Over the past two years, I have had the opportunity to travel the country, work with Fortune 1000 executive leadership, and tackle the most complex problems in business. In 2015, I was inducted into A.T. Kearney’s fast-tracker program as a result of where I fell among the top 100 of my colleagues worldwide. With a promotion staring me right in the face, I decided to walk away from a consulting career to pursue my dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
My family, friends, and colleagues continue to ask me, “Aren’t you scared? What if it doesn’t work out? Where did you find the confidence to take this leap?”
It all started three years ago. I was part of a leadership development program that wasn’t challenging and in a personal relationship that wasn’t healthy, all while feeling stuck because my employer was paying my tuition expenses to obtain my MBA at Boston University. I was supposed to feel fulfilled, but I was completely unsatisfied and to make matters worse I had no idea what to do about it.
Needing a serious shift in perspective, I picked up Tony Robbins’s book Unleash the Power Within. The book was long and comprehensive, but by the second or third chapter I had already identified flaws in my thinking that led me to the situation I was facing. Turns out, I managed to take the wrong job, surround myself with the wrong people, started an MBA program I lacked passion for, and let things I had absolutely no control over become my priority. Although this was a daunting realization, I felt enlightened, empowered, and ready to make a serious change.
Two weeks later, I received a call from a recruiter asking me if I’d be interested in a career in management consulting. Eager to change my circumstances, I saw a huge opportunity to grow and in less than 30 days I had resigned from my job, dropped out of my MBA program, and packed my bags for Washington, DC to work for A.T. Kearney.
Management consulting is not for the faint of heart. I was not prepared for the lifestyle, nor do I believe I ever really mastered it. Some of you reading this may know what I’m talking about, but for everyone else, management consulting makes you grow just like P90x makes you fit. Day in and day out you are challenged with some of the most complex problems in business and just when you begin to feel like an expert, it’s time to change the problem, the industry, and your team. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I had begun to learn how to efficiently navigate challenging and unstructured environments. Most importantly, I had started to develop a confidence that I could deliver a result no matter how unprepared I may have initially felt.
Although I was energized and passionate about my work after completing a full year of consulting, I knew it would only be a matter of time until the travel became too much. If hotel receptionists, airport gate agents, and various Uber drivers know you on a first name basis, you can probably sympathize. I was happy, but living a transient lifestyle and knew I needed to start thinking about the next chapter.
Right around the same time I had reached this realization, I was sitting poolside with my buddy Adam Mattina discussing our favorite topic: starting a business. This conversation had become commonplace whenever the two of us got together. However, on this occasion there was an unmistakable confidence in our tone. We came to the conclusion that anything we put our minds to would undoubtedly and without reservation, evolve into something that would provide value. Though my background was in operations, and Adams’ in information security, we have both served in leadership roles and have experienced the cultural differences of our international colleagues. We had taken personality exams, organizational behavior courses, and a variety of mundane, “click next,” online trainings mandated by our employers. It all proved inconsequential; most of what we learned about people was through trial-and-error. We were surprised that no modern technology system existed to help professionals build relationships with their diverse colleagues and clients.
We started to conceptualize an idea for a software application that could be integrated into the workflow of modern professionals. The application would contain very safe and simple contextual information about people’s unique working styles and cultural differences in order to shorten the learning curve of any new relationship.
Although we had taken a big step towards becoming entrepreneurs, we were not ready to raise capital or leave our jobs. We had an idea, not a business, and if you’ve ever watched Shark Tank, you know that the one of the most pivotal questions is, “what are your sales?” In order to get to the next decision step we decided to commit everything we had on a part-time basis to build a viable product, put it in front of customers, and generate sales. This of course came with sacrifices. Balancing management consulting while pursuing a start-up meant that I had to work late-nights and on the weekends. Pretty soon I felt like most of my waking hours were spent on working and it was definitely taking its toll.
I’m not surprised why so many start-ups fail. Beyond the sleep deprivation, you’ll face many daunting experiences. My attorney told me that for $12K he could file a patent with absolutely no guarantees; My CPA explained to me that I should have formed a different entity in a different state; My friends continue to send me links to my competitors with a brief note like, “Hey I came across this company, how does this impact you?” And just when you think you’ve built something really cool, your first customer will ask you, “How many users do you have?” At times I was overwhelmed, but fortunately I had a strong partner, a host of supporters, and a compelling vision that kept me moving forward.
Last April it was time to make the ultimate decision; wait for an imminent promotion with A.T. Kearney or leave to dedicate my time towards subscribing early adopters to CulturalIQ. With several years’ worth of living expenses saved up, I decided that the only way CulturalIQ was going to be successful is if it became my livelihood. In May, I left A.T. Kearney in order to chase my dream.
Selling to an enterprise doesn’t happen overnight, but two months into the transition I’m having positive conversations with more than a dozen companies interested in becoming early adopters. Beyond that, my life is more balanced because I am able to command more of my schedule. Every day I go to the gym, cook healthy meals, spend time with friends, and get a good night’s rest. I’m more energized, resourceful, and creative than ever before and it’s made a material impact in my business.
Getting to this decision didn’t happen overnight. I’ve spent the past few years pushing myself to be more opportunistic, creative, and resourceful. Am I nervous? Of course. Is it stressful seeing my bank account diminish? Absolutely. However, I use these emotions to keep motivated towards my pursuit of making CulturalIQ not just a start-up story, but a success story.
Brian Lindquist is the Founder & CEO of CulturalIQ, a software application that advises professionals on how to create and enhance relationships with diverse colleagues and clients. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Brian spent 7 years in industry and consulting specializing in operations. On his free time, Brian enjoys playing sports, sailing, traveling and spending time with family and friends. Visit Cultural IQ at www.ciqinc.com