My Inception Story – the windy path of how this all came to be

“Did you spend the afternoon talking about your periods?”

The man to whom I report in my commercial banking role chuckles to himself at his witty remark as I stiffen up and try to gauge how red my face is getting. Inside, my thoughts race but I keep my expression cool (I think). Still taking in the absurdity of what he just said to me, I mumble something about our client in an attempt to change the subject and make it look like what he said rolls off me like. no. big. deal.

It was 2012. I had spent the day on a women’s leadership course. Looking back, it was a decent attempt at encouraging gender equality, except that clearly there were larger issues at play than showing up as a confident female leader in a male-dominated industry…

Everyday I was in the business of serving primarily middle-aged white men, both management and clients.

Reporting to them. Training under them. Following rules made by them. Meeting all their demands, and by all means possible, keeping them happy.

Even though I took the job knowing from day one I was most certainly not going to ‘be a banker’, at the time I figured any corporate job would offer valuable learning straight out of University. This job fulfilled on that promise in certain ways… but over time I found myself waking up angry.

Ask anyone in my life and you’ll learn my usual state is anything but angry.

I would steam at my desk for no good reason, and sometimes have to go cry in the bathroom (don’t tell my prior supervisor though… he would have a field day with that one).

Sheer frustration that my work didn’t make a difference kept me up at night.

What was I doing living someone else’s life? Helping the rich get richer was not my idea of using my skills and talents at their highest and best use, and it simply wasn’t going to cut it anymore.

Outside of work I doubled down on my exploration of social entrepreneurship (an interest that became deeply rooted in University) and enrolled in a Certificate of Social Entrepreneurship.  

Reading my course notes on the bus and over lunch kept me sane. Each day, I felt better.  And the idea of creating space where changemakers could flourish came into clearer focus.

As the vision became stronger I started to hit the pillow and wake up with a smile on my face, and I knew I finally had my next step.

Once the decision to leap into social entrepreneurship was made, events fell into place quicker than I could imagine.

After being selected out of thousands I found myself giving up a predictable career for a 7-month adventure with the world-renowned accelerator, StartUp Chile. I literally packed my life up into storage and swapped the beautiful Rocky Mountains for the impressive Andes.

It rocked. Highest of highs.

I launched my very first website.

I pushed through the fear of cold calling non-profits and learned doing scary tasks simply took 1 step into the unknown; then it was done. 

I chatted with the UK’s social enterprise legend Peter Holbrook.

I co-hosted Santiago’s first social innovation weekend for 80 local changemakers.

I was one spot behind presenting the Sedge at a world pitch competition for social businesses.

I explored a new city, country, and continent, using full-on Spanglish to do so.

I found a tribe of strong-willed, smart, passionate female entrepreneurs to look up to and learn from.

It sucked. A lot.

I also left having had every pitch presentation torn apart.

Full website meltdowns at the worst possible moments.

I often felt like I wasn’t doing anything right… That I should being doing it the way the ‘cool kids’ were [ read = living voraciously by Silicon Valley rules and ideals ]. Even though some decisions didn’t quite feel right I made them anyways, regretting it later. I was swept up in ‘essential’ tactics. Never rest until it’s A/B split tested!

I was told the business model would never work.

That if it wasn’t making money yet it was useless.

That I was wasting my time and should move on. This feedback came at odds with the deep knowing that I wasn’t ready to give up.

And it all ended with a painful co-founders breakup that left me feeling defeated and utterly alone in the world.

But after enduring this intense crash course in entrepreneurship I thought I must have it all figured out by now.

I had put in my time, faced all the tough challenges, and now everything would be smooth sailing, right?

Wrong.

Back at home after StartUp Chile, the next few years contained more of the same. More high highs and low lows. It was the same roller coaster, although dips and turns were less frequent and my stomach could handle them better than before.

Here’s the truth…

In beginning hardly anything was ‘figured out’.  And today I still don’t have everything figured out… BUT, I am finally confident that I’m asking the right questions, and looking in the right places for the answers.

I’m finally comfortable with the fact that creating big change in a sustainable way is never truly all figured out.

It’s a never-ending adventure. And that’s a wonderful thing once you get used to the idea.

I now know the most important thing is that if you learn to look for guidance in the right places, but ultimately trust yourself to do things your way, that’s all you need to succeed.

If you’re willing to navigate your way through the many challenges that will inevitably come your way, then you’re in the right spot here at the Sedge.

There’s no one size fits all for any business, and especially not for social enterprise. It can take time to find the sweet spot where everything feels in sync and right. Even then it can shift out of sync again quickly.

Your secret weapon is NOT the skills you master, the next tool or tactic you employ, or even who you know.  

It’s YOU. Your drive, your perspective, your talents and your ability to navigate the challenges in front of you.

Because the challenges aren’t going away. The key is having the mindset and foundation to tackle each one and keep moving forward. As long as you can adapt and persevere, you will make it to your destination – and then find yourself looking forward to the next destination to set out to.

As you learn to ask the right questions, make an adaptable plan that navigates you to your goals while busting through any barriers along the way, you’ll find that you are able to take yourself further than you ever thought was possible.

So that’s my inception story. I would love to hear yours too.

Love, Danielle

2 Comments

  • Lucky Twala

    Reply Reply January 11, 2017

    Hi Danielle

    For years I’ve been struggling and haunted by the fact of increasing youth that is daily introduced on drugs, I am a recovered drug addict myself.

    I have a registered company called “Sindiswa Institute for Substance Abuse” Sindiswa= Saved.

    I have been brainstorming ideas on how to combine business and helping addicts at the same time. Having read your article, I find myself a bit at ease.

    I will keep in touch with you, and update you as it happens.

    Thank you.

    • The Sedge

      Reply Reply January 11, 2017

      I’m glad if this article helped, even in a small way. Your initiative sounds so needed. Wishing you the best getting it off the ground, and look forward to hearing your progress!

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