[This is a series of articles on reflections & ruminations on striving for mindfulness as a founder / entrepreneur.]
Most entrepreneurs have financial sustainability among their key priorities, and that can be challenging enough. But there are other things that I, along with several other entrepreneurs in the community aspire to sustain too: the planet, their team’s well-being, and their own well-being too.
I wonder: HOW might each business might approach this? HOW do I know in which area to start? HOW will I know if this is the right way?
Prior to my life as founder of MUNI, I was the CEO of Punchdrunk Panda, a retail graphic design company making laptop sleeves, tech accessories, shoes, bags, and pretty much anything you could make with graphic-printed fabric (that wasn’t just a t-shirt) that a friend and I had incorporated in 2009.
Some time in 2010, I had watched the industrial design documentary Objectified, from which I intended to learn product design principles for my business, but took away thinking, “We make all of this cool stuff, but what happens when people (customers) are done using them”?
Around the same time, I also got to watch The Story of Stuff, and it got me further questioning our product life cycle, and how capitalism and consumerism have really become a big culprit in the Earth’s changing climate.
I was at a loss on how to source more sustainable materials or make our production more eco-friendly. Because I didn’t know how to change my business, I eventually started on a personal journey towards living a more mindful life instead, starting with one of the simpler areas within my control through the food I ate, and I began eating a largely plant-based diet. I also became even more conscious about my consumption, choosing to consume less, and preferring to consume products that were made locally, used less packaging, and had more compelling stories.
The Tipping Point
Then in the summer of 2012, while on vacation in Baguio, a mountain city in the northern part of the Philippines, I observed the height of a tree-cutting issue with SM, a mall developer set to cut age old trees down in order to expand their premises. At the same time, my dissatisfaction and restlessness with the work I was doing with Punchdrunk Panda was growing. I saw this as no mere coincidence. It was time for a change.
So after three years of working on Punchdrunk Panda full time, I told my business partner that I needed a break to rethink my involvement in the company, as I really wanted to do something with greater impact and start creating more learning and networking events for like-minded individuals, and supporting the entrepreneurs who I did believe were creating more mindful and meaningful products (like the things we now do with our MUNI Meetups and MUNI Markets).
I took a two and a half month break, and as early as three weeks into it, I tendered my resignation from my post as CEO of Punchdrunk Panda, and looked at how I might build a community for mindful living called MUNI, which has since been my version of a Fight Club for more personally, socially and environmentally conscious living.
It has since been my goal to keep growing this community, to create a culture of caring, where we think more about how we live (shop, eat, travel) and work (balance, ethics, environment), and to keep inspiring cause-driven creatives and entrepreneurs to do good with what they do well. Why? Because I believe that these progressive thinkers and experimenters have the capacity to influence changes and trends in society. And if we can come together to find ways to live with increasing mindfulness and compassion, wouldn’t that ultimately make for a more livable world to be in?
A State of Constant Flux
Having been at it for two years now, trying out what works and what doesn’t, and more importantly, what feels right and congruent to our values, beliefs and aspirations for the community, I’ve found that we’ve been on a constant quest for HOW to build a business that promotes wellness and sustainability, without sacrificing the team’s wellness and financial sustainability in the process.
In the past two years, we explored a number of ideas, like setting up an e-commerce marketplace and subscription service for mindful products, becoming a design, PR & marketing arm for mindful business initiatives, and simply seeing if it was possible for us to generate more revenue from our existing activities (i.e. MUNI Markets) so that our meetups and other activities could be sustained throughout the year.
I was working on MUNI as its only full-time employee, with a core team with Wanna Cancio & Kar Abola with whom I brainstorm plans and strategies, a retainer accountant, outsourced freelancers or project hires, and a regular pool of advocates who volunteer their time for our cause.
And I’ve found that because of the interdisciplinary nature of MUNI, I find a lot of value in working with people who pursue things that matter to them outside of MUNI too, while reminding them not to burn themselves out. The knowledge and expertise they gain from their other endeavors are really valuable when they contribute to MUNI. And the salaries they get from that keep them going, in a way I wouldn’t have been able to finance otherwise.
This year, as a result of a series of life events, I’ve also taken some measures to detach myself from MUNI a little bit, as my personal identity had become so hinged on MUNI. I had initially aspired to get my own financial stability from its success, when all I really want was for MUNI to earn enough to keep doing what we were doing, while organically growing the community through more advocates and ambassadors.
This meant I could perhaps devote less time to “figuring MUNI out”, because my financial wellness would no longer be dependent on its operations, but on the other things I also hoped to do. Through a slow and somewhat heart-tugging process, I eventually opened myself up to the idea of pursuing other learning and growth opportunities (finding other freelance work, taking up further studies, etc.) that I previously closed myself off from before, and yet the very things I wish to do are things that MUNI and the community stand to gain from as well.
I’ve since come to terms with the possibility of sustaining this endeavor without having your entire world revolve all around it – a somewhat radical concept for a lot of startup entrepreneurs.
We’re still figuring out what our next steps are, but with our WHY in place, it becomes easier to accept that life is a constant quest for HOW.
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Related reads: Founder’s Diary: From Self-Combustion to Self-Actualization
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jen Horn is a wanderer, writer, and founder of MUNI, a community for mindful living. She encourages people to think critically – to ask questions about how they shop, eat and travel, to explore more socially and environmentally mindful ways of living and working, while remaining kind to one’s self.
She writes about psychology, wellness and the environment, and loves diving and bike-commuting. Follow her at @nomadmanager.