Letters to Lee: How to be an Entrepreneur

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2014-09-26 11.50.05These are portions of my letters to Lee Shobe, the former CEO of DowBrands. He has been a major mentor throughout the start of my business, The Spotted Cow Coffeehouse. These letters may come across as a bit unprofessional, but they represent what I am learning through my adventure as a young female entrepreneur.

Business is amazing and fun, and I know that where I am right now is right where I am supposed to be. I have learned some parts are natural, like working with my staff. I love to watch them grow. Finances are intriguing too. Even though we aren’t breaking even, I love seeing the progress and the way costs can be altered. But I have also learned some parts are not as easy. Win-win is sometimes the hardest compromise to reach, and letting the contender win while you pick up the pieces sometimes seems a lot more inviting.

It’s like going to another country. People can tell you what it’s going to be like, and you have all of these ideas in your mind that comprise what it is like. But until you’re there, living it out, you can never imagine in depth what it really is like. Struggles like the drive through, the music license, and letting an employee go were very hard. They put a flicker in my mind for a second that I should give up. But I remembered back to college where I ran cross-country and track. There were races where I lost or came up short, and injuries that set me back, but I persevered.

In school, I worked three jobs, did sports, and double majored. The stress was comparable, making it manageable in business aspects. One of the biggest differences though, is that everything falls back on you. In school, deadlines are set for you, and mile splits are written for you to target. In business, it’s up to you to design the curriculum, the bench marks, and the deadlines. When you have to set all of those for yourself, it’s scary. I struggle to get motivation at times because the business seems so much bigger than me, and I’m just a 20 something female trying to fulfill a crazy dream that might work. There have been a few nights I would stay up, thinking I could get up, drive three states away, and start a new life with a desk job and leave absolutely everything behind. It would be simple, and normal. It’s especially inviting because I’m not currently taking a paycheck. My only money comes from working for my parents business. I make less than $1000 a month and I have no free time. It’s a very uninviting role to the outside eye.

But I have never been normal, and when I look at workers like Lauren, or my brother, I know that they need this place. I also remember I’m not doing it alone. I have my parents, Heidelberg, you, and God all helping me and rooting for me. With those simple reminders, my business shrinks down to a tangible size that can be tinkered with. Maybe all of my wants aren’t met, but I am blessed in so many other ways. With those friendly reminders, I know I can survive, thrive, and one day make a difference that’s bigger than me or my business. A difference that’s as unfathomable as going to different country.

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Letters to Lee: Drive Through

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2014-10-13 08.30.21-2These are portions of my letters to Lee Shobe, the former CEO of DowBrands. He has been a major mentor throughout the start of my business, The Spotted Cow Coffeehouse. These letters may come across as a bit unprofessional, but they represent what I am learning through my adventure as a young female entrepreneur.

We opened a drive through a couple of weeks ago. It was in my beginning business plan, but we had to go through three zoning meetings to get it passed. We had some problems with neighbors to start. They were worried that the drive through would cause traffic down their alley ways. During the first meeting, the neighbors expressed concerns at the meeting but the overall issue was that we did not have the drive through route charted out clearly enough. So they tabled our request to the second meeting.

At the second meeting, someone suggested putting in a gate so that traffic would not use the alley ways. On a board of five people, two people agreed, one person disagreed because he didn’t feel it was the job of the zoning board to enforce gates being put up in alley ways, one person disagreed with the idea of us having a drive through all together, and one person was absent. We needed 4 votes to pass. We got two.

The man that disagreed all-together was the chair of the zoning board and he sure gave me some grief. He came out to the shop, didn’t bother to come in, but started walking across our parking lot, “measuring” the distance of our drive through, not with a tape measure but with his footsteps! I went out and asked, “Can I help you?” and he said, “Oh I’m just double checking some measurements for the meeting.” I knew this would be trouble.

He came into the meeting wearing a hat advertising the local bar (very professional) and proclaimed, “I have a complaint that is something no one here has even thought to mention yet! I took the time and went out and measured the property, and there just simply isn’t enough room for them to have a drive through at all!” I spoke up, (and to him I’m sure I look like a spoiled Generation X kid that gets everything handed to her) but I said, ” With all due respect, I don’t think it’s fair to our business that anyone on the board discount what we have measured and have on paper, especially considering that we used a tape measure and not our gate to mark out the distance of the drive through.” (This happened at meeting 2 by the way)

We applied again. The drive through route was flawless. We found out that there had previously been a gate blocking the alleys and its position was on our property, so we went ahead and put in a gate and it was not an issue that the zoning board would have to deal with. And we prayed that the hearts of the board, particularly the chair, would be softened so that we could continue to grow the business and fulfill the business mission. At the meeting, the chair was still concerned about distance. His biggest concern was the sidewalk, as the drive-through runs right beside where the sidewalk should be. (In front of our building, the sidewalk stops and is just pavement.) Someone mentioned the idea that we needed to block off the sidewalk area. Our landlord had access to a bunch of parking blocks for a fair price and we agreed to install them to mark off the area clearly.

By the end of the meeting: The neighbors were satisfied with the installation of the gate. The two original voters still agreed with the idea. The member that was absent at the last meeting was present this time and he agreed with the proposal. The member who was against the idea of the gate felt that our installation was fair and he agreed with our proposal. And finally, the chair of the board was satisfied with the installation of the parking blocks and he, though somewhat embarrassed, voted yes as well. Unanimous!!

Letters to Lee: Human Resources

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1These are portions of my letters to Lee Shobe, the former CEO of DowBrands. He has been a major mentor throughout the start of my business, The Spotted Cow Coffeehouse. These letter may come across as a bit unprofessional, but they represent what I am learning through my adventure as a young female entrepreneur.

