Probably one of the most intriguing aspects of starting a family-owned business is how it changes both the family dynamic and the individuals involved.
In my previous posts, The Startup Experience: Getting Off the Ground and The Startup Experience: Daily Challenges, Surprises, I discussed the more practical aspects of starting a business, such as securing vendors and outsourcing the payroll taxes. However, the day-to-day work of building Alliance Memory changed my family and me as much as we changed the business.
No matter how you slice it, the transition from working in a large Fortune 500 company to owning a small family business can be a bit tough. Lots of things you have come to count on in your work environment no longer exist — hot coffee, clean restrooms, office supplies — and it's now up to you to provide them.
In the beginning, these details did nothing but take time away from building Alliance Memory. However, as time went on, a sense of pride took over, and those mundane tasks are now part of the joy of running my own business, much like the joy in keeping my own home. In fact, the Alliance Memory office has come to really feel like home, much more so than the sterile office buildings I came from.
Another mindset that quickly needed adjusting was my sense of responsibility. Going to work every day for large corporations, my responsibility was to the company since they paid me to do my share. As a small business owner, on the surface, you could say that I'm working for myself and my employees work for me. However, it's really much more than that.
My employees are my responsibility, and this fact enters into every decision that I make. It becomes very personal to make decisions for the company, because if they are wrong, it could negatively impact my employees — who are an extension of my family. For David and me, it has really made us stop and think about how our business is run. We have people who have given up the security of larger organizations to work for us, so we have to make sure their livelihood is secure. The responsibility feels so much greater than going to work and putting in the effort to get your job done well. Now everything we do has the potential to affect families we truly care about.
Looking back seven years later and the success that has resulted from all our hard work, there really isn't much that I would change about the startup experience with Alliance Memory. The only thing that David and I really miss is downtime.
Owning a business is an all-consuming thing, so it's difficult to have an evening when the topic of work doesn't come up or the laptops aren't open to answer emails. It really does take over all aspects of your life, and you find yourself accessible at all times by employees in other parts of the world who are trying to do their jobs for you.
When the phone rings in the middle of the night because someone in Asia needs an answer, they apologize for waking me. I always feel like I should say, “Thank you for waking me. I appreciate that you are doing your job now rather than putting it off until it's convenient for me.” The truth is, being a productive company isn't convenient. But with the right attitude and the right people, it sure is a lot of fun and well worth the work you put in.