Dream Big - entrepreneurship, grit, and taking baby steps

I've never blogged before, but I've been wanting to give it a try. I'm going to use this first post to talk about the history of Two Wheel Valet in the context of dreaming big. Sorry if this is terrible - but if inspires one person just a little tiny bit, that would be worth it! 

I started TWV a little over three years ago. I was 24, and I had just moved to DC for a new job with an engineering firm. I was FINALLY out of Atlanta. I FINALLY found a good job in a city with good transit, bike infrastructure, liberal values, smart people, beautiful architecture. Looking back, I was REALLY stupid. Like, I just didn't know that much about.... anything! Life is for learning, then forgiving yourself, and laughing at yourself - maybe that's my next blog!

I'd been in DC about a month, and I didn't have any friends. Sad Jonathan. It was Saturday and I decided I would get out of my apartment and go to the opening ceremony for the 11th St Bridge (what fun! right?). The bike advocacy group, Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA), had a table at the event, and I went up to become a member of the organization. I was talking with their staff and mentioned that I used to help with bike valet when I lived in Atlanta. They said they didn't really do much bike valet in DC. I thought that was odd because I'd seen how bike valet was an effective advocacy tool in Atlanta. I began to look into it more. I talked with more WABA staff and they explained that they only did bike valet occasionally but didn't have the resources to do it consistently. I was bummed. 

One night I was laying in bed and it came to me: start a company. Why not - what's there to lose? I couldn't sleep that night. That's when the name and the logo were born. But I would learn, there's a whole lot more to a company than that. 

Over the next couple months I began reaching out to transportation professionals to talk the idea over with them. I put out a short survey about bike valet. It ended up on a city planning listserv, and the emails started pouring in. Turns out there were many people in DC that were interested in the idea. I met a bunch of new people, many of whom I'm good friends with now. I met one person who was interested in being my business partner. I thought to myself, "Well this person definitely takes initiative and has some good ideas. Let's do this!" 

We created a LLC, got a business license, wrote an Operating Agreement, found exactly ONE insurance company in the US that would insure us, created a website and some business cards. Sounds like a straight-forward, step-by-step process, but it was pretty stressful at the time. We had no idea what we were doing. We had no idea if the money we were spending would be wasted. Baby steps - one day at a time. Then came the biggest question of all. Who is going to hire us to do this? Will they trust us? For several months I just wanted one contract. Just one person to believe in us. We emailed and cold called tons of events - any event we could find. And then it happened. The Downtown DC Business Improvement District agreed to have us at their Bike to Work Day event. Then in February 2014, we got another contract, which would end up being our first event. 

Everything went well. It was a small event and I'd done tons of events just like this one in Atlanta. No big deal. Well, my business partner thought otherwise. Within a week I became a sole proprietor. The person that had founded the company with me was gone. Looking back on it, it really wasn't a problem, but at the time it was crushing. We'd invested a lot of time in this. We'd had a couple articles written about us, and we were starting to make money. But it was what it was. I would learn a lot about myself from that experience. 

Fast forward to 2016. Its been two years and its been an amazing time of growth, struggle, success, failure. Lots of ups and lots of downs - many days were really discouraging. They company was slowly growing and there was some money in the bank. Spring 2016 was really stressful. I still had my day job, I was doing part-time grad school, and we had a ton of events on deck. Nearly every weekend and some weekdays were booked for bike valet. 

In August 2016, I took a leap of faith. I had good health insurance, a 401k plan, a nice paycheck, and my job was pretty easy. I saved up some money and managed to buy a little apartment building. But it was time to go. I had to give TWV the opportunity to take some next steps. I traveled for a while to clear my mind and knock some stuff off my bucket list. 

Then, through a cool networking story, came an opportunity to expand into Tampa. Tampa Bike Valet had started a year before, more or less doing what TWV was doing. The founder was interested in doing other things and we talked about TWV taking over. Now we're doing bike valet in Tampa/St. Pete - its been a very cool experience. I've loved working in the Florida and helping to make biking more attractive there. 

Then came Atlanta. My old home! Atlanta Bicycle Coalition has partnered with TWV to operate their bike valet program. Its a very cool model, and one we hope to expand to other bike advocacy non-profits. They focus on advocacy work, we focus on bike valet. We achieve economies of scale by operating in several cities and applying best practices learned from other markets. They recently added service at Atlanta United Football Club (that's soccer, for all my non-sports people out there) to their list of events offering bike valet. Its a huge opportunity for TWV, and we hope to continue expanding to other stadiums/arenas as well as real estate developments and universities. 

So here I am, just after the first quarter 2017. I've been working on TWV full time for about 6 months now. There's been some big accomplishments, but there's still a lot of unknowns. Still a lot of "How the hell am I going to to do this?" and "Can I do this?" and "Do I want to do this?" and "How long will I do this?" I still get weird looks when I tell people what I do. I'm glad I've stuck with it, though. Watching the concept that kept me up all night back in 2013 is amazing, and makes the blood, sweat, and tears of the past worth it. 

And now I'm looking back and wondering if I dreamed big enough! So dream big, then get to work. Give up if that makes sense - but don't give up just because something is hard or isn't successful right from the start. Remember that things that are worth it usually take some GRIT. And there's nothing wrong with taking very small steps. But take bigs ones too - take risks. If nothing else, you'll learn from your mistakes. 

“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf