Campfire Kinship Logo that says "Campfire Kinship" with fire on top and "storyrelling hearth 2 heart" tagline underneath.

Starting a business? Here’s the one thing you need to know.

Gayathri looking back at the Seattle skyline on a summer day with blue skies.
Can you spot Mt. Rainier in this photo? It's there albeit hazy. But when it comes to business, you can be sure there is a mountain to climb!

This article was originally published in LinkedIn by Gayathri Shukla, Sep 1, 2023. 

If you’re deciding whether you should start a business, I’ll get right to the point:

Do you want to help people solve problems?

That’s it. That’s the one thing you should know.

It might sound trite but it really is that simple.

Let me explain.

You shouldn’t start a business because you dream of making a ton of money. (Unpopular opinion here. If you are looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, you’ll have better luck in Vegas).

Not because you have a lofty vision that will revolutionize this or that industry. (Good ideas are plenty – but can you really execute them?)

Not solely because of your work ethic, determination, or who you know. (Although you will need all these ingredients in spades.)

And definitely not because of your degrees. (Got a fancy MBA? Lovely. How are you going to use what you learned?)

At the end of the day, your success is contingent on your desire to actually help people.

You see, for people to part with and give you their hard-earned money, you must be able to either solve an existing pain point for them, or bring them closer to their goals somehow.

Yes, this will require you to first be clear on what problems you will solve. (Who is it you want to serve? Is this a problem they want solved and are willing to pay for? Do you have the skills and the passion to solve it?) A whole other topic that I will save for another blog post.

Then, how are you going to test your hypothesis?

This means rolling up your sleeves and hitting the pavement.

Go to whoever has this problem you are trying to solve and offer to help them. This could look like volunteering at your local nonprofit, or offering your services probono, at first.

Get honest feedback. Is it actually creating the results intended?

Be ready to adapt.

Then, do it again. And again. And again.

Now, you might be at the stage of taking on a mixture of freelance gigs at a reduced fee.

Yes, it will feel like a lot of headaches for not a lot of reward. And plenty of trial-and-error that will force-kick your ego to the door.

But it is only when you reach the point where people are not just happy with the results you bring them, but willing to hire you again (at market value, I must add), AND refer you to their friends…that you can say you have a business with a shot at scaling.

And possibly revolutionizing your industry.

Or making the money you dream of.

If you’re not prepared for this journey, seriously rethink your why before you set course.

I say this not to sound disparaging but to be 100% real: This has been my experience with Campfire Kinship so far.

I started it because I saw an opportunity to solve a problem.

I had met many well-intentioned people over the course of my 17-year engineering career who wished to attract and retain diverse talent in the profession.

I was part of #equity #diversity #inclusion strategy conversations, women’s networking events and employee resource groups, policy design, unconscious bias training, etc.

But I was also acutely aware of where these efforts fell short.

I knew that checkbox-ticking activities (if perceived that way) would never create the long-term, transformative change needed to actualize a vision for an inclusive culture.

A more intuitive and human-centered approach was necessary.

That is when I came across storytelling as a potential solution. I first studied it during my MBA.

When the COVID lockdown hit in March 2020, I finally found some free time to test my hypotheses – as a hobby at first.

I wanted to help anyone who faced one or more ‘isms’ in the world (sexism, racism, etc.) to feel they have a voice. And to uncover their unique purpose above what society tries to reduce them to be.

I wrote stories for 200+ women in #STEAM professions who enthusiastically said ‘yes’ to being featured on my Instagram account Campfire Kinship.

I also started hosting live storytelling conversations on the platform and a podcast on CJSW 90.9 FM, Hearth 2 Heart, further elevating their voices.

I didn’t earn a single cent from any of this, nor did I expect to…until people started reaching out to me.

At first, orgs like Avenue Calgary Magazine and Calgary Arts Development invited me to write stories of everyday role models for their platforms.

This led to others asking me if I would coach them to tell their own stories with more confidence and impact. I created an online course called Kindle Your Spark to help people articulate their most pivotal career stories, and reimagine their potential.

At the same time, I was getting feedback that it can’t just be upon the individual to lift themselves up. It is also about how welcoming the environment is around them. How can storytelling help with that?

I recognized that my work had to intentionally help leaders build a sense of belonging in their teams and dismantle systemic barriers.

I decided it was time to upskill and certified in an evidence-based storytelling method called guided autobiography. I started hosting experiential workshops to help people find belonging through the diversity of their lived experiences. And to learn from those insights to address systemic barriers.

To cut a long story short, today Campfire Kinship is officially 2 years old and has achieved the following milestones, profitably:

– 75+ workshops, keynotes, and panel events

– 30+ Organizations served

– 5+ EDI consulting projects

– A bestselling anthology, Landed

Giving back is part of our ethos and we continue to do so through hosting 10+ community events, radio-hosted Hearth 2 Heart podcast, and TV-featured docuseries, Unlikely Friends.

I don’t say any of this to boast or suggest I have all the answers. I am still climbing this mountain and have a long way to go. But hands-down, my top learning thus far is that #entrepreneurship is about answering a calling higher than yourself. It’s about seeing a problem that you might have inherited….and having a burning desire to be part of the solution.

If you resonate with this article, I’d love to start a conversation! What is a must-have in your opinion, when it comes to starting a business?

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