Your Origin Story

I mentioned in a previous post that Daniel Priestley had been talking on LinkedIn about ‘Origin, Vision & Mission’ the other day, and I have been thinking about my Origin Story ever since. 

It also inspired a blog post covering the whole topic in more detail, along with some inspiring examples of the origin, vision, and mission of some of the entrepreneurs I admire.

He said that ‘Your origin story should tell me why you got into your chosen industry - ideally, it should be something you can trace back to your childhood. Your vision is what you want the world to look like. And your mission is the story of how you’re going to achieve that vision through your business.’

I don’t often talk about my origin story because, while I covered some of it briefly in my new book ‘A Better Entrepreneur,’ I don’t really like to talk about my rather painful childhood and early adulthood much, focusing instead on the years after my big entrepreneurial transformational moment when I was 35.

While I do believe that you can learn how to be a better entrepreneur, hence the book title, there are some of us that are ‘born ready.’ It’s in our DNA, we simply can’t help it, and it manifests at a young age, no matter if you were born rich or poor.  We are driven, highly curious about how businesses work and passionate.

Both my grandmother and mother were entrepreneurial, out of necessity, but also having restless, creative temperaments. My grandmother was born dirt poor in Suffolk, sent away into service as a ‘tweenie’ in a big house in Sussex, met my grandfather, a laborer and market gardener, and had to ‘make do and mend’ as they say. As soon as women married, they had to stop work; that’s just the way it was in the 1940s and even up until the 1960s. It was also just after the war, and rationing was still a big thing.

Highly creative, Nan taught herself to cook and bake like an angel, clean like a demon, garden well and grow both food and flowers, sew anything she and then her young family needed, and made their home lovely with no budget at all. Grandad was a gardener too, great at DIY and when not digging and growing, was always in his garage, making things or mending things.

My mother’s entrepreneurialism came out in the form of property; she could spot the worst house on the best street a mile off, and we moved about 15 times in 18 years, while she and my stepfather bought, did up, and sold properties in between bringing up four small children. This made for a very peripatetic lifestyle.

While my very earliest memories are of being wheeled in my big old-fashioned pram along a local tree-lined street, I didn't start my first business around the age of seven or eight. My ‘singing sister’ Heather still dines out on the story as she was always my first unpaid employee!

Life has been one long hustle ever since.

I go into more detail about my vision and mission for my business in another post, so I’ll stay focused on my origin story for now. It may inspire you and maybe make you realize that you may be an entrepreneur in waiting too!

The first enterprise was a typical ‘scratching my own itch’ business. I loved to read and got through 2-3 children’s books a day. I’d been living in a village in Sussex with a great library, but then we moved to Wales, and there was no library nearby. I needed more books urgently!

Back in the 1960s, the TV was awful, with only a few programs geared towards children and mostly towards very little children, nothing for the precocious child I had become, due to my eclectic reading habits.

Anyone remember Bill and Ben (the Flowerpot Men feat. Weed), Magic Roundabout, Camberwick Green, Trumpton, and Jackanory? I never liked the Clangers.

When we lived with Nan & Grandad, after dinner, they let us watch Outward Bound with Jack Hargreaves and Upstairs Downstairs, and then later, my new step-father used to let us watch The Waltons and, of course, Star Trek.

I digress.

But, while Nan taught me to sew, knit, and crochet, nothing came close to satisfying my voracious reading habit.  Mum taught me to read at the age of 3, as a good way of keeping us occupied (she worked, leaving us with a blind babysitter and it kept us occupied and out of trouble).  Historical fiction, romantic fiction, the classics, sci-fi, you name it, I would read it.  I even read the back of the cereal packets during breakfast.

So when my mother reappeared after a sudden two-year absence and whisked us off to Wales with a new step-father, I found myself isolated and desperate for books.

I had the idea to let local children bring their books (and those discarded by their parents) to a book swap library under our stairs. I roped Heather in, and we set to work cataloging our own books and sticking little holders and tickets into the books, then set up shelves under the stairs.

Then I went out to spread the word (marketing) while Heather sat, reading, waiting for the first customers.

The business model is a bit vague; I think the idea was not to make money necessarily, but just to stock unwanted books and let kids come and borrow them, while giving me an unlimited library to wallow in.

Have you spotted the fatal flaw in my plan yet? The clue is in the fact I had to go out to the playgrounds and the woods to market the venture.

Yep! You’ve got it!

Nobody was interested.

Nobody cared about reading as much as I did; in short, I had done NO MARKET RESEARCH.

At the age of around 10-11, while living in Montrose in Scotland, I had my next ill-fated idea about ‘collecting for charity’ and keeping some of the profits, and my best friend Molly and I set off around the local housing estate with homemade collection boxes on strings. It was very successful until someone recognized Molly as the daughter of the local policeman and reported us. We had eaten our profits in the form of chocolate by then, so it was probably just as well.

By the age of 12-13, thanks to my grandmother’s early training in making fabulous outfits for my Barbie, I had moved on to being quite proficient at making clothes for myself. I also often altered the clothes I bought at jumble sales to be more fashionable, and I was often asked to undertake creating items for other friends, so that brought in a few pounds. Anyone remember puffball skirts?

Later, when at art college as a ‘mature student’ of twenty or twenty-one, this came in handy as I was able to set up a mini-factory at home, turning out ever more dramatic New Romantic waistcoats, made from old curtains and mother-of-pearl buttons I sourced in second-hand shops and selling them to local boutiques. My singing sister Heather was again roped in to become part of my production line, and she can still confidently ‘bag out’ a waistcoat to this day.

I’d also secured a series of part-time jobs, as children were allowed to work part-time from the age of 12 in those days. I embarked on a not-very-salubrious series of jobs, first working in a newsagent (too early in the morning), then a greengrocer (too cold and dirty), then as a waitress in a convalescent center, where I was promoted after a couple of weeks to Chef, as I was capable of cooking a roast dinner, chops, and hearty stews.

Looking back, this was the time I was most flush with cash, as I was living at home, working two evenings and both weekend days, earning a grown-up hourly rate, riding a bike everywhere, saving hard, and loving life.

I also loved listening to the stories of the people staying there, who all came from the newspaper industry in London, presumably being paid for by their trade union. Perhaps this was what first fed my desire to live and work in London?

An ambition I fulfilled in the late 80s, and this is where I met my future husband and the father of my two children, Irving.

Who, bless him, didn't have an entrepreneurial bone in his body, which was a good counterpart for me.

I couldn't wait to find out if the entrepreneurial gene had been passed to Phoebe or Nelson!

Now what about you?

Having read mine, how would yours read?

I'd love to see it, so do feel free to send me a link when you've shared yours, I'll be the first to like it as I love to read about how entrepreneurs and small business owners were influenced by their childhood and parents.

Photo by pina messina on Unsplash


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