While speaking to a group of university business students about entrepreneurship, I described four entrepreneurs. Three started fast-growing, innovative firms worth millions. The other was Amanda Bordeaux, founder of Stellar Sitters that connects babysitters with parents.
I asked the class: “Which one of these entrepreneurs would you most aspire to become?” Of the 30 students in the classroom, 26 of them chose Amanda.
Stellar Sitters has no employees, small revenue, and little growth. But trust me: This business is crushing it.
A Pretty Sweet Deal
Amanda has a warm and attractive personality – often smiling and laughing for no reason at all. Her true love is traveling, having visited more than 20 countries (e.g., Thailand and Belize several times, India, the Netherlands, Belgium, Cuba, the Ukraine, Canada, Japan, Hungary, Brazil, and New Zealand). She’s visited 49 US states (Alaska soon!). But wait—she just recently turned 30.
“I took 10 big vacations last year. Big meaning a full week, so that’s 70 days,” says Amanda. “And then when you count the little trips, I would say probably close to 100 days. It’s a pretty sweet deal.”
That is a sweet deal. Amanda rates Stellar Sitters’ performance not by revenue or customers, but rather by her ability to travel: “This year, when I look at the amount of time that I worked versus the money that came in, I was amazed. Yeah, it was a super-successful year.” Growth companies focus on metrics such as “revenue per employee,” while Stellar Sitters focuses on metrics such as “travel days to revenue.”
Ironically, Amanda’s travel played a major role in her starting Stellar Sitters. She created her first babysitter list in 2004 while attending Meredith College, an all-women’s liberal arts college in Raleigh. During her junior year, she took a summer-long mission trip to Thailand, but the families she babysat for back home were lost without her. They begged Amanda for babysitter recommendations. In response, she created a detailed list of sitters along with their qualifications. The list’s popularity grew from there. “I would run down the dorm hall knocking on doors asking people ‘Who can babysit Saturday night?’”
One mother suggested she sell the detailed list of babysitters to other parents. Still in college, Amanda began selling the list for $5 a copy. She earned about $500 and celebrated by taking a cruise. The rest is history. Today, nearly 13 years later, she still connects parents both in Raleigh and Wilmington with babysitters, and no surprise, they still love her service as much as they did in 2004.
No Thanks to Growth
While Amanda’s list was growing in popularity, I met Amanda for lunch to discuss Stellar Sitters. I tried to tell her how to grow, how to succeed, how to plan, and how to do everything. As it turned out, I didn’t quite understand Amanda’s intentions for Stellar Sitters. Amanda views growth as trying to become bigger, and therefore, wealthier.
“Our culture tells us bigger is better, but I’m not going to buy into it. The bigger house, the nicer car, the promotion at work. People do that because that’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s kind of like a cookie cutter thing. You get the promotion at work so you can make more money so you can buy a bigger house, a nicer car and buy more things for your kids. But then you’re spending less time with your family, and you’re not enjoying your job because it’s time-consuming with more headaches. It’s this lie that people come to believe. And once they get into it, they don’t love it like they thought they would.”
The Default Strategy Doesn’t Always Mean “Growth”
I went to lunch with the intention to provide Amanda advice. Turns out, she taught me a valuable lesson. You don’t need growth to be successful. Too many founders, myself included, believe that to start an innovative company, you must grow revenues, you must add employees, and you must add customers. But do you always? Maybe many of us should strive to be like Amanda by keeping things simple—providing a great product, and doing what we love. Maybe that should be the goal more often than it is?
Consider this: Amanda could have built the “Amazon of Babysitting,” raised venture capital, hired hundreds of employees, and stressed herself out. But if she’d done that—I doubt the thousands of families in Raleigh and Wilmington who use Stellar Sitters would be as happy as they are today. Stellar Sitters would be washed-up and over-baked. It wouldn’t have that touch of Amanda’s Tender Loving Care. And Amanda wouldn’t get to do what she really loves: counting travel days, rather than dollars. Looking back, I often wish I had built what Amanda has built. Wilmington Star News
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