Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Interview with Michael.

As I mentioned in the last couple blog entries, I was recently interviewed by blogger extraordinaire, Michael Sjostedt, last week for his great little blog.

He just posted our interview. I hope you'll click over and check it out-


Time flies when you're having fun, and I don't get to tell my little 'life reinvention story' as much anymore, but it's still kindof fun when I get a chance to reminisce on those 'startup days'.

I hope you enjoy.

Winter Weather Predictions.

Well, it looks like La Niña, sibling to El Niño, is in place for the coming winter season.

La Niña, a band of cooler-than-normal water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, is likely to bring some extreme winter weather to parts of the United States, according to the annual winter outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

I'm not sure if she had anything to do with the tremendous weather we've had here all year, but if so, she's more than welcome to stay as long as she'd like.

So according to this NYT piece, how does this bode for the kind of winter we can expect here in the Northeast? Should I expect long and lonely days in February and March here in the shop, with nothing much more to do than write dialog and stare out the window at the squalling snows? Here's what the wise weatherfolks have for us:

• Northeast and Mid-Atlantic: equal chances for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and precipitation. Winter weather for these regions is often driven not by La Niña but by weather patterns over the northern Atlantic Ocean and Arctic. These are often more short-term and are generally predictable only a week or so in advance. If enough cold air and moisture are in place, areas north of the Ohio Valley and into the Northeast could see above-average snow;

So there you have it. We can expect either above, near, or below normal temperatures and precipitation. How's that for covering your bet. We will get a week's notice of changes which should help.

I think I'll just stick to the gutsier weather prognosticators like fat birds and badgers, lots of acorns and berries, lingering leaves on the trees, pigs gathering sticks, and slow, fat, and fuzzy wollybear caterpillars.

It's New England after all, we have to be prepared for anything. Just today we've had freezing temps, warm sunshine, gusting winds, hail, and cold rain. And it's still early afternoon.

Oh good, the sun's back out.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Op Jim.

As you'll probably figure out by the tone of this and likely the next few blog posts, my interview with Mike Sjostedt last week has put me in a bit of an egocentric mood. The interview went well I think. After all, who doesn't like to talk about themselves for an hour. He wanted to know all about how I started. What drove me to leave the 'comforts' of cubicle life. Why ice cream. Hurdles, were you scared, etc. I won't give away too much of our conversation here just yet. We'll let Mike have the first crack at it. I expect he'll be posting our interview on his quitter-to-winner site any day now.

But in the meantime, there were a few questions he posed that got me thinking a bit deeper than my usual rants about those early days of Mt. Tom's when she was just a pup. One of those questions was 'Are you happier now than you were in engineering?' To which I answered, without hesitation, absolutely. Are there things I miss about having a 'normal' 9 to 5 job? Sure.

Like the 9 to 5 part.

I must say it's a very good thing it rarely feels like work, because I'm living proof that you never work as hard for someone else as you do for yourself. That's why I always describe owning your own business as a 'lifestyle'. It's great that I don't start my workday (at least the being the shop part) until 11 am, but I'm also usually here at 9 pm on a Tuesday night, among most others.

So herein lies the next big challenge in the life cycle of the small business owner, how to work 'on your business' more and 'in your business' less. The age old work/life balance thing. As the slower seasons start to settle in, I'm able to find a bit more time to step away from my batch freezer and do some of the 'non-dairy' things I like to do - photography, run, bike, eat, write. So just how does one keep a business running successfully while simultaneously managing to have a life?

Great question.

And one I've decided to make my primary project for the off-season.

Operation Jim.

I'm still sketching out the foundation of a plan to solve this worklife riddle. I've enlisted Michael Gerber, Bill Collier, and Timothy Ferriss via their bestselling books for some guidance. And although I'm pretty sure I won't end up with a 4 hour workweek or a franchise model that looks like McDonald's, I know I don't want to work as long and as hard as I have this summer.

If I were my Dad, I'd probably be saying, 'I miss fishing'.

So to answer one of Mike's probing questions, yes, I am happier than I was in engineering but I plan to be even happier, with the help of a few ideas I have for improving that work/life balance, not the least of which being, of course, empowering my great crew...

So I know it's a bit of a slippery slope. Let's face it, people like to see the owner around. I had someone the other day ask me if everything was o.k., because she hadn't seen me in the shop the last one or two times she'd been in for a cone. My simple response was, 'I wasn't here because things were going well actually'. As I'm sure any biz owner will concur, I didn't need to feel a twinge of guilt or defensiveness at that comment, but I couldn't help it.

Another unexpected challenge in the life of a small biz owner. Still beats TPR reports.

Thanks for listening, and feel free to offer any suggestions you might have.

Good ones will be rewarded handsomely. Well, icecreamly anyway.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

How did I get here.

