PROFILE: Jevona Watson, Entrepreneur & Founder of Detroit Sip

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Detroit, Michigan 

Then Story: Attorney/Mom
Now Story: Attorney/Mom+Entrepreneur/Founder of Detroit Sip
Curb Moment: Having someone invest in my dream

The city of Detroit is emerging from bankruptcy with a renewed sense of purpose attracting both corporate giants and solo entrepreneurs anxious to play a role in The Motor City’s regeneration. No one is more emblematic of the latter than Detroit native Jevona Watson whose curb moment included acting on a long held dream to serve up inspiration one sip at a time.

What do you do? Tell us about it.

Well in addition to my work as a full time attorney and a mom, I’m now the founder and owner of Detroit Sip which is a coffee shop and gathering place in the neighborhood where I live in Detroit.

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Why did you make the shift to start Detroit Sip and what would you say was your “curb moment?”

I think I’ve actually had more than one curb moment!

I grew up being taught that you go to school to get a good education. Then, you work hard, and enter a profession. So that’s the model I followed my whole life with the focus on getting a good job. I never heard that I could create a job for myself or become an entrepreneur, so owning my own business was something I hadn’t really explored.

I went to Michigan State University, graduated with a law degree and became an attorney so I was following the traditional path. However, while I was at Michigan State, instead of studying at the library, some of the students would study at a coffee shop. Every time I studied at the coffee shop I saw people hanging out, drinking coffee, connecting with each other and having meaningful conversations. It was a positive feeling and I loved being a part of it and the relationships I built over a simple cup of coffee.

I think the dream got planted then, that ‘I’d really love to have a coffee shop someday.’ I imagined it was kind of a ‘if I win the lottery, then I’ll do it kind of dream!’ That’s how I framed it in my mind; as something I thought about long term, but was not actually going to happen unless I got the winning ticket. Then, something unexpected happened. Someone I shared my vision with, and who deeply cares about me, bought a building in the neighborhood not far from where I live and said, ‘here you go Jevona, now go make that dream happen!’

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That’s incredible. So be careful what you wish for!

Exactly!

What kind of challenges have you had and how have you overcome them?

What challenges haven’t I had! Well it’s been a three year process. I still work full time as an attorney and have two kids, 16 and 11, so balancing my life with the business is a big challenge. (Note: during our interview, Jevona is multi-tasking; walking through a superstore on her lunch hour shopping for supplies needed for the shop’s upcoming weekend!)

We are opened Thursday through Sunday and I’m very hands on with everything. For a long time we were only an empty space and were letting the people in the community use the space for events, performances, and neighborhood gatherings until we opened as a coffee shop. Now college students, young families, retired couples all come in and I get to know them all but I had a huge learning curve in getting the shop off the ground.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know! For example, I didn’t know what questions needed to be asked or what documents needed to be filed. I also envisioned using local vendors and supporting other Detroit owned businesses in the process but wasn’t sure how to go about it initially. I didn’t know how to start a business or how to run a business. But my daddy calls them ‘bought lessons’ because I’ll never have to pay for the same lessons twice! So I obtained knowledge that I’ll never forget because I learned by doing or by researching. I also I think my training as a lawyer helped me navigate the system.

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What advice do you have for others “at the curb” who want to make a career change or start a business?

I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with people who support your dream and what you are trying to do. There are enough people out there who will tell you something can’t be done and why you shouldn’t do it.

Another thing is to be humble and realize you probably know less than you think you do. Don’t be afraid to find others who have started businesses and ask them: ‘what mistakes did you make? what did you learn? what advice would you give?’ I love a quote by Bishop T.D. Jakes who said something years ago that defines my life as a business owner. He said, ‘If you think you are the smartest person in the room, you’ve outgrown the room.’ I have not been the smartest person in the room by far! It’s healthy to stretch yourself and to learn from others who are more knowledgeable and experienced than you are. So you need to take the lead from others who have already done what you want to do or who are currently doing it.

Your building is one of only a handful of occupied buildings on your street with the rest of the buildings being vacant boarded storefronts. This must be difficult. It seems you are a trailblazer in transitioning the neighborhood…

Well I’m very shy so I wouldn’t say that but others have said it, which is humbling. The surrounding area is not very appealing to the eye and in great need of redevelopment but seeing the residents in the neighborhood come in and visit with each other and the gratification I receive from them is very satisfying. It’s nice seeing all the pieces I’ve worked on come together. I also like having my children see that you can create a job for yourself and have impact on those around you and I think they are proud of me for that.

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What keeps you going?

