What would you do if you followed your heart? That was a question Merilee Karr, founder of a successful sharing economy start-up, Under The Door Mat, asked herself one sunny Monday morning. She had been working with an international oil giant for 10 years and her career had progressed really well. She had changed roles, got heaps of responsibility and recognition, and ended up with a big salary and an impressive tittle. She had the great fortune to travel around the world and explore places with local colleagues. But why was she still unhappy?
She and her team had just reached a goal to save her employer hundreds of millions of pounds. She was so proud of having achieved this success, but something was missing. She had been living in this safe environment for more than 10 years and it was time to do something to change that, inspire the next chapter in her life and make a bigger impact. She realised she wanted to be passionate about the work she did. She simply couldn’t say she was that passionate about the maintenance of petrol station pumps anymore!
“I realised I had to change something or else nothing was going to change.”
So completely against her own character, she decided to quit. Her brother gave her a great piece of advice, “you have always succeeded at anything you put your mind to, so why would this be any different?” What if she could take her ambition and experience and apply it to something she was passionate about?
Merilee went travelling for 6 months and loved every bit of it.
“It gave me a chance to do what I love, traveling, spending time with friends and family, and most importantly completely clear my headspace and recharge my batteries to have the energy to tackle the next opportunity. With that new energy it was incredible how ideas and opportunities started to come together.’
“Quitting my job without anything to go to was the best decision for me.”
Merilee didn’t look for another job, she wanted to start her own business! And the seed of a business idea had already started to grow in her mind. She had always thought about owning her own business, but never took the time to find the right idea.
During her travels she had stayed in various apartment accommodations and saw that there wasn’t anyone doing this in a professional way. As a guest herself, she knew what she wanted – a local experience, the chance to stay in a home rather than a hotel, and the confidence that it would always be the right standard and it would go smoothly.
And so this was her idea, to offer peace of mind to guests who wanted to stay in a home and an opportunity to make money for the homeowners who wanted to rent out their property short term, with the peace of mind their home was looked after.
“The idea started growing in my mind and I asked two friends for help. It’s so important to start asking for advice straight away even if you don’t know if your idea is viable. Many people are afraid to ask and it keeps their idea from growing.”
Not only did they help her, they soon got more involved and turned into board members, and others into employees or investors at the newly formed company.
“It’s not like one day it all comes together. Building a business is a bunch of tiny baby steps.”
And Merilee was willing to take any baby steps that came her way, including tugging heavy suitcases full of hotel quality linen all across London to the first properties they started to manage.
It was all well worth it. She had picked a growing industry and she was doing something she was passionate about. The company soon started to grow and is now soaring in the wave of the fast expanding sharing economy accommodation sector. With 7 employees in her team, Merilee has just closed a crowdfunding round of GBP 385k exceeding her funding target by 2.5 times. Ready to start looking at the other cities where to grow the brand she’s back in what she was so good at in her previous corporate job, building an international business.
If you want to follow your passion, here are Merilee’s secrets to a successful career transition from employment to entrepreneurship:
- Take baby steps: Don’t wait for an eureka moment, its the baby steps that make it happen.
- Bring energy: Starting a business is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It’s not a way to find a more ‘leisurely life’, at least in the beginning. You trade bosses for customers and success will be often relentlessly demanding. Take a break before you dive in if you can.
- Don’t be shy: Ask for advice and you may also get help or funding or anything else you might need. It will be incredible to see who helps, and surprising who doesn’t. Don’t let that discourage you!
- Seek support: Build a support network around you (family, friends and through organisations like DrivenWoman) and be open about how hard it is as people can’t help if they don’t know you need it, and you WILL need it!
- Share your idea: Share it with anyone and everyone. Its infectious. People won’t steal it, they will want to be a part of it.
Merilee Karr is a founder and CEO at underthedoormat.com, and a DrivenWoman alumni.