When I first started the Ice Cream Diaries just seven years and a few days ago, it was all about trying to capture and share the adventure of starting my own business. I'd just returned from what turned out to be nearly two years of amazing travel, reflection, catching up with friends and family throughout the U.S., and more so towards the end, trying to figure out where to steer the drifting boat that was my career. That slice of life between professions was sweet. I was just lucky, and perhaps thrifty enough to have been able to turn a definite low (getting laid off) into a rare opportunity to 'see the world'. I was an apartment-renting single person who'd lived below his means for most of his decade-long career, so when that window of free time opened up, away I went. 38 states, 14 national parks, and countless Motel 6's and sketchy campsites later, I returned to find one of my best buddies waiting for me, pink slip in hand himself.
'You up for another trip?'

'Sure, why not. What are you thinking?'

'How about Australia and New Zealand?'

Needless to say, that offer was too good to pass up. The funds were holding up ok, and I was feeling no pressure to return to the work force just yet. So away I went. We backpacked the entire east coast of Australia from Sydney to Cairns, stopping wherever we felt inclined along the way. After an unforgettable dive in the Great Barrier Reef, it was back to Sydney then over to New Zealand for a month of vagabonding in the most beautiful place I'd ever seen. A quick warm up in Hawaii on the way home and it was back to reality for me.

Of course, reality happily still came in the form of writing and a few shorter trips. One thing was becoming crystal clear, my old cubicle lifestyle just wasn't calling me, or if it was, I just wasn't answering the phone.

The next key moment during my metamorphosis came one morning while I was having breakfast with Dad a few months after my return from the lands of koalas and sheep.

'Hey Dad, what do you think about me starting my own ice cream shop?'

'Don't do it! You'll never have a life. You won't have a family. It's really hard work...'

He truly did his best to try to talk me out of it. This despite the fact that his professional life was all about ice cream - first as ice cream inventor with Hood then HoJo's, then with his own 'mom and pop' shops in eastern Mass. He knew first-hand how all-consuming it can be to work for yourself. Unable to extinguish my enthusiasm for the idea, he finally conceded, 'Well, if you find a good location, I'll help you get it started.'

That was all I needed.

My search was on.

I hunted all around the eastern part of Massachusetts, especially between Boston and the Cape Cod canal. Nothing. It turned out to be much tougher to find a town without already a good ice cream shop. And the ones that were for sale were just plain expensive and intimidating.

I never gave up, but I must admit, I was starting to contemplate a return to the corporate world.
Then I just happened to come out to western Massachusetts, Worthington to be exact, to visit an old friend. We drank wine and caught up in the backyard of her B&B. I casually mentioned my ice cream shop idea.

'My bakery guy has a candy store he's trying to sell. That might be a good spot for your ice cream shop.'

She made a call. I stopped in the next morning on my way home. As soon as I peered in the window, I just knew.

That was 7 years ago, and here I am.

What got me reminiscing is I'm being interviewed tomorrow for a great little blog called 'Quitter to Winner' , one that defines itself as 'a resource for those quitting their job for a career break, sabbatical, entrepreneurial venture, or new gig'. The first time I came across it, I thought, 'Hey, that's me!' Although I must admit, the quitting part was probably the one thing that wasn't a conscious choice I'd made during my life reinvention project that kicked off back in the spring of 2001.

So as I mentally prepare to tell my story, timed nicely with a few days of driving rain and a noticeable scarcity of customers, I think back to those exciting first days and months. Sure, Dad was right. Running an ice cream business is really hard work. It's a ton of hours and can be physically exhausting. But it's also been the most satisfying thing I've ever done, and I wouldn't trade a day of it for anything.

Well, maybe for a weekend off in July, but I'm working on that too.

So if I'm asked during the interview, what was the 'key moment for you'? I could recall that breakfast with Dad or describe that lack of enthusiasm I felt for returning to the engineering world, but neither would be exactly right. For me, it all comes back to my days at my 'big company job' at Lucent Technologies. Perhaps more specifically, one day. I was in a meeting with a bunch of other engineers as we discussed the latest quality numbers or shipping shortages or something like that. I never hugely minded 'working for the man', but I remember that day looking across the table at a guy probably 30 years my senior. He was scribbling into his little notebook just as I was, adding input to the meeting when his opinion was needed, drinking coffee and gnawing at a stale danish.

I remember thinking, that's me in 30 years.

Not unhappy, probably had a great family and a nice life. Fulfilled? Who was I to know. One thing I did know, I didn't want to be that guy. I knew there had to be more to the professional category my life. It was time to get out before whatever scrap of creativity and initiative I had left was gone.

The next day I put my resume on

A few weeks later I had a job offer at an up-and-coming tech start-up.

And it would be that start-up, around eighteen months later, who would be responsible for the 'quitter' part of my equation.

I still believe it was that moment in that meeting that changed everything for me.

Isn't life funny like that.

Now you know a little more of the story.