From Pom Pom Balls to Small Business Owner

I’m not sure when it first hit me. The desire to become an entrepreneur, I mean. All I know is, it has something to do with a pom-pom ball, some felt, and a pair of rolly eyeballs.

I blame it all on my Dad.

My Dad set up the foundation when I was in grade school. He came home from work one evening with a bunch of fuzzy pom-pom balls, sheets of felt, fabric glue, scissors, and a bag of plastic rolly eyeballs, top hats, baseball caps, and other assorted accessories.

The goal for my brother and I was to create a community of pom-pom people.

First, we cut out pairs of feet with the felt. Then we glued these feet to the pom-pom balls. Next, we glued a pair of eyes on each pom-pom. Finally, we individualized each one with accessories. Some received top hats. Some got baseball caps. A few had baseball caps on backwards because they were the bad-asses.

I have no idea how my Dad came by this idea. Maybe from a television show? Maybe from a magazine article? I wonder.

The next day, my Dad took these pom-pom people to work and sold them to his coworkers. He sold every single one.

Inspired by the demand, our family spent the next few weeks creating more pom-pom communities. We diversified and created all kinds of original accessories. My brother gave one a shield and sword-toothpick. I gave another a painter’s palette with swabs of paint (pieces of different colored fabric) and a paint brush-toothpick.

One of our favorites was a black pom-pom with a toothpick we colored red and a black piece of felt around his back — a lightsaber and cape. Get it? Pom-pom Darth Vader! Ah, to be young and imaginative.

Demand remained steady for a month or so. Production kept up with demand steadily. In other words, coworkers kept buying them and we kept making them.

He gave us portions of the money. Some of it was allotted to bank accounts my parents opened for us. Though we were too young to use any of that money, they instilled the virtue of saving money even back then. The remaining cash was used to buy toys and comic books.

Then we saturated the market. Demand fell. We had to scale production back. The unsold pom-pom people remained at my Dad’s desk until he sold every last one in the trailing months. My brother and I kept a few choice favorites back home. I still have a pom-pom painter.

The next time I engaged in an entrepreneurial activity was college, where I used my meager training in graphic and web design to do some freelance work. I did a few small jobs here and there, getting paid what I thought was a mountain of money, though I realize now it was pennies compared to what professional freelancers made.

Having a taste of freelance work was but a sip of being self-employed, a common baby step towards entrepreneurship. The desire to be a business owner always stuck in my peripheral though — not just to be self-employed, but to be a business owner. Not as a freelancer, but as a leader who manages a company of employees doing something fun, profitable, and worthwhile.

Fast forward to 2007, way after the collapse of the Wild West Web. I finally decided to take a gulp, turn my head, and stare straight at entrepreneurship. I flirted with a few ideas, started a few projects, and did a few cool things with some friends, all of which further whet my appetite.

A year ago, I finally founded a formal business with two other entrepreneurs.

It’s still a young company, but it is already profitable, which is saying a lot in the current economic recession. Years of learning, preparing, and planning are beginning to pay off.

I just moved to a new apartment too. While unpacking, I found my old pom pom painter. A grand grin grew on my face. Life was coming full circle. That pom pom guy is sitting on my laptop right now as I write this. Once I finish, I’m going back to work (there is no such thing as a weekend for an entrepreneur).

What a journey it has been, from a pom pom ball to a small business owner. Thanks Dad! I can’t wait to buy my kids a bag of (metaphorical) pom pom balls too.

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

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