Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Puerto Penasco: A Faith Venture Future?

I am just back from a vacation with my family to Puerto Penasco, Mexico. I grew up in Arizona and some of my fondest memories are camping with other members of our church in small family-oriented beach towns like Bahia Kino or Puerto Penasco. Today, those sleepy towns are starting to grow up and attract larger American vacation crowds from the Phoenix or Tucson areas. Like many other Mexican resort cities, Puerto Penasco is a city of big contradictions. Though there are signs of a growing middle class today, Mexico seems to be made up of the very rich and the very poor. This contrast is even more glaring in towns like Puerto Penasco with the presence of vacationing Americans buying luxurious beachfront properties.

One of my big desires for a future trip is to visit some of the local ministries serving the poor in Puerto Penasco like Amor Ministries, Manos de Dios, Mission Heart Beat, and Association for International Ministries. Three of these groups are primarily focused on building housing to meet the needs of the poor in the community. They all seem to share a desire to work towards meeting economic development needs but at this point such activity seems limited.

A few years ago, Bud’s Warehouse was in conversations with a ministry group in Juarez, Mexico (Amigos Ministries), interested in opening a Bud’s Warehouse type home improvement thrift store. After my time exploring the non-tourist parts of Puerto Penasco. I’m convinced that a Bud’s Warehouse would be extremely successful in that community and others throughout Mexico. It could be a tremendous way to employ individuals rebuilding lives while creating resources for future economic development opportunities. It’s a perfect opportunity for a dynamic faith venture. Of course, there’s the whole challenge of learning how to work within the Mexican business rules. But I think it is something worth praying about and exploring with other local ministries already in the community. It would be tremendous if we could partner with or give away our model to an organization in Mexico.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Entrepreneurial Rhythms

I feel like I owe an apology for letting my blog fall silent over the last two weeks. I took a week off for some much needed rest with my family. We escaped to the beaches of Puerto Pennasco, Mexico, where I had no cell coverage and internet coverage was nonexistent. Ahh…peace. My intent was to have a series of entries ready to post while I was gone. But as is my standard operating procedure, I ended up getting two weeks of work done in the week prior to my vacation. Unfortunately, my blog posts fell by the wayside.

My recent experience of this cycle of intense work followed by a vacation free from work points to a natural rhythm that entrepreneurs can harness to their benefit. This pattern reflects the rhythm of work and rest that God modeled in the creation story of Genesis 1. God spent a period of creative activity followed by a time of Sabbath rest. For entrepreneurs, I think the great danger isn’t that they won’t work hard enough to succeed, but the danger that they will work so hard that their work product subtly begins to slide. They feel like additional time will create additional value when in fact there is a marginal decline in the value of the additional time at work. It’s the proverbial need to work smarter not harder.

One of the great advantages to running your own enterprises is the ability to choose how and when to work…the chance to move from working by the clock to working for the accomplishment of specific measurable outcomes. It doesn’t matter when the work is done; it just matters whether the work is producing positive outcomes for the enterprise. My recent vacation reminds me that a rhythm of work followed by a time of rest can produce positive results in excess of just powering through endless weeks of work. The mere act of declaring a vacation free from work forces you to accomplish the important stuff before your departure. It also causes you to develop effective teams of co-workers who are capable of moving the business forward in your absence. There is much value in remembering that the business doesn’t succeed or fail only because of your efforts. Finally, I find that a vacation, free from work, restarts my creative nature, which is so important to my role as a leader.