I currently have six employees: four with special needs and two without. I have to say that I have the most amazing staff.

I have decided that hiring is like shoe shopping. (This may be a bit feminine of an analogy.) There’s the cute ones, the supportive ones, and the expensive ones. You want to find a happy medium in all of these aspects. For cute: It doesn’t really mean that they are physically attractive but that their character is attractive. This is very important in the service business. They have to have a pleasant demeanor, or guests won’t be satisfied. For supportive: they have to be able to provide worth for the business. Even with my individuals with special needs, I look at what they can bring to the business. This is also the concept of attitude. Teamwork is a huge piece. As a team, can they support each other, and get the job done? Finally, expensive. Right now labor is my biggest expense. Mostly because many of my individuals with disabilities cannot work alone. I have not put any employee above minimum wage, but I know how many hours to give each individual. So in aspects of shoe shopping, are they worth the price? This analogy fits perfect into my mission of quality, service, and opportunity too! Cute=Quality Character, Supportive=Service Oriented, Expensive=Are they worth the opportunity.

I’ve had my challenges in human resources too. I’ve made two workers cry! (I am the offensive militant, after all) Both were special needs workers: one was skipping work and the other I pushed too hard.

For the first one, I had a talk with her a couple times. She was not showing up for work and not giving any notice that she wouldn’t be coming in. I told her she had to call. She had a phone so I thought she would be able to do that. Her mom called me that night and told me she wasn’t capable of doing that on her own. Her mom started texting me when she wasn’t coming but I wasn’t satisfied. This young woman, though she had a disability had so much potential. For some individuals with special needs, they get comfortable with never being pushed. The Spotted Cow was the first place where she could really be challenged and not pitied, but she enjoyed her comfort zone too much. I had to let her go. It was really challenging because I want to fulfill this mission to show the worth of individuals with disabilities but I can’t help everyone, and I refuse to just give individuals a job for the sake of letting them say they achieved something.

For the second young lady, Ada, I was helping her practice making change. She struggles a little bit but I was helping her practice. She just hit her breaking point. She said there’s just some things I can’t do. I told her you can do this, you just showed me you can. I’m not going to make you do it without being by your side.

So many of the individuals with disabilities find out one way or another that they can’t do everything like everyone else. Some of them, like the first young lady, have been convinced for so long that they just get too comfortable, and they are no longer teachable. They have learned that they can use their disability as an excuse. If they fail they have that justification to fall back on. Other individuals, like Ada, have the same mindset that they are different, but there is still that spark, that they don’t have to let their disability own them. It’s all about finding the spark and not pushing too far.

Another young lady, Lauren, is the epitome of my mission. She came in very timid, but she has had a wonderful work ethic from the start. She started back in May and she has flourished. She listens and does what she is told. She is dynamic and tries to come up with new ideas for the business. She is so teachable. When she started, she would just grab cups and aid in making drinks. Now she can make all of the drinks with almost no help, and she can run the cash register. There were a couple of times at school where a teacher gave her grief for being different. She came into work crying (I gave her the day off though). For her the Spotted Cow is her safe place where she knows that she isn’t just a consumer, as many individuals with disabilities are labeled. She is a genuine contributor, and I am so thankful to have her.

To Eric and Levi: I Give You My Dream

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To my zany, quirky, sassy, spitfire, loving, caring little brothers, Eric and Levi,

First I want to say that, from the moment I met both of you, I knew you were special. Not in the way that the world saw you, but in your character, your smile, and your ability to light up a room. You are my best friends and my inspiration. And from the moment that Gabe went to be with Jesus, you were my protection. You gave the best hugs, and you always listened. You knew the same hurt, and we took the road together.

I remember when we were young (I was around eight and you were both five), I asked our older brother Gabe to build me a bus. I remember getting chuckles from mom, dad, and Gabe, but I was serious. They all asked me, “For what?”. It was for you. I wanted to have a bus to start a school that was designed for you.

As I grew older, I stuck with this dream. In seventh grade, I wrote a paper expressing what I wanted to be when I was older—a special needs teacher, I wrote. I saw your passions, your struggles, your happiness, and I knew that being smothered in your presence was my biggest dream.

I kept this dream into my college years and I studied to become a special needs teacher. But about two years in, I got tired. The concepts I learned, the classrooms I saw, that was not where you were. I stopped pursuing that dream. In the third year, God put me on a new road—business. I could see how God had helped mom and dad start Downsize Farm. Under His hand, they made a place for you. A place where you would have opportunity, friendships, challenges, and adventures.

I remember reading your IEPs once. Eric, yours said that you wanted to be a trash-man. Levi, yours was to work at Walmart. Is that what you want to be? If that is your dream then I want you to go for it! But if not, I am making something for you—a coffee shop. (I know you don’t like coffee, but we will have hot chocolate too!) I am designing a place where you can not only work, but be the strongest, and coolest employees a business has ever seen. I want to teach you what I have learned. I want you to be able to use all of your abilities to the fullest, and be able to show them off to every person that walks into our building. Most importantly, it is my eternal dream to create and fulfill the dreams that you have.

On May 21st I will open a coffeehouse. I know you think coffee is gross, but if you join this road with me I will show you something. Every bean in that coffee has a purpose. Some beans are big, some beans are small. Some are dark, some are light—but they all create a beautiful mixture to jumpstart the day. On this Earth you could say we are all like little beans. We run around, doing daily tasks, and fulfilling our flavored lives. But God put every one of us here to do something special. I hope that by fulfilling this dream, I am following God’s vision by helping you create your own dreams.

Will you, my red and blue power rangers, take on this mission with me?

Love,

Your crazy, quirky, hopeful, inspired, pink power ranger big sister, Bobbi Myrhee