In early 2013 my three kids and I were in a bad spot—emotionally, financially, maybe even spiritually. We had been in North Carolina for almost two years, having moved here to accommodate mom and dad’s divorce and separation into two households. Awful for all of us.
When i got here, I didn’t have a job. By early 2013 I had been close on several jobs, to employment contract level, even. The latest job prospect (with a company called Divorce Care in Wake Forest) had been several months in the works, had reached employment contract review, etc., and finally, one April day, ended in a phone call: “We’ve decided to hold off on hiring this position.”
I was SO MAD. Mad at Divorce Care, the universe, life, God, and mostly myself for apparently being so incompetent that even as a divorcé with 20 years of marketing experience I couldn’t get a job as a marketer at a divorce company.
That evening, as so many evenings in 2012-13, the kids and i ended up at the Wooden Nickel Pub for a burger. They were more philosophical about it and just a tad caustic: “Dad, it’s OK. Just don’t have a job. Keep living in your crappy apartment. You’re a hipster poet, you can wander the streets.”
I was not so philosophical. I raised my fist to heaven, right there on the sidewalk in front of Wooden Nickel, and screamed, “BUT I NEED A FUCKING JOB!!”
In front of my kids and the whole town. Wow, i lost it. My son Elijah was so heartbroken by this display he said he would walk home (four miles). The girls cowered, ready to be taken back to their mom’s house.
After the darkest night of the soul in years, i woke up realizing, “This can’t continue. We must make progress, however incremental.” The only point of light I could think of was Eli’s volunteering at the Durham Bike Co-Op, which he had been doing for a year and had recently been assigned “mechanic on duty” during one of the open workshops. He was only 14 but was handy with a wrench.
I proposed to Eli that we start a bike shop. He was so cynical, even at 14, that he thought I was kidding—or worse, being cruel. He kept saying it wasn’t possible. I said, “Watch this,” in a typical dad moment. We sat down and created an Indiegogo fundraiser. I set it for $2500, since he said that’s how much tools would cost; I wrote it, and he reviewed it and clicked “launch this fundraiser.” He had increased the ask to $3500. “We’ll probably need more, Dad,” he said. This was now Eli’s thing.
As fate would have it, that fundraiser surpassed its goal. So we did, actually, start a bike shop. Here’s what it looked like the day we opened:
And soon there were newspaper articles written about us, lots of word of mouth, even a very cool video made by a film student at UNC, all of which you can see at hillsboroughbicycle.com. We’ve served over 500 customers, worked on almost a thousand bikes, and in our small way made the Hillsborough community a better place.
So yesterday we started a new fundraiser, and people have already given over $400:
The first reason I embrace crowdfunding is that it lets us know that people care. Starting a project or business can be a very lonely task. Looking over a list of 60 people who have put their money behind your effort is encouraging in a way a bank loan—or even a singular personal gift—could never be. You get to meet the angels who actually do care about life, things going well, problems being solved. There’s no blessing like it.
The second reason is it keeps us out of debt. Debt, for a small business, should be a last resort option. When you’re in a low-cash-flow type business like a bike shop, ideally you can pay your bills. Bike shops (and similar businesses) are too small and risky to carry bank loans. I’ve heard of bike shops in particular going out of business because they’d borrowed too much.
The third reason is it gives friends and community people a chance to underwrite something they care about—something that makes their community a better place. So, years later, when the project is still thriving (as Hillsborough Bicycle is), they can point to it and say, “I helped start that.”
With all that said, I want you to know THINGS ARE LOOKING UP for the Belzes in Hillsborough. I invite you to email Eli or me (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) and to thrown $10 or $20 into the new fundraiser to help us meet our next goal.
Dad, Natalie, Eli – Fall 2013