When you’re looking up at a steep staircase, it feels like you will never make it to the top. Each step feels taller than the last, your breath is heavy and your heart is uncertain — but as you wipe that sweat off your brow, you push forward. No matter how successful some professionals appear to be based on their LinkedIn profile, everyone has to scale their way to the top.
Sometimes they take breaks. Sometimes they have to go down before they go up. Whatever the journey, seemingly unreachable goals can be met with the right mindset, strategy, and approach. Here, executives share how they, quite literally, make the impossible, possible.
Goal: To raise a million dollars to build a company
To expand her company, The Sash Bag, Nichole MacDonald decided to raise funds through Kickstarter in July 2018. With the hope of launching three new sizes, she initially set a goal of $39K, but it was reached within minutes. As they kept increasing the dollar amount, the campaign progressed — and they realized they needed to think bigger. You know: As big as one million dollars.
How she did it: “We leveraged our highly-engaged online community, we stayed top of mind with frequent updates and live videos, polled our customers to see what they wanted, and incentivized people to share the campaign with friends and family. When we got within $100k or so of the new goal, we announced we’d throw a huge party for backers and send a swag bag to everyone if we reached the million dollars.”
Goal: Turn my hobby into my business
Christina Fagan Pardy has been knitting since the age of 10. As something she not only enjoyed but loved, she’d often give her creations to friends and family throughout middle and high school, as well as college. As something she was passionate about, she started a blog cleverly titled Sh*t That I Knit (STIK) to share her projects. But within a few years, it wasn’t just her community that was interested in her knitting designs…but complete strangers. Eventually, she started selling locally at the SoWA Market in Boston, and a year or so later, quit her full-time job to turn her hustle into her career.
How she did it: “I took time to set things into motion, despite feeling a sense of urgency after selling out at my first market. I created a foundation, and honestly — I didn’t expect my brand to be perfect right away. I started small — and local — and along the way, built a community of followers who felt connected to my brand. I also realized that it might take a few different routes to get it right.
“In 2015, I hired a team of local knitters in Boston to help produce orders. While a short term solution, I always knew it wasn’t scalable to create the business I envisioned. When it made sense from a cost, quality control, and volume perspective to hire a team of artisans in Peru, I made that decision quickly and didn’t look back or wonder about the what-ifs.”
Goal: To have a meaningful impact at work — and at home
The hardest balance of all for many professionals is between a big ‘ole career and a big ‘ole happy family. As president of Tauck and a proud mother of four, she knew fulfillment would have to come from her children, career and her community. As she puts it, she wanted to make a difference in whatever she does — but it’s a journey, not a destination.
How she did it: “Some days I feel I’m making great progress; others, I feel I’ve been washed away by a landslide. I’ve learned that my success is directly linked to the team and support that I have—at home or at work—and the frequent and honest conversations we have in both good times and bad.
“Regardless of setbacks, I feel very blessed to wake up every morning to the place and opportunity that I have in the world, and hope someday I am judged that I—in some small way—reached my goal.”
Goal: To effectively scale a brand
Have you heard of Row House? Probably so if you’re a fitness junkie. If you have, then you’ve helped the president of the company, Ramon Castillon meet his goal of scaling a successful brand. As every entrepreneur knows, bringing a product into various markets requires smart decisions, strategic hiring, and effective processes.
How he did it: “I had to be willing to make mistakes. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, or scary, but it was the willingness to go outside my comfort zone early in my career that accelerated my learning curve.
“The best way to learn how to scale is to jump in headfirst, find sounding boards for advice, and figure things out.”
Goal: To write and publish a book
For as long as Anne Crowe can remember, she’s wanted to write a book. Throughout her youth, she started and stopped many times. Especially as she grew her own business — Crowe Public Relations — she lacked the time to focus on anything else. But then in 2017, she finally decided it was time, even though she was scaling her company, teaching two marketing classes, sitting on several boards and raising two kiddos.
How she did it: “I worked towards it weekly, taking small steps until it was done. I partnered with a publishing company, which made the difference between me trying to do it and actually doing it. And it’s not because I finally had someone else holding me accountable for it. When I was doing it by myself, it would always go to the bottom of the list. There were just too many things I had to get done every day before I could focus on the book. And, too many other priorities I was holding myself accountable for.
“But, with another party holding me to deadlines — even though I’d set the deadlines — not delivering was not an option. I realized early Sunday mornings were the ideal time to work on the book: I wasn’t waking up thinking about work like I was every other day of the week, and my boys slept in a little later, so I had time to just think about the book and put words down, one sentence at a time. A year and a half later, it was done and out in the market. It wasn’t perfect — but it was complete, and a great first edition.”
Goal: To open a flagship
After founding her company, Saffron & Sage, Cristin Smith made a goal of opening a flagship location. Since she was innovating in the healthcare sector, it was tricky to find financial support but she pushed ahead, following her gut. With a clear vision and a tactical business plan, she was confident in her ability to do it… but one of her advisors told her to cut the cord after a year. How come? She wasn’t profitable (yet) and the advisor thought it best to declare bankruptcy and unload her debt. Now she’s happy she didn’t listen.
How she did it: “I opted not to listen to him and we’re just one month away from our two-year anniversary and just received a million-dollar valuation. We also have more than 25 employees and more than 200 members. I think it’s important to surround yourself with advisors who are willing to have difficult conversations with you.
“You are willing to look at the facts and figures and advise you to make a non-emotional logical business decision but you also have to synthesize the counsel you receive and make a decision that you believe is in alignment with the companies vision and direction and be able to live with that call. Trust your gut. Know when to pull the plug and when to fan the flame. But only you can make those decisions.”
Goal: To work in my dream industry
Think back to your eight-year-old self. What did he or she imagine their future career? As a kid growing up in the 80s, Chris Erb dreamt of working in the video game industry. And while it might not sound like farfetched now, back then, there were no business books or media coverage. He had no idea how they were made or sold but knew if he could find a way in, he would make it. Today, as the founder of Tripleclix, he was right.
How he did it: “I graduated college from the University of Washington and good gaming opportunities were starting to pop-up in the mid-90s. My first job was the Marketing Manager for GameWorks which had just opened their first location in Seattle. It was a mecca for gamers and met tons of great contacts in the local community. After a few years working in a gaming venue, I wanted to get into the packaged gaming space with a more corporate role. I landed at Wizards of the Coast and had the opportunity to work on some great brands such as Dungeons & Dragons and Pokémon.
“After an amazing five years, a co-worked from Wizards move to Florida to work at Electronic Arts and recruited me to join him. I jumped at the chance and spent almost a decade there running the Madden franchise and then the EA SPORTS brand. I now own a video game marketing agency who develops partnerships between gaming studios and consumer brands. The video game industry is now definitely a thing and I’m very lucky to be in it. I’ve made it.”