Living the Dream: Finding Myself in Good Company
Since joining EO, I have met so many amazing entrepreneurs I can look up to, particularly my Forum mates. I'm considered the "little brother" of the all-male group, as the other members are several years older me. When I became an entrepreneur at the age of 23, I had no idea that my professional choices would lead me to such an inspiring group of mentors and friends.
My life as an entrepreneur began when I left a job on Wall Street, moved to Virginia, USA, and started CustomInk.com, a business that enables companies to design custom-printed t-shirts and other products online. After a tough first year or two, the convenience and fun of our approach started to catch on and the business began to grow.
Seeking business advice and peer support, I joined the local EO chapter in 2001. I thought I'd connect with and learn from other entrepreneurs with Web-based businesses, or at the very least, entrepreneurs facing similar startup challenges. I ended up in a Forum with members who had much more mature and stable businesses in a variety of industries, ranging from tree care to mortgage brokerage. What's more, they all had children and houses at a time when I was single and didn't even own a couch!
Despite the obvious lack of common ground, my Forum mates have helped me and my business "grow up" in a way that truly makes me proud. As CustomInk.com matured into a real business, one of my Forum mates offered guidance on critical personnel policies, another showed me how to maintain strong relationships with customers, and yet another showed me what it meant to establish a reputation for quality. All together, these guys taught me about the ups and downs of business. As a result, my company has achieved recognition for its growth, customer satisfaction and work environment.
Perhaps this helpful influence on my business is not surprising in retrospect, but I could not have predicted the personal influence this group would have on me. Every one of my Forum mates is a good husband, devoted father and an ethical, caring person. When I talk to friends in other occupations, they don’t seem to have such consistent exposure to people like this. I may just be lucky to have landed in such a great group, but I think it’s more likely that some of the same traits and values that help someone successfully own a business—i.e., perseverance, loyalty, forethought—also make for a healthy personal life.
The ensuing few years turned out to be a critical period of maturation for me. The members of my Forum served as positive examples as I tried to figure out my adult relationships, goals and identity. When I first set out to build CustomInk.com, I had aspirations for achievement, financial reward and mental stimulation. But forming personal relationships with other entrepreneurs—an aspect I had never considered—ended up being one of the best parts of living this experience. Thank you, EO, for guiding me along my path to success— not just in business, but personally!