June 1 marks the start of our second six months in existence as Calade Partners. After literally growing up at FedEx, making the break to start our own business was exciting and very different.
“We” refers to my two business partners, Karen Rogers and Debbie Newport. We worked together in corporate marketing leadership at FedEx, managing some of the smartest, most highly motivated team members imaginable. Our peers and executive team were also world class.
We enjoyed prestige and respect as a result of our positions at one of the world’s most admired companies and had resources to deploy to ensure FedEx’s brand was known and respected throughout the world. The idea of starting our own business was exciting and very different.
On December 1, we launched our marketing and strategy consultancy, Calade Partners. “Calade” is a French word for a cobblestone road. We were embarking upon a road that would be an adventure. We packed our boxes and said our goodbye’s to our team, office, routine, and identity. We stepped onto the calade with our new computers (goodbye technical support), email address, phone number, business cards and anticipation for the future.
After six months, by definition, we are successful. We have already earned back our investment capital, have a small profit in the bank, have signed our third client, and love our work! We have had some struggles, but none that ever came close to a regret. What have we learned? Here are the surprises and insights that you may also experience should you choose to change your calade:
1. Be ready to recreate your identity. As a senior vice president at FedEx, there was an automatic respect that came with the title. The first time my partners and I introduced ourselves in a meeting with a global brand agency, there were blanks stares. We found ourselves explaining, telling them who we “were.” Head nodding and recognition relieved us that we still had our credibility intact. Months later, we are much more comfortable in our entrepreneurial skin! We still refer to our years of experience at a major corporation, but now lead with our Calade Partner capabilities and value proposition. There’s a whole new prestige and respect attributable to being business founders, and we like it.
2. You are now a jack of all trades. No, there is no one to get the work done, but you. I still chuckle as I think about our first proposal and the three of us combining our knowledge of Powerpoint and Excel. Or, who would have thought that our first challenge would be establishing our new email environment? We had some starts and stops, learned where to find support, and got used to using Gmail and Google Calendar. Several times in the early months, I had calendar snafus when I thought I had put a meeting on my calendar, but had not. We really depend on each other and stay on top of our calendars. When you no longer have teams of people to delegate to, you have to share the workload and take advantage of each other’s strong suit.
3. We are partners. At FedEx, all three of us were quite comfortable being the boss. I love leading, generating ideas, delegating. Now, as I fall back into my old role as boss and idea-a-minute generator, I remind myself, delegation will be directed to myself! We cannot do it all. And as partners, we have to share the work load. Fortunately, we had years of working together, and we respect what each of us brings to the table. There is no room for disagreement. Our success depends on using our collective knowledge and skills to create value for our clients.
4. Freedom is having 100% authority and accountability. In corporate life, you may be one of the top executives in the company and have years of experience and credibility, but your ability to decide direction or change is limited by so many factors — budget, support from peer organizations, alignment to corporate objectives, legal approval, etc. In our new world, the decision about what to work on, who to work with, and how much risk to take is totally ours. We decide, and now we live with the outcomes. I could never go back to a corporate structure. I am enjoying this freedom too much!
5. The ticker tape is turned off. Because I worked at FedEx my entire career, “normal” was a ticker running constantly in my mind: next meeting, next business trip, next problem to be resolved, challenges with people, budgets, schedules, etc. I believe I was thinking about work 24/7, yes, even when dreaming. Several weeks after leaving FedEx, I realized the ticker had turned off. What an amazing feeling! I haven’t missed it at all, and our new roles provide just the right amount of opportunity to invent, create and problem solve with outcomes that we have so much more control over.
6. The future is so bright! Everything is new. We are meeting new people, and learning something new everyday. FedEx is one of the world’s most admired companies because of strong leaders, a people-oriented culture, customer focus, and a commitment to shareholder returns. We had tremendous careers there, and now we are able to take this experience to the marketplace.
What will the next six months bring? Not knowing just adds to our excitement over the future!