I never wanted to start my own business. I was never interested in marketing or business and preferred to hang out with the Development Studies and Education students during my university days. With a front-row view of the stress and full-on commitment some of my relatives took on when they became entrepreneurs, I wanted to steer clear. I took pride in finding nine-to-five jobs, with no worries or stress after office hours. To me, #bossbabe and #sidehustle were hashtags that just meant more work, more responsibility, and more stress.
Fast-forward to 10 years later, and my university self in her bohemian pants would not recognize me. Not only am I currently working a full-time job, but I am also actively building my social enterprise and learning just how fun (and challenging) being #bossbabe can be.
So what was that catalyst which opened my eyes to the possibility and wonder of enterprises? I wish I could tell you it was listening to interesting podcasts like Mixergy, or from reading how-to books like Peter Thiel’s Zero to One, or even a chance coffee shop encounter with a successful local entrepreneur. Instead, my “Aha!” moment came when I was binge-watching – of all things – Shark Tank.
For those of you who have missed out on Kevin O’Leary’s sharp-tongued comments, Shark Tank gives entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their ideas to ‘the sharks in the tank’: five famously wealthy people who have built lucrative empires and are looking to invest in the next big thing.
I watched episodes where people pitched ideas like The Squirrel Boss, which is a bird feeder that zaps greedy squirrels, and The Skinny Mirror–a mirror that showed a reflection that helped you look skinnier (I’m looking at you, Zara). It amazed me that somehow these individuals not only showcased their “great” ideas on television with such confidence, they also were able to generate income from these “awesome” ideas and convince investors to come on board.
After some more binge-watching, I began to question what was holding me back from starting my own venture. After all, if Cougar Energy (an energy-drink for single, middle-aged women wanting to date younger men) can raise funding and make money, there is no reason why I can’t learn and have the same ‘business’ acumen to be successful too.
For me, this show was the perfect introduction to the fascinating world of entrepreneurship. Instead of hearing about the outlier cases of extreme success like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, these were everyday people who wanted to showcase their idea to the world. I saw how they poured their heart, soul, and sometimes life savings into something that they believed could grow and prosper. I started to see just how beautiful the idea of starting a business could be. It can create something out of nothing, and can even leave a lasting legacy in the world. So just like that, that little seed planted by reality television began my accidental path into the startup world.
My little something out of nothing turned out to be my social enterprise, Barefoot Love Co. Barefoot Love Co is a social enterprise that engages the public by creating custom designed merchandise and service learning experiences to make a difference through the arts.
Through our custom products such as cards and notebooks, as well as our Spread the Love workshops, we aim to foster creativity and make a difference in the world. Our mission is to commit 100% of our profits to support small charities and teaching expressive art workshops to vulnerable communities.
Over the past three years, Barefoot Love Co has reached six different countries, supported 13 different small charities and NGOs, taught 15 sponsored expressive arts workshops, and donated over 80 000 HKD. It has been stressful and more work than any 9-to-5 job to start and run this, but there has been a team of people around that has helped steer me on my startup path.
I started this column, The Reluctant Entrepreneur, because I wanted to share my unexpected entrepreneurial journey with those of you who are considering starting your own business, or never even considered this journey at all. Read about my attempts to decode jargon and acronyms that those in the field throw around with careless confidence, and ask me any questions you may have (no matter how silly!) But most of all, I hope this column will encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and grab hold of that spark you have inside of you.
The world is missing out on your amazing idea. What is your something out of nothing?
About the Author
Gloria So is an educator, specifically dreaming up programs that cultivate youth leadership and encourages empathy for the local community. In the last 10 years, she has created multiple service-learning programs, mobilized thousands of donations and provided education consultancy services to organizations. As the founder of Barefoot Love Co, she has stumbled on the exciting world of entrepreneurship and startups. From individuals to institutions, Gloria loves collaborating and partnering to do some social good together.