"Like the guy in Psalm 130, I am writing to you out of the depths of despair.
"I started a retail business last year involving a hot new technology. We needed some local real estate and found a pretty good location, but when our contractor inspected the space after we signed the lease, he discovered all kinds of environmental and structural problems with the building, which didn't show up on any of the land records. We were able to get out of the lease, after much yelling, screaming and threats of lawsuits, but it cost us a ton of money.
"After a diligent search, we found another good location for the business. This time, I had the contractor examine the space before we signed the lease.
"But then the real problems began. It cost us twice as much as we budgeted to build out the space. A relative of mine had arranged some financing from some of his country-club friends, but we burned through that dealing with the first lease. When I went back to him asking for help with a second round, he said he wouldn't do it — not couldn't, wouldn't — and started calling me all kinds of bad names of which 'stupid,' 'incompetent' and 'lunatic' are the only ones you can print in your column.
"OK, I made some mistakes, but I didn't mislead anyone into thinking I was Mark Zuckerberg. Everyone knew that this was a new type of business, that I didn't have a track record in business startups and that nobody, anywhere, had done anything like this before, so we would all have to learn together as we went along. Funny how they forgot about that when the you-know-what hit the fan.
"A lot of suppliers wouldn't give us credit because we were inexperienced in business, so we had to pay cash upfront for the equipment and inventory we needed. Some of it didn't work, and I had to learn to fix things myself because there are no qualified technicians where we are located and I can't afford the downtime to ship it cross-country for repairs.
"In the meantime, my marriage started to deteriorate because I wasn't spending enough time on my day job. After we maxed out on all of our credit cards, my spouse wouldn't put the house at risk to guarantee an SBA loan. We are currently separated, and I'm living in a month-to-month rental with bedbugs until things cool down for a bit. I'm hoping they will, but I may have to choose between this business and watching my kids grow up.
"The really weird thing is that I haven't yet given up on this business. I know this is going to work. We opened our doors a couple of weeks ago and are getting tons of new customers as well as extremely favorable local press and word of mouth. It will be a while before we can cover expenses, but we have revenue, and we are getting there. I have spoken to the landlord, and he's willing to stretch out the rent payments for a couple of months. I have even gone over my rich relative's head and directly contacted his friends who loaned us startup money, asking them to tour our operations and consider either making another loan or converting their existing loan into a piece of the business. A couple have visited the store and said they would.
"I have been through Hell and back, but I am not giving up on this. I am working with a financial planner willing to donate her time and have found a local accountant willing to introduce me to some local angel investors. I'm not sure anyone can give me advice I haven't already received, but I could really use some inspiration right now. Can you tell me something that will help me get through this?"
Never mind the new "Star Wars" movie. If you are looking for a real, honest-to-goodness American hero, look no further than this email, which crossed my inbox recently. Whoever wrote this (he or she did not leave a name) has my nomination for Entrepreneur of the Year.
A lot of people start businesses thinking it will all be fun and games; that everyone (customers, suppliers and investors) will buy into their idea the minute they open their mouth; that there will never be even a moment of stress or doubt; and that everyone will love, worship and adore them like, well, the heroes in a "Star Wars" movie. We love watching these characters take leaps of faith and huge death-defying risks because, frankly, we're not being asked to do it ourselves, and we know things ultimately end up happily ever after in Hollywood movies.
To see the real world of entrepreneurship up close and personal, re-read this reader's email. (To be continued next week ...)
Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our webpage at www.creators.com.