Life, Love & Kudzu
In 2010, I was a single mother working 60 hours per week for a regional media group. By that point, I had worked for two unfulfilling, rather exhausting, decades in the corporate world. For me, work was something you did to pay the bills. It wasn’t supposed to make you happy. In fact, I had resigned myself to being never being truly fulfilled. Until… I came face to face with my destiny over a breakfast buffet.
Kenny and I were attending the same leadership program. One morning, we reached for the same donut. He was a handsome former attorney who had left it all behind to follow his dreams and start his own design and print firm, Kudzu Brands. To me, he was a mysterious vigilante, someone who had defied the status quo and wore dapper bowties. Over the next few months, we shared many donuts and talked about his business and my secret desires to get paid doing work I really loved.
It wasn’t long before Kenny asked me to join him in business ownership. Instead of being elated, I panicked. It had been fun dreaming. But, you don’t really get to live your dreams! Do you??
But, the idea would not leave me alone. I had been presented the opportunity I’d always wanted. If I passed this up, I was making a conscious choice to remain miserable.
In August of 2011, I said “yes.” Kenny and I signed the lease on a beautiful new design studio and got engaged on the same day. In June of 2012, we were married on a hillside, under a canopy of kudzu vines, of course.
Those romanticized ideas we all have about owning a business? Well, at first, things were perfect. Within two years, sales had rapidly climbed and we had grown to a staff of ten. Growth is good. Rapid growth is… well, scary. There were so many decisions to make, people to pay and things to keep up with. We had to navigate a new marriage and a rapidly expanding business at the same time. I was soon back to long work days and, with a new baby, many sleepless nights. I would get to the end of the day and realized I had forgotten to eat. I quickly realized that the business was aptly named. It was soon wrapped all the way around me.
At some point, it even stopped being fun. Kenny and I started to argue. In order to get some respite from the stress, and to stay happily married, we established a rule of no talking about the business after 6:00 pm.
In 2013, we lost our largest client and over half of our revenue overnight. Remember that rule about diversifying your client base? That was just one of the many business lessons I had to learn the hard way. Together, we had to lay off half the staff. After it was done, I was so upset, Kenny was worried about my health. It was a very difficult day.
But, despite the rocky patch, within a year, sales were back up. The business kept growing, despite the odds against us. You can’t kill kudzu, right?
But there were more challenges to come. The very next year, we found ourselves holding hands in the oncologist office as we received the news that Kenny had cancer in 80% of his bone marrow. I listened numbly as the doctor told us about all the treatments, the time in the hospital, the costs, and the less than optimistic outcome of his diagnosis.
I didn’t feel sad, at first. I felt mad. Mad that cancer dared to interfere with our plans. It was at that moment that I decided to fight. For Kenny, for us, for the business, for the people we employed, for people everywhere who have a dream to start their own business but haven’t yet found the courage.
I soon realized I was going to need to be mentally and physically prepared to handle a business, a sick husband and two young children. Put your oxygen mask on first, remember? At the advice of a good friend who had been a caregiver for her aging parents, I reorganized my life and my schedule to put myself first. I worked blocks of self-care into my full schedule. I scheduled time to take a yoga class, go for a quick walk or even take a short nap. These “rest breaks” were non-negotiable. Sometimes, if the week had been particularly hard, I treated myself to a massage. My biggest splurge during this time was on someone to clean our house. I once read that you can only have two of the following: success at work, a happy family or a clean house but you cannot have all three! So, I outsourced the one thing I wasn’t able to handle. Coming home to folded clothes was exactly the sanity I needed during a difficult time and was money I never regretted spending.
With these changes, I was able to give the business everything I had. Since dusting myself off and getting back up again, the company has rebounded to 12 employees, won an Asheville Chamber Sky High Growth Award, was selected for the Advantage West ScaleUp Program and recently went through the national Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Small Businesses program.
In January of this year, I was blessed to meet another woman who wanted to leave the corporate world to do what she loved. Heather Johnson and I will soon celebrate one year of doing business as a 100% female-owned company. I spend a lot of time reminding (nagging) her to take care of herself and to make sure she is well rested. This business of owning a business is tough work. You have to be in top form, in body, mind and heart, to take it on.
There are still hard days and always new challenges. But, the experience of doing what I love and learning to love myself in the process, has been, so far, the greatest success story of my life.
Murphy Funkhouser Capps is the CEO and co-founder of Kudzu Brands, a full-coverage branding agency just outside of Asheville, NC. . She is also a speaker, storyteller and award winning playwright. Her husband, Kenny, recently started a nonprofit (www.throwingbonesrun.com) and is planning to run across the state of North Carolina in 2018 to raise money for multiple myeloma, the bone marrow cancer he is fighting. Learn more about Murphy at kudzubrands.com