Build a better business // new year’s resolutions

It’s a new year.

First day, blank page, clean slate.

Time for new opportunities, new challenges, new perspectives and infamous resolutions. 

Reflecting back, I realize that 2016 was quite possibly our growing-pains learning year. Our business was in its 3rd season and felt a little like those awkward adolescent years where you are stuck somewhere between a comfort zone and liberation. Like all good seasons, it had its ups and downs, but we focus on the ups because that’s the direction of the sunshine. We learned a lot and this actually feels empowering, giving us the motivation we need to strategize for the new year and grow in the direction we envision.

We moved to Munich in 2014 not knowing a single soul. We quit our corporate jobs and opened our artisan ice cream shop as two strangers in a city bursting at the seams with gelaterias. And we are so grateful. We are grateful that our concept has been well-received and respected.

We have a lot of friends, regular customers, and colleagues who have told us that they admire what we have built, remarking that they always dreamed of doing something similar. I meet a lot of aspiring food-entrepreneurs and my hope for them all is that 2017 will be their year to shine.

On that note, I have put together a short list of the top goals and resolutions for aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs alike:

  1. Rid yourself of negative people.

    I am referring to the haters. And there are lots of them. Aspiring entrepreneurs need to be prepared for one rather big disappointment: some of these haters are people you *think* you’re friends with. This was one of the roughest learning phases for me when we built our business, and I certainly lost a few “good friends” in the process. It was indeed a wake-up call, but what was just as challenging where the haters who presented themselves shortly after we opened our store. I am referring to the rather large handful of “neighbors” who came to us and said they lived around the corner, long enough to know that no business could last longer than 8 months in the location we rented. On that note, good freakin’ luck. Everyone asked us if we had experience, how much money we spent, and why on earth we even considered making ice cream in *this* city. As foreigners! Looking back it now seems like a twisted form of fraternity initiation. We survived the test, and wear the invisible badge of honor. We were expecting some critics but we were not expecting that many critics, and rather aggressive ones at that. Luckily for us, within just days of opening, we had people coming to us telling us how great our product was and how happy they were to have us in town. Within a year of opening, we were donned as one of Germany’s top 10 ice cream parlors. The critics are still there, but now they have less to say. New critics always pop out of the woodwork. The essential part is knowing how to deal with it. Critics are a part of life, and most definitely a part of business, and THE best speech I have ever heard on critics is by researcher and story-teller, Brene Brown. Trust me on this: it will be 22 minutes and 40 seconds very well spent. Do yourself a huge cozy favor, and watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-JXOnFOXQk 
  1. Stay true to yourself.

    Not just a hashtag – #staytrue – but “stay true” is our motto. Literally.
    How do you stay true to yourself? Take care of you – first and foremost – your health.
    Your growing business is nothing without you. Your business needs you. It needs you to stay healthy, strong, mentally fit, and positive. You need to develop a viable work-life balance or quite frankly you risk burning out.
    For me, staying true to myself starts with one very important aspect: eating right. Surprisingly, this is not as easy it sounds. When you are working 18 hour days, you rarely have the time to eat let alone cook.
    When we first opened, we would inhale some stale cheap tasteless something-rather from a chain bakery, and work until we felt dizzy and light-headed, at which point we would take turns to run out and grab something fast, filling and fatty – like pizza – scoff it down, work until midnight, get home and make dinner and sleep on a full stomach.
    Yes, gross.
    But we were short-staffed, starting-out, busier than expected, and trying to juggle too many things at once. Finding the time to eat was a luxury and quite simply, we did not make eating healthy a priority. We were stressed, irritable, moody, and would get aggravated easily. Brillat-Savarin had a point when he said “you are what you eat”. If you are going to eat junk, you are going to feel like junk, and while I am no expert, I am pretty sure that no successful business was ever built by people who felt like junk.
    Do your body a favor, and treat it like your temple. This starts with eating fresh, healthy and “real” food. I personally cannot go 100% vegetarian but my focus is on a plant based diet and meat is very rare for me now. When I do eat meat, I focus on the best quality I can find and make it worth my calories. You would not believe how therapeutic a plant-based diet can be. I did not believe it until I lived through the results personally. Yes, the hardest part is starting out and feeling the withdrawal symptoms of comfort food (gosh the term “comfort food” seems like such an oxymoron now). But once you get over that stumbling block, you will not believe how much more energy you will have, how much clearer you can think, and how much more patience you will have when you eat right. I still enjoy an ice cream on an almost daily basis too. It’s about self-discipline and mindful consumption.