In addition to my kids, I love the energy of the shop and the camaraderie and connection but I also have a bigger vision and that is I hope my shop and what I’ve done leads others to start their own businesses in Detroit. It’s a vibrant city and I want others to see the potential for the future that I do.

Another interviewer asked me if I thought now that big companies are investing in Detroit whether their actions have paved the way for entrepreneurs and small businesses to succeed? I actually think it’s exactly the opposite. I think big businesses are investing in Detroit because they’ve seen entrepreneurs and small businesses succeeding despite the city’s circumstances and challenges. It’s a hopeful message. I think that if they see that we are pulling it off and making a difference with limited capital and resources then they can too!

Visit Jevona and Detroit Sip at 7420 W. McNichols, Detroit, MI 48221

To learn more visit www.detroitsip.com

 

PROFILE: Michelle Aronson, Farmer, Chef, Teacher and Owner of Farmbelly


Santa Barbara, California

Then Story: Garden Manager and Sustainability Coordinator
Now Story: Farmer, Chef, Teacher and Owner of Farmbelly
Curb Moment: Realizing it was finally time to turn her “side hustle” into a full time venture

Have you ever dreamed of turning your “side hustle” into a full time gig? Then take a cue from Farmbelly founder Michelle Aronson who nurtured her love for Irish butter, sweet potatoes and potluck dinners into a full time entrepreneurial adventure.

What do you do? Tell us about it.

I am a farmer, chef, and owner of a farm to table cooking school called Farmbelly. I love empowering people with the skills to grow their own gardens, support local farmers, and to cook confidently + joyfully in their home kitchens. I teach private cooking classes and public workshops to the community, and I also share stories, interviews, and recipes on my website and through social media.


What did you used to do?

I’ve had a wide range of jobs over the past few years, and each one taught me valuable skills and helped me on the path towards owning my own business. I’m a bit of a Jill-of-all-trades, and I’ve worked as a sustainability coordinator, educational farm manager, a high end caterer, a chef at a local restaurant, an elementary garden educator, and as a sales manager at a local produce distributor – just to name a few!

Why did you make the shift to something different and what would you say was your “curb moment?”

I’m grateful to say that I’ve truly loved all the jobs I had prior to starting my own business. That being said, I’m an entrepreneur at heart – and I craved the freedom and independence that comes with being your own boss. I initially launched Farmbelly three years ago and taught classes as a “side hustle” while maintaining a full time job at Westmont College, as the Sustainability Coordinator and Garden Manager. Slowly but surely, Farmbelly grew and I was consistently working 17+ hour days to make it all work! By the fall of 2017 I finally hit a breaking point, and I realized that if I wanted to keep growing Farmbelly (and if I ever wanted to get a full night’s sleep!), I needed to jump in with both feet.


What challenges have you had in making the shift?

Being your own boss requires a lot of discipline and grit – it’s definitely scary to leave the safety net of a secure 9-to-5 job! I’ve had to embrace the fact that being a small business owner means (as least for now) wearing ALL the hats – from scheduling, to accounting, social media, creating new class content, recipe testing, etc.

What has helped you overcome these challenges?

First and foremost, the overwhelming support from my family and friends has been absolutely invaluable. My loved ones have cheered me on since day one, and I never would have been brave enough to make this leap without them. I’m also a devoted list-maker – every night before I go to bed, I make a very detailed to-do list for the following day. That way, when I wake up I’ve already done my “homework” and I’m ready to tackle each day head on.


What advice do you have for others “at the curb” who want to make a career change or start something new?

Don’t be afraid to just START, even if it’s not perfect. I’m all about cultivating new ideas + businesses as “side hustles” – meaning you don’t need to quit your full time job right off the bat! Give yourself the time to work out the kinks of your new venture, and make sure it’s work that you truly feel passionate about. Last but not least, surround yourself with a small but mighty tribe of family, friends, and mentors who will support you and push you forward when the going gets tough. You got this!

To learn more about Michelle and Farmbelly visit www.Farmbelly.com.

 

PROFILE: Justin Lind, Remote Fitness Coach

Camarillo, California

Then Story: Product Design Engineer
Now Story: Remote Fitness Coach/Writer/Teacher
Curb Moment(s): Realizing he was not meant to be an engineer and making his
last student loan payment

What do you do when you finally pay off your student loans? If you’re Justin Lind, and have a deep yearning you aren’t meant to be an engineer for the rest of your career, you quit your job, buy a one way ticket to Istanbul and trust you’ll not only figure out the next leg of your travels but also your life!

What do you do? Tell us about it.

That’s always a fun yet difficult question for me to answer because it is multi-faceted and in flux. I tell people that I am a writer and coach. When I left engineering, I committed to fitness coaching full-time; something I had done on the side for years. This led me to focus on several specialties within the fitness world: kettlebells, gymnastics, and teaching. I consider myself a teacher by nature and I love to explain complex or confusing topics in unique and simple ways.

