If you’re asking yourself, “How will I know when it’s safe to quit my day job and become a full-time entrepreneur?”, it might be time to look to others who’ve made the leap for inspiration and insight. Learning from their experiences about what worked and what didn’t is a great place to start in determining how to tackle this life-changing decision yourself. A great story of inspiration can be found in Carla Blazek, an entrepreneur who escaped from Cubicle Nation.
Having an “Aha!” moment
For most people, touring the country with U2 would be the perfect job. For Carla, a producer at Microsoft working with the tour, “I was miserable. I had a sexy, ego-stroking job that made for great bragging material. But I was being eaten alive by all the work, and drained by the politics of working in a large company.”
She had another insight at the launch party of a huge project that she successfully completed despite impossible expectations and long hours. “Everyone was gathered together and the company President toasted me and said ‘Thanks to Carla, we made this happen!’ All I could think was, ‘Here’s the recognition I always wanted and it feels completely empty.’”
It reached a point that her stress level was so high that her doctor suggested a medical leave. “I started bawling. I said ‘You mean I can take a break?’ I was so relieved.”
During her leave, Carla turned toward something she’d been doing for fun - making candles. After taking a class at a local candle store, she’d been making and selling candles to friends and coworkers.
She had an “aha” moment while watching people work in the candle shop. “I thought, ‘These people are really enjoying themselves!’ In my job, I was having fun, but not experiencing real joy or meaning. I was meeting Bono and getting to travel, but it was superficial and exhausting. The people in the candle store had great communication and were kind to each other, the opposite of what I saw in the corporate environment. I thought ‘If they can do it, maybe I can too!’”
So she built the online store for her new venture called zena moon. “I had no idea how to start a business, I just did it.”
Landing a big break
Soon after her doors opened for business, she had the break that many entrepreneurs only dream of: her product was noticed by Oprah. One of Carla’s friends who worked at Harpo Studios was burning a zena moon candle when a producer stopped by to ask her where she got it. The producer ordered some custom candles for Oprah and her inner circle of friends. Soon after, Carla opened O Magazine and saw the ad for Oprah’s Live Your Best Life Tour. She called her friend and asked who to talk to get her candles in the goodie bags. Half an hour later, her friend called back and said “You’re in!”
All of a sudden, Carla had to produce candles for 8,000 gift bags. “I was barely open for business. I took it as a major sign from the universe that I was going in the right direction.”
She didn’t have to pay the usual product placement fee which ran as steep as $250,000. “It has taken years to realize the magnitude of Oprah’s gesture.”
To fill the order, “Everyone I ever knew was at my house for days. It was crazy, and a lot of fun. To get 8,000 perfect tea lights, I had to hand-pour 10,000. In two weeks, we made the candles, assembled the gift boxes and sent them off to New York.” The return on investment was immediate. On the days of the tour, she would sit and watch the orders pour in.
Cutting the cord
Even while shipping the candles to Oprah, Carla still was officially on leave from her corporate job. “I was afraid for a long time to pull the plug. Finally I did my exit interview, but I was still scared!”
It hasn’t always been easy. “I definitely made mistakes, especially around some financial decisions for my business. But I practice being gentle with myself when I make blunders. It’s a natural part of the learning curve.”
Success can bring challenges as well. “My candles got picked up by a catalogue that produced huge sales. But the margin was miniscule and the volume required was out of control. I actually thought about closing my doors.”
Since pulling out of the catalogue, Carla has scaled back and focuses on retail orders that make more of a profit, which in turn allows zena moon to donate even more towards helping animals, women and the environment. “I want to continue to create and do the things that made me want to start a business in the first place.”
No two entrepreneurs’ stories of making the transition are the same, which is what makes entrepreneurship so interesting! But Carla’s story certainly illustrates a couple of important points about deciding when to quit workin’ for the man. Making sure that there truly is interest in the market for your product before you cut the strings is vital. But perhaps even more importantly, listen to that little voice in your head and make a choice that’s in line with your long-term health and well-being. Starting a business that you’re passionate about can only do great things for your mental and physical health. Maybe you’ll be able to take a leave from your job, like Carla, to have some time to plan your business, or maybe you’ll need to start your business part-time while still working your job full-time. No matter which path you take, there’s no better time than now to start your dream business!
Pamela Slim is a StartupNation guest expert and an entrepreneur coach who helps people in corporate jobs break out and start their own businesses through her Escape From Cubicle Nation blog.