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  2. Get a dog.

    If you want to be a better entrepreneur, get a dog.
    When we got our Labrador, everyone asked us if we were crazy: “but you don’t have time for a dog!”. The truth was that we didn’t have time for anything.
    We got our dog as a puppy in the summer. Smack bang in the middle of our season. Yes, the worst possible time to get a puppy, ever.
    Ironically however, this was a real life saver. Training a dog is just as much a learning curve for you as it is for the dog. While training a new dog, you also train yourself. Dogs teach you restraint, discipline, patience and responsibility, all of which are conveniently great traits to have when you manage a business.
    Science has confirmed that there are many health benefits to owning a dog: aside from the obvious (exercise) dog owners have less stress, and live healthier lives. There is a reason why dogs are used in nursing homes too: they are therapeutic. Their unconditional love can make your heart skip a beat of joy.
    Our dog was our saving grace. We still work 18 hour days, but now we are forced to a take a break, go home, walk the dog and be in nature fresh air and get some exercise. Staying true! He also teaches us about discipline and patience on a daily basis. The best constant reminder there could be!
    (As a disclaimer: whatever you do, do not get a dog if you firmly believe you will not be able to make time. A dog is really a lifelong commitment. If you are not sure, contact your local animal shelter as they readily take volunteers to help with dog walking. Volunteer first, see how time consuming it can be, and then decide)

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  1. Take some classes

    whether business related or for personal reasons, expand your horizons. Get creative. Learn something new.
    Local business organizations readily offer classes for business owners at either a small fee or for free. Take advantage of this whenever and wherever you can. Evolve your leadership or management skills, learn to crunch the numbers, keep up to date with your cost analysis, break-even point, customer service strategies, marketing, and the alike. If you live in Germany, check out your local IHK or Volkshochschule for starters. There are also free classes online through a variety of websites such as HarvardX or Stanford, MIT, edX or my personal favorite, coursera.
    On a personal note, invest some time into taking classes for things you are genuinely interested in. Get a hobby!. Our local education center offers everything from yoga classes to painting, bee keeping, photography, wood carving and foreign languages. This year I have resolved to take a language class, and a ceramics class. If I have enough time, I crave to take up woodworking too.

 

  1. Travel for pleasure

    I have been blessed with a good education. My parents sent me to some of the top schools, and I went to two excellent Universities.
    But I have a confession to make: I learnt the most valuable lessons through travelling the world.
    If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, travel for pleasure.
    This is not as obvious as it seems. I talk to so many business owners who never get out. They have become slaves to their business, and some see travel as a waste of time or money while others are simply not the least bit interested. I cannot imagine a life without travel.
    Go! See the world, get out of your comfort zone, explore businesses in different cultures, meet new people in order to stay in touch with them, eat something you never have before, learn about yourself, and simply become aware. The list is never ending. And as any wildly passionate hot-blooded successful entrepreneur will tell you, travel to be a better leader. Travel teaches you to adapt, to communicate, to become inspired, to innovate more and to create.

 

  1. Practice mindfulness

    I’m serious.
    When I suggest this to people, they often frown. The common notion is that practicing mindfulness is something “too” esoteric and only done by vegan-loving dreadlock-clad hippies who run around bare foot all day.
    No.
    No, no           no.
    At least it doesn’t have to be.

    Mindfulness is a wildly simple practice, and in my opinion, one of the best attributes of a successful entrepreneur.

    Some of the world’s top international companies invest in mindfulness. For good reason.
    Practicing mindfulness is being aware, paying attention, and simply being conscious.
    I stumbled across the notion of mindfulness by accident during my first year of college. I was spending time in a book store and picked up a copy of “Peace Is Every Step” which was easily the first book I finished within a couple of hours of starting it. It’s a small book and an easy read. Since that time, mindfulness has gained popularity – rightfully so.
    My two most favorite mindfulness practices are mindful eating and mindful consumption. So much so that they both deserve separate articles. Stay tuned

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and last but certainly not least,

7. Stay innovative

Update your website, create something new. Not get stuck in a rut. Don’t stall in neutral. Continue to create, learn and evolve. Stay curious!

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