PERSEVERE WITHOUT ATTACHING
The deepest form of entrepreneurial commitment acknowledges and accepts that there are forces in the marketplace that are beyond the founder’s control, forces that will impact the venture’s destiny for better or worse. Rather than causing a resilient founder to give up, this realization highlights for them the fact that every route to venture success will deviate in some way from early expectations. Persevering over time requires that the entrepreneur commit to the path forward without knowing exactly where it will lead.
On a bright spring morning at The Ivey in May of 2010, twenty elderly clients sat around a children’s choir, visiting from a local middle school. Lynn Ivey’s dog Lacy rested in the lap of a contented woman. Staff members tried to coax people to sing along, and many did. Others tapped a hand against a leg or a foot on the floor. Lynn noticed her grumpiest member, a man who usually protested every staff request, sitting with his eyes raised upward, smiling and singing to the lofted ceiling. Soon another more powerful voice began to lift above the crowd. Heads turned to see one of the center’s newest members, a woman of stately bearing, standing on the outer edge of the group. This former professional opera singer had returned to her stage.
Six years after she left her bank job to care for her ailing mother, Lynn Ivey was beginning to taste her vision in real terms. This was the kind of personal impact she imagined: a home-away-from-home for people who desperately needed it, a community full of life, and a cast of characters bringing plenty of challenge and humor. Lynn couldn’t help but smile in describing the staff member who raced to intercept a man trying to relieve himself in a trashcan or the pleasant woman who seemed to be an aspiring thief, slipping the occasional vase or photo frame into her purse on the way out the door.
The fact that Lynn Ivey has been able to keep the center operating into 2010 is a testament to the sheer power of her personal will. When asked about what has kept her going, she talked of several factors. “I’ve never been a person who gives up on things,” she said. “I completely invested myself in this, financially, emotionally, and in every other way.” She was also driven, she said, by the public visibility and her responsibility to deliver on her promise to The Ivey’s many stakeholders. She credited her own spiritual outlook as well, a steadfast belief that something bigger was at work. And she still believed that The Ivey was on the front lines in an effort to address a growing societal problem. “A wave is coming,” she said. “We are meeting a core need that will only continue to grow.”
Just as critical for Lynn’s survival to this point was her late - blooming ability to let go of cherished ideas. Chief among them was her belief that The Ivey could thrive as a for-profit business. In 2009 she came full circle, finally accepting an idea that a few colleagues had advocated early in her planning process: to operate as a nonprofit organization. As her funds had continued to dwindle, this became the best option for keeping her fledgling service alive. “We needed money, and we needed more clients,” she says. “The nonprofit approach helped us make gains in both areas.” It allowed her to begin raising funds in the form of charitable donations, still a challenging task in a tough economy but also a great fit for her skills, enthusiasm, and sense of vision. Operationally, the nonprofit status has allowed her to lower her fees and offer her services to a much wider audience. As a result, she had acquired forty full-time members by May of 2010, a number climbing steadily month after month.
Heading into the summer of 2010, great challenges remained for The Ivey. Lynn was increasingly focused on fund-raising opportunities and continued to think big, promoting a vision for extending her model to the national level. In June, she entertained a week-long visit from the founder of an upscale adult daycare center planned in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. “You should see her business plan,” Lynn said, “It’s almost exactly like the one I wrote.” Lynn was eager to share her lessons learned with this founder and continued to look for opportunities to forge mutually beneficial partnerships.
The only thing certain about The Ivey’s future is that it would bring plenty of new and unpredictable hurdles. Lynn felt up to the challenge, encouraged by the people being served right in front of her.
She was beginning to make peace with the shape that her vision was taking. A few weeks after the middle school choir had visited her center, she told me of a brief conversation just after the choir had left the building. As she made her way back to her office in a hallway just off of the lobby, a frail eighty-year-old woman touched her elbow. “She said that she needed for me to know what a special place this was for her,” Lynn remembered, “and how grateful she was to be here.”
“I thought, in that moment,” she finished, “that my mom was talking to me.”
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