Keeping with my recent trend of metaphors, a typical comment you hear from the startup community is “I just took the leap”, meaning someone just left their cushy job and took a huge risk to start a company.
Starting a company can be one of the most exciting times in life, just like the first time you strap a chute on your back and jump from a plane 10,000 feet above the ground.
It can also be one of the scariest.
When you jump to start something new you have no idea how far/close rock bottom actually is and most of the time you are spinning around trying to find equilibrium. In fact, I used the metaphor almost 2 years ago when I jumped from my job (without a chute nonetheless) and went full time into life as a founder. And boy has it been a ride worthy of the skydive analogy. Although I have never jumped from a plane, I can understand what it’s like and why it’s so crazy/awesome/scary.
An interesting phenomenon happens after you jump from your job to a life of entrepreneurship.
You find yourself free falling towards the ground with an awkward, uneasy feeling mixed with both excitement and fright. Deep down in the pit of your stomach you know it was the right decision but right at the moment your conscious mind is telling you otherwise.
In fact, it’s not telling you. It’s shouting at you! Consequently, you don’t actually know which way is down.
This happens for many reasons but mainly because you get so used to the stressful up and down feelings of “falling” it starts to feel like you are floating, just as a skydiver is basically trying to float by balancing an equilibrium in the air.
Your daily routine gets flipped on its head. Your finances start doing weird things and you are wondering if and when the “ground” will actually be hit. Your personal life is either non-existant or very much challenged. You find yourself second-guessing your current pursuit for happiness and wondering if you are on the right path. You find yourself in situations you would have never thought possible, such as talking to investors about millions of dollars and internally saying to yourself “holy crap I have never seen that much money before, what the hell am I thinking!” It becomes normal to work until 2am and then sleep in, only to have to reschedule the phone calls you were supposed to have in the morning.
You are running your own show. You can find, recruit and hire anyone you want to join your team. You determine when and where your meetings will be held, and what time they will start. You start reading articles with you and your company’s name mentioned in it. You field emails and calls from multinational companies interested in your product. You are asked to speak at industry events and local meetups. You start to see increased interest and engagement with your product, and find yourself quietly saying “it actually works! ” And finally, with an increase in usage comes an increase in revenue so you can start to pay your bills and float your company operations.
Ahhh… the visceral feeling of weightlessness takes over your body.
You now see why the analogy of not knowing which way is down is a damn good one for the startup founder. The song When You’re Falling by Afro Celt Sound System best sums up “the leap” and is a favorite of mine.
I have always been fascinated with skydiving so it was great to recently connect with Melanie Curtis, founder of HighComms.com, and a professional skydiver. No doubt, she has a life you wish you had whether you are an extreme athlete or someone who has a passion for life and loves helping the people. She is also an entrepreneur. I thought it would be great to take a dive with her to get her story, her perspectives on life as a leaper and how she came to entrepreneurship.
Melanie began her career in NYC and LA working at a major investment bank for 5 years. She enjoyed it yet found herself spending all her money on skydiving (her first love) so much so that she got good enough to quit the big-time job and go full-time in the sport. “As for me, I’m definitely a freedom seeker with my first passion in life being skydiving. Theres nothing more free than jumping out of an airplane, flying… yeah, it’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s also a true gateway to the good stuff in life, both literally and figuratively.”
Over the subsequent 9 years, she inadvertently made quite a name for herself in the sport, which was something she didn’t even know was possible going into it. She has traveled the world going to drop zones, connecting with their local communities and teaching them how to fly well, stay safe, and have as much fun as possible in the sky. She says diving brings joy, fun, and freedom to the world at large through connected and transformative personal experiences.
“All of my skydiving success has been absolutely, positively, 100% rooted in my passion and love for the sport and community. In that gratuitous, authentic love and joy. I simply lucked out that my parents instilled me with an over-the-top work ethic and ridiculous personality, two things essential for success in skydiving it seems. haha”
After a couple years of introspection knowing that full-time skydiving wouldn’t make her deeply happy forever, she discovered life coaching, went through a very intense and awesome program ipeccoaching.com and began to build her way up to her next major leap.
