My beloved wife, Glorygene, and I, opened Hamilton’s second Board Game Café, Mancala Monk, in November 2015. We had no idea what we were doing. But that’s not true, that’s just how we felt. It’s not unlike when you have your first child. You plan, prepare, you are literally Purpose personified; but you quickly are made to feel inadequate and overwhelmed. In the months prior to Opening Day, we did everything we could to make sure we weren’t driving our lives directly into the ground. That’s a whole story itself. All the discussion, dreaming, planning, research, interviews, sleepless nights; the back-and-forthing; the risk calculation; the wild internal oscillations; the leap; the birth.
A small business is a lot like a small child; it’s amazing how many times Gene and I mused over that and noticed all the similarities in the first months after lil’ Mancala was born. Mancala Monk is our first business, our fourth child. So, we know what it’s like to have a tiny project tear away every ounce of freedom and sanity you once held so precious. Pfffft, Sanity, so over-rated. (Side note: In August, we are taking the Monk staff on a road trip to GenCon50 in Indianapolis. One of the seminars Gene and I signed up for is called “Small Business Sanity Reclamation”. Can’t wait!)
According to Startupcan.ca, “Current survival rates for small and medium-sized businesses decline over time.” About 70% survive the 2-year mark and only 50% survive the 5-year mark. Thankfully, that is where the analogy breaks down; infant mortality rates in Canada are much, much better. (That was supposed to be funny). 50% is about on par with marriages by the way, but that’s a whole other analogy. The idea is, the longer a business survives, the more likely it is to continue to survive; small ones don’t survive as often as big ones; and while almost any small business can force itself to survive a year or two, if it isn’t healthy and sustainable and growing, it won’t last much longer than that. It’s HARD work. And the death of an infant is no easy thing.
The question we get the most is, “What made you do it? Why open the Cafe?” I never have a good answer to that question. I usually say something along the lines of, “We thought it was a good idea.” “We like a challenge.” “We love Board Games and Coffee.” It’s hard to say. No one ever asks, “Why did you choose to have children?” I probably wouldn’t have a good answer to that either.
Opening a small business, like all major, high-impact life decisions, is a decision you make somewhere in your viscera, not in your brain. Your brain is, hopefully, involved. But I don’t think your brain ever decides to do it, you realize that you have already decided. You agonize, work and educate your mind up to a point, but eventually your viscera take over, make all the intangible calculations that are beyond your conscious awareness and then produce an answer that your mind becomes aware of later. And you’re just as shocked as anybody else.
“So … we’re really gonna do this?”
And then she looked back at me and smiled, “Yeah. Let’s have another one.”