Starting a Business: Sometimes I Cry

By Melissa Dylan

There are three very specific instances when I cry.

  1. When I’m angry.
  2. When I’m overwhelmed.
  3. While watching Grey’s Anatomy.

The first one drives me nuts.  Try driving a point home while wiping snot on your sleeve. You lose all credibility, which makes you even more angry, which makes you anger-cry even more until finally no one is listening to you.

The third reason above is my catharsis.  If there are things in my life I’ve been holding in, Grey’s is my old standby; the comfortable buddy who gently lowers my guard and lets loose all that’s inside and then the elevator door opens and there’s George in an army uniform and it’s perfectly reasonable that I’m a useless puddle on the floor because he’s dead. DEAD. It was George all along who was hit by the bus, and Izzie is flatlining and they’re ignoring her DNR and he’s waiting to take her to the other side.  Nooooooooooo!


But I’m here to talk about reason number two: overwhelmedness.  That’s where I’m at right this second.

I knew this day would come.  As soon as I made the leap from employee to business owner I knew what I was about to do would reach out and engulf me with All the Things I Don’t Yet Know. I knew my to do list, my lack of knowledge, the inevitable timeline, and my rapidly dwindling bank account would be vast. It would catch up to me, probably more than once, sending me into a cry spiral. I’ve accepted it.  I’m prepared. Hello, darkness. My old friend.

I’m surprised it took me this long to get here: I’ve been doing this since January. Surely I would have reached a wall at least 13 times before now. But, no. Not when I took a wrong turn and ended up walking down Skid Row after accidentally checking into a murder hotel. Not when I realized I’d just impulse-bought 75 yards of sequined peacock fabric. And though I definitely realized too late that I was openly weeping in the middle of an International Fabric Expo, that was only 30% due to being overwhelmed with my business and 70% because my grandma had just died and I was trying to book 3 different travel plans for 4 different people in the middle of an International Fabric Expo. (I’d already cried about Grandma while watching Meredith recover from her recent attack.  Thanks, Grey’s.)

I’m stalling. You want to know why I’m crying, don’t you?

Fine, but it’s stupid.

I’m crying because I have absolutely no fucking clue what I want my goddamned fabric store to look like inside.

See?  I told you it was stupid.

But here’s the thing: I’m not crying because I don’t know what I want it too look like. I’m crying because I don’t know what I want it to look like but I have to approve a TI (tenant improvement) budget by basically yesterday. I need to do this in order to sign the lease. I need to sign the lease so I can make sure I get the space, and I need to get the space pronto.

I wasn’t anticipating having a TI allowance.  TI costs drive up the price per square foot of a lease.  The more TI, the higher your monthly rental cost.  I’m keeping monthly expenses as low as possible, and was prepared to accept a basic tenant agreement that allowed me limited say in, like, paint and cheap carpet colors, but that’s it. Due to a series of events that will ultimately delay my opening date, my prospective landlord has offered to kick in more TI in exchange for my taking responsibility for cleaning and tenant improvements. Higher budget and quicker turnaround for me, still keeping prospective tenant for him.

My broker Suggested I “get an estimate on the improvements I want” to ensure their offer will cover the costs. That I shouldn’t sign anything until I know this.

This is where it breaks down. I have no idea what improvements I want. They’ve just moved the ball down the field, only I don’t know exactly how far, or how far I now want the ball to go, or what sport we’re playing, anyway.

Shot put?

I haven’t been fantasizing about the interior of my store. I have a couple of half-hearted Pinterest boards that lazily segue into more and more pictures of fabric. I visualize myself surrounded by fabric, maybe swimming in a pool full of it, or standing in front of bolts, probably on some kind of shelf but only because they can’t just float in midair. Or they’re on the floor. I don’t care. I didn’t even care about my own wedding. I tried to elope before my mom asked if she could please throw me a wedding, and then I let her plan the entire thing and then I just showed up. In an epic dress made out of stunning fabric. Napkin rings? Flowers? Store fixtures? Flooring? Who cares?

I have no experience renovating, decorating, talking shop, pricing flooring.  Does a new floor cost $50,000?  Or $500?  Probably both. So it seems obvious I want to go with the $500 option because I’m still on a budget.  But what if I can now go with a $2,000 option, because I have this magical budget?  What even IS in a $2,000 budget?  Can I work backwards? Can I find out what is in that price range and then choose from that?

The answer seems to be no. After consulting a few people I know whose experience ranges from avid HGTV Fan to Someone Who Has Actually Done This Before, people keep telling me that my job here is to “visualize”and “tell us what you want, and we/they will tell you if we can afford it.” It just doesn’t make any sense.

Imagine if you have no idea how much food costs. ANY food. You’ve eaten tons and tons of it, but you’ve never had to buy it for yourself. Someone hands you $5.

Them: If you could eat anything you want right now, what would you buy with this?
You: Kobe beef.
Them: Haha! Kobe beef costs about 15 times that. Try again.
You: Okay. Um…  Licorice?
Them: Really?  Just licorice? I mean, you can afford more than THAT.
You: Of course. Ha ha. Okay. Chinese take-out?
Them: Mmmmmaybe, if you only get like rice, and no delivery.
You: (exasperated) Lettuce.
Them: Do you mean fancy lettuce?
You: What’s fancy lettuce?
Them: It’s fancier. You’re going to want the fancier lettuce. A regular head of lettuce is less than a dollar.  It tastes like nothing.  Fancier lettuce has more flavor.  I’d go for fancy lettuce.
You: Fine. Fancy lettuce.
Them: The fanciest lettuce is out of your price range, though.
You: What IS in my price range?
Them: TONS of things!
You: Like what?
Them: Well, that’s up to you. I can’t tell you what you want.
You: But I don’t know what I want.
Them: What would you get if you could get anything in the world?
You: Kobe beef.
Them: You can’t afford Kobe beef.

To be continued for infinity.

Why I oughta…

That’s not how I work. I work based on “I have five dollars, so I’m either hungry for a muffin or a sandwich.” And the difference is that I have a basic idea of what a muffin or a sandwich will cost, so the $5 has actual meaning.  I know so little about tenant improvements that having a budget is very much like the scenario above. I don’t know if the allotted budget will cover the improvements I want, because I don’t know what improvements I want. I can’t decide what improvements I want because I don’t know what my budget will cover. Starting with my “best case scenario” does nothing to narrow down my options and wastes everyone’s time while they patiently explain that no, the allotted budget will not cover the cost to construct a waterslide from the roof down to a swimming pool full of fabric in the center of the store, but it might buy me a nice climbing wall. And on and on and on until I’m nothing but a puddle on the floor and this all had to be settled by basically yesterday but none of it is getting me closer to an answer and before you know it it all feels very much like the time the elevator doors opened up and THERE WAS GEORGE in an Army Uniform…

Dammit, George. Whyyyyyyyyy?

And the next thing I know, I’m crying it out.

Which actually helps. Because I decide to accept the TI budget as is and I will make it work no matter what, because I’m a SURGEON, goddamnit.


Melissa Dylan is a writer and MBA who somewhere along the lines may have lost some perspective.

One thought on “Starting a Business: Sometimes I Cry

  1. Since graduating from Kelley myself, I work with business owners in your situation all the time. It’s a lot to handle! When you get to the point where you need to add an employee and need to set up payroll and/or HR, let me know and we can help make that process easy for you so you don’t find yourself in a similar situation. I know a couple people out in Washington you could meet.


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