Austin Texas area: Spring, 2012. One year after Fukushima.
“So, let me get this straight.” said the business adviser.
His thick Boston accent and mocking attitude made me feel like I’d called in to NPR’s “Car Talk” to discuss an amusing automotive problem.
He went on, “You have no business experience, no knowledge of marketing and no accounting skills. You don’t know how to make a website, you’ve never heard of Pintrest, Twitter or read a blog. You don’t even own a cell phone. And, you want to start a luxury French tour company.”
“That’s right.” I looked him dead in the eyes for a long moment. This was no simple automotive failure, I was sitting in my local Chamber of Commerce talking about my life, my future… my goals and aspirations.
He looked at me skeptically, “Do you have any money for this business?”
Finally I saw a ray of hope and beamed enthusiastically, “Yep! I have $10,000”. –I’d spent a year backpacking throughout Asia on less than that amount, so I figured it was surely more than enough to start a luxury tour company.
He didn’t look impressed. But, he didn’t flinch either.
He probed further, “And, why do you want to start this particular business?”
Finally he’d asked the right question. I didn’t know where to start. There were so many reasons for me to start this business. I mean why wouldn’t I want to own my own French tour company? The task at hand, though, was convincing this advisor that he could believe in me.
“Well,” I started, “You see, my husband is French so I spend all my summers in this beautiful corner of France right on the Swiss border and I’m just really surprised that there are so few American tourists there. I think it is because there isn’t a lot of public transportation and you really have to speak French to get around.” I noted that the advisor looked amused, but not in a good way.
There might have been a slight hint of irony in his voice when he asked me, “Why do you think Americans will want to go there with your company if there aren’t many Americans going there on their own?”
I could tell he wasn’t getting the picture, so I got a bit more descriptive. “It is the real France! Travelers can’t usually experience this kind of thing. It is the France people dream of discovering but if they don’t speak French they usually just get stuck visiting touristy places. I want to give them an opportunity to have an authentic experience, to live and travel and eat like the French do! The region is covered with hilly sub-alpine mountains. It is SO GREEN! And historic: the hills are dotted with these quaint little villages –each with a church with a mosaic-tiled steeple. There are these fabulous brown and white cows grazing the hillsides with big bells around their necks and the locals just absolutely revere them because their milk is used to make the most marvelous cheeses. And then there is the wine country…”
I kind-of forgot I was talking to a business advisor (and I must have also forgotten that I live with my in-laws during the summer) because I waxed seriously poetic for an unreasonably long time about the splendors and marvels of the Franche-Comte region of France. I mean, I really went on and on and on… and I could feel my eyes twinkling with the delight that it brought me to think of all the wonderful experiences my guests could have in that little unknown corner of France.
Somehow, I don’t think he was swept up with the romance of it at all but I ended with “…and my father-in-law has this charming hotel that he made out of a convent that he completely renovated and decorated with antiques.” And, I didn’t have to give many more details, the business advisor acknowledged that maybe, possibly there was a chance I could make this business work with these encouraging words: “OK, come back next week with a business plan and we’ll see if this is do-able.”
I’m not one to beat around the bush or give false promises, so I told him flat out, “No, I can’t do that.”
He was taken aback and asked, “Why not?”
“I don’t have a plan,” I told him earnestly.
He smiled kindly, “That is why you need to write one,” he said with patience.
This seemed rather like a catch-22 to me, so I tried to clarify the flaw in his logic to him, “I mean, I can’t write down how I’m going to start the business because I don’t know how. You see?”
He got out a booklet and showed me one of the only things about writing a plan that I already understood: the outline of a business plan and what it should contain. I realized he had no grasp of how vast the expanse of my ignorance was. This was the third advisor I’d gotten an appointment with and I wanted to get past a first meeting this time, so I knew it was my turn to be patient and I waited until he’d finished the lesson. He finished with the flourish, “Now, you can write yourself a business plan.”
“No.” I repeated. “You see, I understand the concept of a business plan but I can’t write one because what I don’t know how to do is start this business. That is why I’m here. I really don’t know what to do. I might have to figure out each step as I get to it.”
He wasn’t looking particularly amused anymore.
I felt I needed to console him, “Don’t worry, I can write about how I did it once it is done!”
He looked at me in disbelief. As if struggling to find something to give himself hope, he asked “And what is your current job?”
I looked him straight in the eye and with a deadpan face replied, “I’m a housewife.”