I have recently realized a long-time goal of location independence. I work completely from my laptop (with help from a camera, digital recorder, and various pieces of fitness equipment). My two primary income streams are both fitness related: private online coaching and freelance work for an online fitness publication.

I coach individuals remotely – similar to when I was a personal trainer – but many of my clients I have never met in-person. Once we get to know one another and I understand them as a human and an athlete, I create a custom program for them to follow. They send me results and photo/video feedback of various exercises. It’s not for everyone, but works out extremely well for those who are both self-motivated and move well enough that they do not require constant attention. I also teach in-person workshops in variation areas of my fitness expertise. I maintain CoachJustinLind.com to host all of my fitness offerings.

My other income source is freelance writing and video work for a publication called Breaking Muscle. I contribute a piece of writing and/or instructional video weekly. Most of these are technical and focused around my specialties of both kettlebells and gymnastics, but many delve into other physical and mental aspects of health and fitness. (Note: Check out all of Justin’s great articles at his Breaking Muscle coach page!)

I have a new project in the works that will soon become my primary focus. My partner and I are building a website called Super Human Things. The brief explanation of our goal is sharing the stories of super humans, ie. people who are doing amazing things for humanity in any realm from humanitarian work, environmental causes, human growth and development, sports, health, fitness, and nutrition. We are excited to share inspirational stories of people who are advancing the human condition through written and podcast interviews and short, documentary-style videos. Super Human Things will also showcase some of our personal quests as we travel the country in a campervan (currently under construction), such as visiting all 59 US National Parks and honing our skills at big-wall rock climbing.

What did you used to do?

I used to be a Product Design Engineer for an LED lighting company. My degree is in Mechanical Engineering and after interning with the same company for two consecutive summers, they brought me on full-time upon graduation.

Why did you make the shift to something different and what would you say was your “curb moment?”

I feel that I knew for years that I was not meant to be an engineer. I excelled in school, especially math and physics, so my parents and advisors recommended engineering. While in college, I enjoyed my classes and projects but knew I did not feel the passion or enthusiasm that most of the other engineers seemed to exude.
This feeling continued and deepened once I found myself at a desk 9-10 hours a day. I even told my mom less than a week into my first “real” job that I wasn’t planning to stay very long.

My “curb moment” came in paying off my student loans. Once I began working full-time (and making more money than any 23-year-old needs) I committed to paying off my student loans as quickly as possible. I didn’t have excessive debt and managed to pay it off in two and a half years. I remember the tremendous lightness and freedom that followed my final payment. No longer financially beholden, I realized that I no longer needed my job. Within two weeks of that final payment I had made plans to quit and purchased a one-way ticket to Istanbul for 6 months down the road. I wasn’t entirely certain of my next step, but decided that long-term, solo travel was a great way to figure it out.

What challenges have you had in making the shift?

I didn’t really face many challenges upon first leaving. I saved a big travel fund in the 6 months before departing and all of the co-workers, friends, and parents were extremely supportive of my decision to travel indefinitely.

Most of my challenges came once I returned from my 9-month travel adventure. I struggled to figure out my next steps, and returned without a clear plan and essentially no savings. I knew that I wanted to focus on my passion for coaching, writing, and teaching. My stated plan at the time was to surround myself with the types of people that I wanted to be surrounded by and be open to step through doors as they opened.
Another huge challenge came in explaining all of this to my parents and the other important adults in my life. I received mostly support and trust, but also a lot of not-so-subtle, unsolicited “guidance” on what they all thought would suit me best. It came from love, but it also cast doubt on my plans.

The most difficult challenge is one that I still face with many of my closest peers and friends. As with anyone who steps “off the curb,” I felt my peers’ resistance to the broad scale changes that I was making. My friends were always supportive of my decision but I found that in expressing my values and desires for a big shift I had to tread a fine line to not sound critical of their life choices. I was critical of my former path and found that my shift could be received as an affront to many of my friends’ chosen paths.

What has helped you overcome these challenges?

Patience and commitment. Leaving one path before fully understanding my next step meant that I needed time to both figure out my new direction and develop those pursuits. I had to constantly remind myself that I made these changes for me, and thus I was the only one who could possibly judge the merit of my choices. External guidance and advice can be invaluable but ultimately these changes need to be “selfish.”


I also had to remain committed to my personal values, even when they flew in the face of societal or peer group values. I made my switch based on maximizing my freedom and ability to explore the world, myself, and my passions. Finances are secondary to all of these pursuits. I often joke that I traded income for quality of life. Holding this value in mind helps me feel gratitude for the freedom and excitement that fill my life and accept that at 30 I make far less money than I did at 24.

