneurship and when launching a business, there are so many little expenses or parts that you overlook.  Things like paying for your own bus pass, navigating through independent health insurance, and the volumes of coffee you will drink, which incidentally also are not free.  But again, there are also good surprises.  I’ve been amazed at the openness and willingness to help in the entrepreneurial community here.  Most people will never turn down a meeting over coffee to help or listen to a fellow entrepreneur.


2. The first time you hit a barrier, it’s a big deal.  Then you learn to give zero f@!ks.

Not really, but maybe this will make it clearer.

For reasons too complicated and boring to dive into here, my house was a special type of foreclosure.  It could not be inspected and the utilities were not turned on.  The house has radiant heat, so the major concern was the boiler system.  When the water finally got churning through the boiler pipes, water started trickling across the ceiling and down the wall from a focal point.  One of the pipes had cracked.    When I heard that, I was irritated bordering on enraged.  I thought that the entire ceiling and floor would have to be ripped out (it did) as well as all the piping and boiler system replaced (it did not).  It will end up being more time and personal labor than financial cost, which most entrepreneurs will take as a win.  That was not the only leak in the boiler pipes.  I believe there were three more.  But at that point, the damage was done.  Now it’s time to find a solution.

The biggest thing to me that we’ve struggled with in building Life Science Nexus and the now pivoted Rochester Rising is devising a sustainable financial model.  In the early stages, I was devastated when one method hit a wall or when one resource fell through.  Now, I’ve learned to diversify and have several different, hopefully, viable options to keep the whole thing churning forward.


3. It’s important to find a solution, not complain about the problem.

Sometimes this simply means asking for help.

The above mentioned pipes were the largest and most pressing difficulty in the house that I could not wrap my head around and did not have the capabilities to fix.  When the third or fourth (I really can’t remember.  I think I blocked this out as a horrifying moment in life.) pipe burst in a very inaccessible recess inside a wall, it was time to call in the reinforcements.  I placed a phone call to the big D.A.D. and he and my mother drove through six states to help.

When I first took over most of the operations of Life Science Nexus, I was working a full time job.  It was fairly difficult to maintain the flow of content on the site, fulfill the duties of my job, and still do things like sleep.  I needed someone to help with the content, but I couldn’t pay them.  A partnership with my former coworker and friend Aaron Broege and his science writing students at Carleton College were like a breath of fresh air.  They produced some great stories, got that professional experience in science writing, and helped me to not rip my hair out all at the same time.


4.  Take things one step at a time.

When I first walked into my new house, I wanted to repair and update everything at once.  That’s of course impossible.  First of all, it’s overwhelming.  Second, it takes time and money.  I’ve learned the key is to tackle one room at a time, make priorities, and don’t think too much magic is going to happen during the workweek.

The same thing happened with Life Science Nexus.  We wanted to have some many aspects to the product.  We wanted to be everything to everyone in the entrepreneurial and life science community, whether they were an entrepreneur or were a researcher or postdoctoral fellow trying to make that leap.  It was too much and had little direction.  So we slimmed down and focused the scope of Life Science Nexus as the business developed.  We slimmed down even more, for now, with Rochester Rising.  I learned it’s much better to grow in a lean manner, add things piece by piece, and test what works.


5. Things always cost more and take more time than you think.

Who knew paint costs so much?  You don’t unless you have to repaint an entire house.  Even after constructing a whole itemized spreadsheet of potential costs, it still will probably cost more than those calculations in the end.  I originally thought I would go in, start fixing and rebuilding, with help of course, and the whole house would be finished and updated by the fall.  Right.  Maybe fall 2017.

The same thing with business development.  You can spend a crazy amount of time getting the website just right and crafting and reshaping the value proposition.  It takes time to acquire customers, or consumers in our case.  Beyoncé was not built overnight.

You also learn what small things you can do without when business financials are tight.  Yes, it’s great to have Buffer put out all my social media for me.  But really, I can do that myself.


6. It’s essential to have help and a good support system.

This is probably the most important.  My parents were really instrumental in helping with the move and swooping in to the rescue with the house.  I’m lucky to have a family that knows how to do this kind of stuff and can take the time to do it.  My parents constantly remodeled their home all through my childhood.  What some people see as disarray or unfinished architecture, I see as familiar.

Without interacting with other like-minded people in the same boat, entrepreneurship can be pretty miserable.  I’ve had a great sounding board with my Cofounder Jamie Sundsbak, who introduced me to so many great people in the Rochester community.  Without seeing and interacting with these people, people like AJ Montpetit, like Xavier Frigola and others at the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator, like Nick Moucha and Adam Salmi, without the encouragement of people like Austin Bogestad from 1 Million Cups, and the CoCreateX community, the experience would just lose a lot of flavor.    

Nothing would have been accomplished without standing on these shoulders.