Words and photos by Karly Siroky, Columnist
I’ve never liked out and back. It always seemed so repetitive. Why would you ever choose to walk a trail you’ve already seen? Already sniffed?
And then I remembered—because you see it differently.
While driving to a friend’s house last summer, I had a vision. It appeared like a deer in the headlights. As soon as I arrived, I demanded a paper and pen. She happily obliged, easily detecting I was onto one of my wild hairs.
I kneeled at the coffee table and a sketch emerged, a triangle with points labeled: coaching, creative, capital. Beside it, a smaller triangle: people, planet, profit.
Little did I know I would spend the next nine months nurturing and proselytizing this dream, till my legs or lungs gave out, or until I reached the finish line.
I am a slave to my ideas. They often overpower me such that I work into the morning gorging on research, sifting through data, and desperately seeking to organize chaos into systems.
This was the ultimate challenge—to evolve Karma into an incubator.
You see, there’s a statistic floating around the webosphere that investor types know like the Pledge of Allegiance: less than 3% of venture capital funding goes to female-founded companies.
I remember standing in the back of a banquet hall at a launch party in Silicon Valley when the co-founder of Kiva shared this sobering statistic. I remember standing in the back of The Riveter when a woman asked Howard Schultz what’s to be done about gender parity in funding women-led businesses.
Nothing was changing, it seemed. Or at least not fast enough.
The first six months was spent analyzing, working the problem from every angle until patterns began to emerge. The deliverable materialized as a 20-page deck, mostly to show my business mentors that I’d done my homework.
At first, our vision was met with applause—from our attorney, financial advisor, and closest colleagues. The next level was supportive, and a bit more scrupulous: wealth managers, startup founders and experienced CFOs. The ones who’ve seen enough to know that the next generation has a lot to learn.
Eventually, I found myself across the table from the Big Cheeses—seasoned investors whose job it is to take a machete to the underbrush, cast the weeds aside, and reveal the path to the largest returns. The ones who deliver harsh truths and constructive criticism, wrapped in 400-level investment jargon.
Belittled to the point of delirium, I felt so frustrated not to be making as much progress as I’d hoped. I felt lost. Defeated. Discouraged.
My plan was to venture forth from Seattle to Silicon Valley, pick up some inspiration and education along the way, and return victoriously to the Puget Sound.
Out and back. Why? To find investors, of course!
It all seemed so silly. Too risky, too complex. That’s what they told me.
Any normal person would easily sidestep a trap that obvious, it seemed.
I lamented to a girlfriend on the phone. Perhaps I’m not the one who’s meant to do this work. Perhaps now is not the right time. How much longer could I go on bootstrapping this business before it begins to catabolize itself, the way a starving body burns muscle and bone just to survive?
As I blazed down the interstate, I made an observation: in freeway driving, the best way to get ahead is to move into open space. To go forward, not backward.
I asked for a sign. Either to keep going, or walk away.
I continued narrating to my girlfriend,
“Well,” I could practically hear her smile, “there’s your sign.”
My California dreamin’ felt more like a free fall. As I got closer and closer to the Bay, my doubt grew stronger and stronger. Originally, I’d envisioned a week full of meetings with people who’d tell me my idea was good, my roadmap clear, and simply ask where to sign.
As the no’s and sorry’s rolled in, I wanted to run away to the desert. I wanted to find a giant rock, hide in its shadow till the world forgot about me, and return as someone no one recognized.
In a hallway lined with doors, I was scanning desperately for an Exit sign.
What happened instead was quite different.
In lieu of meeting with investors, I rested. I played. I connected with purpose. Not with the people who would give us money, but with the people who would help give me my life back.
We built sheet forts. We made waffles. We watched as he swung his daughter across the river on a 50-foot rope, each time returning to the safety of his arms.
Out, and back. Out, and back.
I connected with women who picked me up from the dirt, brushed me off, and assured me that the idea did hold water. That it is still needed. And that yes—swimming upstream is exactly how it feels to be challenging the status quo.
And, I spent every waking hour I could sitting on that deck in the shade of the redwoods, listening to the confluence of a small creek with the San Lorenzo River, sheltered deep in the Santa Cruz mountains.
As we completed our out and back, rounding the bend toward home, she saw a squirrel. The pink tennis ball dropped from her mouth. Nothing else existed.
I was invited back to the present moment, one that changes with every second. One that constantly replenishes itself like the river that flows. One that looks completely different going out than it does coming back.
I chose to keep going.
Karly Siroky is the founder of Karma, a brand incubator and basecamp for B-corps, entrepreneurs and visionary companies committed to doing good. She and her women-led team build, guide and launch brands for clients who place people and planet over profit. Karly also serves as Lucia's design advisor. Her column offers a heartfelt look into life as an entrepreneur and navigator of the creative wilderness.