Life Style

My Entrepreneurial Journey

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There is no standard journey or common path to becoming an entrepreneur. Each of us has our own story and our own reason for choosing this path. The entrepreneurial path lacks “perceived” security, elements of prestige, and can be a lonely journey. However, I’ve found that the fear can be properly managed when security is objectively analyzed.

My journey began really taking shape after spending around 20 years working in large Fortune 500 companies. As I began thinking about my next 20 years, I found myself not being excited about the different paths and potential positions that were in front of me.

I longed for a career that didn’t have me checking my 401k and wondering regularly if I had the “security” needed to walk away and enjoy life.

I built out my entrepreneurial transition plan that was based on security and financial independence. I shared that plan with a few mentors that I trusted and asked for their thoughts and feedback.

Sharing my desires and my plan was the first step of my entrepreneurial journey. Getting serious about a transition and what possible next steps I would make changed my mindset radically. Things I previously ignored, I now looked at as opportunities, and in my case, the timeline I laid out for myself got pulled forward by a chance encounter that I would have ignored if I hadn’t laid my plan out earlier.

Jumping into a brewery partnership didn’t match my “strategic plan,” but it aligned with what I had written and shared with mentors. I approached it in a minimum viable product manner while still working within a large corporation. Mistakes were numerous and expensive, but they didn’t bankrupt the business. Step by step, the brewery gained momentum and new opportunities came our way. My strategic plan had now been radically accelerated, and the time came that I had to pull the plug from my perceived security provided by working within a large corporation.

I’ve got a few pieces of advice for others that might be in a situation similar to mine:

  1. Develop a work forever mindset: If you are doing a job that you really love and you’re passionate about, you’ll never consider retiring. Retiring and doing nothing is a recipe for misery.

  2. Develop a plan and share that plan with a few people you trust: Be strategic about what you could see yourself doing for the rest of your life. Do research on what skills you’ll need to gain, what capital you’ll need, and what your timeline will be.

  3. Take an iterative approach: Going “all-in” shouldn’t happen until ideas have been tested and business plans have been validated. Make small investments and your new vocation should start as a hobby.

  4. Make the leap: Once the business has been validated, it’s time to make the transition. Risk and danger are two different things. It’s risky to start a new venture on your own, or with partners. It’s dangerous to work without passion, or excitement. You only get one life to live. Living it with passion, purpose, and excitement is worth the risk.


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Jeff Charlson

Jeff Charlson is partner/CEO of Bike Rack Brewing Co. and Senior Entrepreneur in Residence for Startup Junkie. Jeff helped found Bike Rack Brewing Co. in 2014 while he was still working at Walmart Stores, Inc. in Bentonville, AR. Jeff spent nearly 25 years working for three Fortune 500 companies. Jeff had various roles in technology, management & sales throughout his career. The last 7 years of Jeff's career at Walmart were as a corporate officer/VP within the technology division. Jeff has lived in NWA for the last 17 years, and loves connecting with the community, working with entrepreneurs, listening to live music, mountain biking and spending time with his family & friends.

Defining Identity

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When I first set out to write this blog post, I was thinking through the concept of work life balance. I’ve always been a verbal processor, so while talking this through with my husband over dinner, he helped me realize the point I was really trying to convey was understanding our IDENTITY.

(Warning, I’m an engineer, so there’s going to be a little math in this post, but I promise, you’ll be able to follow along.)

As entrepreneurs, how do we define our identity?

If you’re like many of us, our identity is mostly wrapped up in our company. However, there is a small problem with:

ME = COMPANY

If the statistics are to be believed, anywhere from 75-90% of startups fail. This means:

ME = FAILURE (approx. 82.5% of the time)

If we use that equation, that means 82.5% of entrepreneurs are failures, and that just doesn’t pass the “sniff-test” with me.

I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs, and none of them are failures. In fact, all of them are successes, and sometimes, in areas they didn’t expect.

This is why it is so important to find balance in our identity. Aristotle tells us “the whole is more than a sum of its parts,” so we need to make sure we have multiple parts to sum up!

For me, cycling is one of my “parts.” Cycling has provided me with challenges and successes to balance the days (and sometimes weeks) that nothing goes right.

I spent a significant chunk of my time this summer training for the Roger’s Cycling Festival, “Race for the Spike.” This is an event where a team of cyclists line-up, first thing in the morning, in downtown Rogers and race the A&M train.

More math if you’re interested…. If a bike rider leaves downtown Rogers and travels 5.65 miles north on Arkansas Street to Avoca, and the A&M train leaves Avoca traveling south at the same time the bike rider leaves Rogers, what speed will the bike rider need to average to beat the train back to downtown Rogers if the train takes 34 minutes to complete the trip from Avoca to Rogers?

The answer, if you’re not: It’s about 20 mph

This race was a tough push into the wind, and provided such an amazing sense of accomplishment when I beat the train. That afternoon was also the day I found out my startup company had been declined a federal grant we were assured we’d get. That grant was worth 2 years of support, worth $750,000.

That afternoon sucked. I cried. Twice.

But I still beat the train, and I raced again that night.

Beating the train may have been the only redeeming part of that day. It stood as a testament that I could still achieve the goals I had worked hard for, even if I didn’t realize everything I wanted.

Every time I have a horrible day, I know I can find a few minutes of joy on my bike.  Whether that’s going out for a ride with friends, coaching my mountain bike team, or just peddling up to Bike Rack Brewing for a pint. If you take nothing else away from this story, build balance into your identity, because one day you’ll need it.


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Ellen Brune, Ph.D.

As the Senior Entrepreneur in Residence, Ellen’s focus is growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem for science based startups and craft food and beverage ventures. Ellen has a PhD in Chemical Engineering and is the Founder of Boston Mountain Biotech (www.mtnbio.com) in Fayetteville, Arkansas. In her role as a mentor to the startup community, Ellen has provided support in the areas of business development and strategy, research validation, commercialization studies, and patent strategy. To support youth development, Ellen is a coach with the Arkansas State Interscholastic Cycling Association and the Little Bella’s program which, helps build character and confidence through mountain biking.