Today, we’re highlighting the work and wisdom of Michelle Cole. In the second part of a two-part interview with our Xtern, Anna Carpenter, Michelle discusses why she works for a company like Envisage Technologies, the decision that she made to move her family back to Bloomington from Houston, and advice for those thinking about creating their own startup.
“I want to know that I helped to make the world a better place. I want to help make the software that helps first responders actually spend their time responding instead of doing paperwork. I really want them to feel cared for at every step of the way; a lot of times their jobs are pretty thankless and we want to recognize them for the sacrifices they’ve made. I want to do things and accomplish things, including hard work, with people I love to spend time with. I want to help make people realize that software can be done in a collaborative way, and I want everyone employed here to love their job. There’s no growth measurement on that, I just want to know that I’m making a positive difference.
“You have to be intentional about growth; when you start a startup, you wear every hat. You’re going to have to give up hats all along the way, part of growing is learning how to give someone else one of your hats. In growing, we have to think about what we should give up next, even if you enjoy it. Adding the right people is worth spending a good amount of time on. One bad hire in a key position can have a huge impact on your company, even tank your company. I saw this in the dot com era. Ownership in a company doesn’t just mean that you are your own boss; it also means that you’re the janitor and the taskmaster and everything else in between. Equity options can be gone in an instant or they can make you a millionaire, but it is best to build your company with lasting growth in mind.
“I know the City cares about our growth, along with the BEDC and CFC (who help us grow in our space). Pete Yonkman has also been very active in figuring out how to help companies like ours grow. We have a lot of folks in our community who hear about us and recommend great people to us, and I feel like that is huge. Even local publications have highlighted our company and given us visibility that has helped us grow even larger. Having a core network of Bloomington people that help us grow is essential.
“Even in my personal life, I think Bloomington has some amazing things to recommend. The first time I lived here, I was a single person and I thought this was a great singles’ town. Lots of restaurants, lots of bars, lots of learning, and really anything you want inside of this microcosm. Then I left, went to Houston, got married, had a baby, and moved back. I was a little worried about moving back after living in Houston where I could get anything I wanted at any hour. What I found was that Bloomington was an amazing place for my child and my family– one of my son’s preschool teachers had a PhD in molecular biology, my husband can run to work on the B-Line, and we have such close access to nature. I love that my child can run around the Farmers’ Market at any age, and I’m able to know that he’s being cared for and running into people he knows. His quality of life went up significantly; mine and my husband’s stayed relatively the same, but the opportunities I was able to give my son really changed my perspective. We take potential hires on a walk around downtown to show them lots of what the city and the campus has to offer. We want to show them that it’s a very lively city and that they can enjoy themselves here outside of work.
“From my experience, I say that if you want to make your own startup, I’d totally recommend doing it, but do it with eyes wide open. Go interview five founders and ask about the lessons they’ve learned, so that you’re not making mistakes that have already been made. You should always make different mistakes than the ones that were easy to learn about from others. You also have to recognize that you should be a person who gets out of bed every day and thinks “I’m going to make this work!” It’s an attitude of persistence matched with fortitude. If you want to work with a startup, you have to recognize that there are trade-offs: you’re getting something, but you’re losing something. You might get more flexible hours, but you might not get medical benefits. You’re going to have to make sure these trade-offs are right for you and figure out what your tolerance is before taking the leap. And if it doesn’t work out, we are always looking for awesome folks at Envisage.”
Part 2 of 2 | Read Part 1 here