THE EUREKA MOMENT
When he stepped into his evening bath more than 2,200 years ago, Archimedes had grown tired of searching, racking his mind for a foolproof way to measure the true volume of the king’s crown (great Greek mathematicians of antiquity were assigned such things). As he absent-mindedly lowered his body and watched the water level rise, something clicked: Any object lowered into water will displace an amount equal to its volume. As the story goes, this thoroughly rational man leapt out of his bath and into the streets of ancient Syracuse—naked and ecstatic, shouting, “Eureka!" (“I have found it!”).
Archimedes’s story is an apt metaphor for the emotional journey of most first-time entrepreneurs. Before their eureka moments, they puzzle over possibilities, question whether to move forward, wonder how to pull it off, and hope for the right break. They have yet to step into the bath.
Then comes a moment of clarity, a defining event. The future founder is seized by a brilliant startup idea. The puzzle pieces come together with perfect clarity. Things will never look the same again.
Mark Williams recalls the jolt of intensity and excitement he felt as his medical students embraced his first iPod-based learning tools. “A student came up to me and said, ‘Dr. Williams, I learned five new brain terms while waiting in line for my latte this morning.’” He said, “And this really represented a eureka moment for me. I saw the opportunity to think bigger and more broadly across all types of learning.”
To understand Lynn Ivey’s eureka moment, we must go back to the most transformational month of her life, January 2004. One evening, while having dinner with a fellow manager from Bank of America, she learned that an employee had been missing in action for two days, not showing up at work, not returning calls. The woman was single, like Lynn, and lived in the same neighborhood. Within an hour, Lynn and two others had pushed through the open front door of the woman’s home. Minutes later, Lynn found her in her bed, dead of an apparent aneurysm. She was forty-seven years old—Lynn’s exact age.
The experience reminded Lynn that life is short and brought her face-to-face with something she hadn’t wanted to admit: She wasn’t happy with her work. She was far more fatigued than inspired. Within a week, as if on cue, Bank of America announced a plan to lay off 12,000 employees. Two hundred of these were on a national service team Lynn had just spent a year building. The company expected her to shut down the department over the next two months and then transfer into another operational role.
One afternoon, about a week later, her father called. “Your mother has had another episode,” he said. “She’s really confused, and I don’t know what to do.” Lynn hurried to her childhood home in Wilmington, North Carolina, on a quest to help her family find comfort and make sense of her mother’s deteriorating, unwinding life. Soon she learned that she was eligible for three months of personal leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. She filed for those three months, plus an additional three months of accumulated time off. On her last day with the bank, she cleared out a decade’s worth of files and papers from her office, filling a large, two-wheeled, recycling bin to the brim, thinking her banking career was most likely over. “When I walked out, I had my lamp in one hand and a few pictures in the other,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, is this all there is?’”
Over the next year, Lynn sought solutions for her mom’s complicated medical needs and her dad’s pain. The more she learned about existing services, the more she was convinced of a gap in the market, a need for a comfortable and clean—even luxurious—daycare facility for seniors with memory loss. In addition to her mom’s needs, she saw her dad’s burden, felt her own, and thought the right care center would bring relief and comfort to family caregivers as well.
Lynn never found the perfect care center for her mom, and as she began to think about what her next career step might be, she inched toward a radical idea. What if she started an adult daycare center herself? Although she knew what the experience should provide—com - fort, safety, and stimulation in a warm, nurturing, luxurious environment—she couldn’t visualize the component parts. She talked with industry experts and visited site after site, but saw nothing remotely close to her ideal center. Most facilities seemed poorly managed and maintained, lacking even the basics of compassion and comfort.
By the time she visited a center in King’s Mountain, North Carolina, she had been searching and puzzling for many months, looking for a model that made sense. She drove up a long driveway to the facility, stunned by what she saw. “It was awesome, on a huge piece of land, with a huge new building,” she remembers. “After taking the tour, talking with the director—just seeing the place, the newness and the cleanliness of it—I looked at her and I said, ‘This is it. I’m going to do this.’” For the first time, Lynn could visualize her facility: how it would look and feel; how staff and guests would move about; and how struggling families would find relief within it. Although she had a number of compelling reasons to pursue her concept, from honoring her mother to addressing what she thought to be a gaping hole in the senior care market, this was the moment when all the pieces first came together into a workable whole.