At times I still feel like a mirror that reflects back my peers’ discontent. I remind myself that making a huge shift comes with sacrifices and trade-offs. My friends who follow very different paths also have amazing benefits with a few trade-offs. Our paths diverging is only a result of us each being strong individuals and it only strengthens our love and respect for one another.

What advice do you have for others “at the curb” who want to make a career change or start something new?

Just start.

This is the obvious and cliched first piece of advice, but that’s because it is also the most potent. I could have been better about planning my next phase, but feel no regret at all for the way that I went about my stepping off the curb. You are at the beginning of a road. You can see the mountain in the distance but can’t see anything around the first bend. The only way to travel that road is to begin, addressing each twist and turn as they come. It wouldn’t be nearly as exciting if you could see the whole road in the beginning.

Doors are always opening. Put yourself in the spheres, communities, fields, etc. that you would like to be and you’ll be amazed by what type of opportunities begin to arise.
I write and continue to write about my experience and values. If you are interested, please check out JustinMLind.com. I would also love to hear from you if you would like some guidance on your “off the curb” pursuit.
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Photo Credit Links
Habit Group NZ – http://www.habit.co.nz/
Michelle Ramirez – http://mramirezphotography.com/
David Kafer – https://www.davidkafer.com/

PROFILE: Gabe Nelson, Founder, CHESS-CLUB

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Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Then Story: High school sophomore/sales associate
Now Story: High school senior/Founder of CHESS-CLUB clothing
Curb Moment: Realizing instead of working for someone else’s brand he could create his own

A pivotal moment at a summer job working for a men’s clothing store taught 17 year old Gabe Nelson that it’s never too early to follow your instincts to make a change.

What was your inspiration for starting your own business?

My inspiration for starting my own business was my dad. My dad started his own business after working for someone for several years. He started it because he realized working under someone was not what he was meant to do and because he needed to provide for us, his family.

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PROFILE: Alexandra Gove, Founder, Hygge Life

Denver, Colorado & Amsterdam, Holland

Then Story: Working for a shoe company
Now Story: Creator/Owner Hygge Life
Curb Moment: A walk on a gloomy day in Amsterdam

Inspired by the feeling gained from a single word, Alexandra Gove followed her heart and her ingenuity across multiple continents to create a home decor brand intended to bring joy, comfort and meaning to life’s every day moments.

Your career path is not the most linear or traditional, tell us about it, and your background?

I grew up in Castle Rock, Colorado and went to school at Wake Forest in North Carolina for track and field. I was a hurdler. After graduation, I worked as a track and field coach, and then in hospitality and events management up in Vail. While I was in Vail, I met Koen who is now my fiancé, and we started dating. Koen was doing an internship in

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PROFILE: Shereen Abdel-Meguid, Founder, Heart Trust

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Riverside, Connecticut

Then Story: International banking/Full time mom
Now Story: Founder, Heart Trust
Curb Moment: Meeting a boy named Henry

In a strong departure from her initial career in international banking, Shereen Abdel-Meguid credits finding her true calling to a particularly poignant curb moment; a chance encounter with a young boy named Henry who inspired Sherry to pursue a new path “saving tiny hearts” around the world.

You once had a financial career in New York City, how did you end up doing what you are doing now?

My learning curve had become flat; I was in the Northeast Africa Lending Group in the ’80’s for a U.S. major bank and was saying ‘no’ all the time to banks in Africa who were looking for loans or lines of credit. It just wasn’t challenging anymore. My creativity was stifled and I was no longer drawn to the idea of an international banking career. A few years after my first child was born, I decided to stay home full time. In my heart I knew that’s where I needed to be but intellectually I wasn’t growing the way my soul needed and I knew I needed to pursue something more– I just wasn’t sure what that should be.

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Sommer Chaka, Founder, Happy Body Kitchen

Boulder, Colorado

Then Story: Working in online advertising
Now Story: Founder/Owner, Happy Body Kitchen
Curb Moment: A promotion (to a job she didn’t want!)

What happens when your boss offers you a promotion? “Give your two weeks notice and quit,” says Sommer Chaka, who skipped out on the new position but created a fulfilling new career instead.

What do you do? Describe your business for us?

About a year and a half ago I became certified as a holistic nutritionist. It was the best decision in my life, because not only did I learn incredible things about keeping myself healthy, I also learned how to help others improve their lives by simply improving the quality of what they are eating.

My business is called Happy Body Kitchen and my approach is simple; I teach a whole foods, plant based lifestyle.

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