“Even though I had the best job in skydiving (I got paid a salary to jump with my friends and organize cool events and theme parties), at the end of 2010 I took the second major leap in my professional life, quit that job and went into business for myself, founding Highcomms.com.”
What is Highcomms.com I wondered? Their Mission Statement states: “We strive to change the world one person at a time through transformative personal relationships that help people identify and authentically live their core values. (ie. Live the dream. LTD. Word.)”
Melanie notes that yes, what’s in parentheses is actually part of the mission statement. “Highcomms.com is my coaching business.. both skydive coaching and life coaching… it’s me… my approach to life, what I’ve learned finding the path to this completely free, mobile, and balanced lifestyle I now lead, and how I now can help others find and live their version of ‘the dream’ too.”
The name “highcomms” comes from past conversations with one of her best friends back in the day. Anytime they hadn’t talked for a while they would text each other “comms.” As in communication. Like, “hey, we haven’t talked in a while, it’s time, let’s do this…” “One day we’re talking and I get all fired up and say something along the lines of this, “I’m not just about comms… I’m about HIGH comms… full-on, meat-and-potatoes conversations, fully putting yourself out there, unabashed authenticity…” and whatever else I said. ”
And so it began.
It’s obvious Melanie excels in the type of conversation that helps people get to important answers, and see them through to actual life change. She helps people see the pathways to their own leaps, helps them see ways through whatever might be holding them back. Also, she helps them figure out and uncover what they really want to do with their lives by setting action goals and holding them accountable to doing it, every single week.
She typically works with one-on-one clients in the US and abroad over the phone and Skype, and this past year they have finally got their website set up to continue to offer online classes/education/webinars to help bring coaching tools to people who may not be able to afford the more expensive 1-on-1 service.
“This has been the natural evolution of my life-coaching business, given all my experience teaching with my skydive coaching for so many years. I even brought on my best friend and educational consultant, Carolyn Chow, as a partner to help me grow this side of the business and ensure the class content is structured in the best possible way for clients/customers.”
As I gathered information a few lessons popped out from the back and forth I had with Melanie.
1. The impossible is possible.
I know that sounds super cliche, but think about it as someone who’s never jumped out of an airplane before. We tend to think about doing it, and it seems totally impossible, like we’ll surely die. And then we do it and not only do we LIVE, but we have the most fun of our lives, enter a community that thrives on that same freedom and fun, and that cracks our mind wide open. Skydiving teaches you the impossible is possible, something I’ve had internalized inside me from a very young age.
The belief that I really can do anything has given me the courage every time I’ve come to a bigger precipice in life. It’s the same thing with entrepreneurship. As soon as I actually had the conscious thought that I could go into business for myself, be my OWN boss, it wasn’t instantaneous by any means, but the idea was all it took. Here’s an article Melanie wrote on this very thing topic.
2. We all need help from others.
I most definitely stay fully immersed in my life coaching work, and have a life coach myself. Just because I’m an “expert” doesn’t mean I’m not human.. I’m such a believer in life coaching as something that truly helps anyone no matter their situation. I use all the skills I’ve learned in my coaching, experience, education, and I see all of the stuff that I go through as opportunity to learn more, share more, and connect more with my customers and clients. Here’s another article Melanie wrote that speaks to entrepreneurial stress.
3. There’s lots of opportunity in helping people.
Where I think Highcomms.com can go in the future is expanding into more of the self-help aspects of business. Carolyn and I are working to expand the online education portion of the business, currently recording new classes that will go up for sale ongoing.
I’m writing my first book as we speak and plan to have it published by the end of this year, with the goal of increased reach, credibility, and presence in the industry. We know we could expand into workshops and stuff like that, but we’re all about keeping our lifestyle free and mobile, we really love the online stuff. So perhaps maybe one big workshop a year, maybe two, so it’s not a huge time constraint on our lives.
Next time you feel yourself free falling – whether jumping from a plane or off a cliff towards your next venture – just remember anything is possible. Or better yet… just remember to pull the chute early so you can fully enjoy the ride.
Nick Hughes is CEO of Seconds, a mobile payments startup located in Seattle, WA. He also writes at SoEntrepreneurial.com and you can follow him on twitter @jnickhughes. If you are interested in your story being told here, feel free to reach out to me.
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