englishbiz Story: Part 2-Starting From Zero

I have to admit it, sometimes I feel rubbed the wrong way when I am told that “I’m lucky”. I know that. I know I am lucky. I know that I fell off a cliff and landed in a giant pile of fluffy horseshoe shaped pillows. That is a strange metaphor…

Maybe I am lucky. Maybe our school and the growth of our 6 branches over the last decade has been a string of lucky breaks. That is entirely possible. My wife and I work a LOT of hours though… Sometimes it have felt like we were going to crack, but we made it through, and we made it through together.

Maybe you are thinking about running your own language school in Japan. For some of you, I highly recommend it. For me, it has been the greatest journey, but it also really isn’t for everyone. The hours are terrible and the renumeration per hour, for the first several years, is worse than working as a checkout clerk at Safeway.

I have learned something of myself, and it is that I am basically unemployable. I mean, I could get a job, I suppose. But I would probably be a huge pain to any manager that I had to report to. I guess I am basically unmanageable. That is probably a better assessment.

I think that it takes a certain kind of stubbornness to do the work that we do. You have to be like a dog with a bone. You have to do all the stuff you don’t want to do, and at the beginning every job is YOUR job. You plan, you type, you clean, you polish, you wash windows, you vacuum, you scrub toilets, you make copies, you buy supplies, you pay all the bills, you smile at everyone, you teach all the classes, you get boogers and germs and flecks of god-knows-what landing on you from coughing kids, and everything that goes wrong is your fault, and everything that goes right was “luck”.

You have to be okay with that. You have to develop a thick enough skin so that when other expats tell you that you “just got lucky”, you need to agree with them. That is also a truthful thing. Not one of us can tell where the hard work ends and the good luck starts. You will need every drop of good luck that comes your way too.

There is a kind of absolute truth about starting your own business, company, or school and I want to share that with you. The eternal truth is that the first three years of your company will be a living hell. Every, and I mean every single moment, of your waking day must be at work. You must obsess on all the details, track down every single yen, penny, and peso. You must know all your numbers and know how much everything costs. You must make plans and write them down, every day. And you need help. If you have a spouse to support you, that is great. You need them for every step of the way. It is a hard and lonely and rough way to live. It is no wonder why many people, even with the best intentions, high intelligence, and plenty of guts, don’t make it.

If you embark on this path, it will not be fun. For three years you will not buy new socks. You will not buy new clothes or go on a vacation or go to the beach. For three years you will be standing against a giant rock and giving it everything you got. You will push as hard as you can, keeping the pressure on, and incrementally increasing it each and every day. You will have dark moments when you want to cave in. But you must not. You must keep pushing. You must keep the pressure on.

Because at the three year mark, if this thing is going to move, it is going to creak and groan and then that big rock is going to start to roll. When it starts to move you got to push even harder and keep it moving forward.

Now you have the most coveted power of any business-momentum.

Momentum gets you ahead of the game, and gets you to the next place you need to be. Momentum gives you credibility and energy. It builds you up and gives you the encouragement and the authentication that you needed when everyone around you whispered, “It’s not going to work out for you…”Momentum is what you need and crave every single day of those three years where you think you are going to lose your mind pushing against a giant stone.

But, if you got the “dog with a bone” personality, and you want it to work more than anything, you got a chance. It can be worth it.

The school called “englishbiz” at three years old looked very different that the englishbiz of today. We have changed a lot, we have grown a lot, and we have evolved a lot. But the first three years were very essential to our own mental development and training. We now know what needs to be done to move “the rock”, and although we most certainly do not want to go through those wretched three years of poverty again, if we really had to do it all over, we could.

Sometimes you get luck. Sometimes you get the rock to move. There really is a combination of the two mixed in there together. Impossible to see, but what you do know is that when you have no choice in what to do, all you can do is move forward, to push forward, and to try as hard as you can until you feel like your heart will just burst out of you.

So, I guess I did not give you any “hard data” about what you need to start to build a school. I didn’t tell you about how much of a budget you need, loans, financing, leveraging your assets, and negotiating in the board room.

We didn’t have any of that. We had no money. We had no family support, on both sides of our families. We just had each other, and we had a passion to make a great English school for kids. I think that was a good thing. It forced us to find creative solutions to problems, to negotiate persistently, and to not take anything for granted. We went on working without a net and a buffer, so it made us resourceful and prudent. I think that this is really the best way to start up a company. Start lean and be aggressive in having top quality service and cut things to the bare minimum so you discover your own core strength and purpose. Throwing cash at a problem usually makes it worse. Having to find a personal solution pushed us in a better direction.

It has been several years since we started this journey. I am glad to share it with you. I will keep adding things here as we go along. I hope it encourages you to give some thought about what you want to do in the future and where you want to be. I am so very happy to be the president of englishbiz. It required an investment of, well… everything I had, and every ounce of strength  I had. It still needs a lot of work, and I am glad to do it. There are a lot of kids that need us.

But now, now things are different. I have pushed our stone a good ways down the path. I can push it across the flat ground and keep things going as is. But there is a hill ahead, and there is a greater work that we can do. I need some people to come along with me on the next stretch of the path of this company. We need to push this thing along together. I have some ideas for how to get it done, and I need some smart and interesting people to come along and join us as we go further ahead, further down the path, and then up, up, up the next hill.

To be continued…

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