So, today, get out your calendar and schedule in time for rest. It doesn’t have to be a week long vacation. In fact, a weekly observance of Sabbath helps bring this rhythm into day-to-day life. Faith venture entrepreneurs need to remember the importance of focused activity followed by rest.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Faith Venture Focus Event Agenda

I’m looking forward to the first Faith Venture Focus Group at Bud's Warehouse this Thursday, October 16, 2008. I'm excited that the event is “sold out” with ten individuals! Our next event on Nov. 6th is also nearly full. We will plan on holding additional meetings early next year. I expect tomorrow’s discussion on business entrepreneurship for disadvantaged communities to be very interesting. Here’s our agenda for the meeting:

1. Introductions/ Lunch (11:30am to 12:00pm)
2. Brief Introduction to Belay Enterprises (12:00pm- 12:15pm)
3. Entrepreneurial Focus Group Questions (12:15- 1:15pm):

  • What ignited your desire to start a new business venture or to make major changes to an existing business?
  • What motivates you?
  • What is your own biggest strength as an entrepreneur?
  • What do you think are the top three skills required for a business entrepreneur?
  • What skill of your own would you like to improve the most?
  • What’s your favorite part of a normal day in your business?
  • What daily task would you like to give up?
  • What have been some of your biggest mistakes that you wish you could change?
  • How did you fund or find investors for your start-up?
  • Do you believe there is a formula for entrepreneurial success?
  • What defines a good salesperson for your business?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • How does faith influence your business?
  • What company do you admire the most besides your own?
  • Have you ever worked with individuals rebuilding lives from addiction or felony conviction in your business? What do you see as the biggest challenges for working with such individuals?

4. Belay’s Vision for the Future and Prayer (1:15-1:30pm)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bold Goals

About four years ago, I set a bold goal for Belay Enterprises of creating 100 new faith venture businesses over the next five years through our urban micro-enterprise program. A few months after making that goal, it became apparent that I was out in front of God. There was no way Belay was going to assist in the creation of that many businesses during that time period because we had entered a period of unique challenges which would prevent a focus on expansion. At Belay, there is always a tension between focusing on expansion and focusing on the existing. I found myself regretting that I shared my goal with my friend Eric Swanson because he included it in his book Living a Life on Loan. There was no escaping it.

But now five years later, I realize the goal was an appropriate one. It was just my approach that needed a fix. A goal of creating 100 faith-venture businesses in five year is an excellent example of a James Collins’ type of “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” It’s an idea that is so “out there” that it forces an organization to focus and innovate in order to achieve. As I now realize, 100 businesses in 5 year is impossible to accomplish as an organization that is centralized in vision. It takes decentralized leadership held together by a big vision to accomplish such a goal. At Belay, I had been guilty of trying to hold on to the model. In the future, we will achieve our mission by giving our model away.

Over the years, I have come to see that there are much more talented entrepreneurs in the Christian community outside of Belay Enterprises. If we can share our faith venture vision for business enterprises that employ individuals and communities rebuilding lives by releasing our model, these talented entrepreneurs can build many more improved faith venture businesses. This will create more opportunities for the disadvantaged communities Belay seeks to serve. I hope that a decentralized movement of faith venture entrepreneurs will achieve the 100 business goal over the next 5 years.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Gift of Work

Work, in many ways, is a gift from God. The Bible’s first words bless the inherent goodness of creative work: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, NIV) God worked at starting the Universe. He created light, water, food-bearing vegetation, the sun and stars, and all the living creatures of the earth. His six days of work culminated with the creation of man in God’s own image. All that God created was very good. Then God rested on the seventh day because he “had finished the work he had been doing.” (Genesis 2:2, NIV) The Bible teaches that the Sabbath day is holy because of its relationship with work on the prior six days. (Genesis 2:3)

But a key teaching of the Genesis creation story is the idea of man being created in God’s image. As an image-bearer of God, man shares God’s inherent affinity for creative work. This trait becomes damaged as a result of sin entering the world. In Genesis 3:17, work’s creative goodness takes on a component of toil because of man’s original sin. Work is no longer known only by its creative aspects but also by its frustrating and difficult tendencies. One doesn’t have to look very hard to see how sin frustrates work and even contributes to its absence for large communities of men and women. Even though work has good, creative aspects for all individuals, some people find it difficult to find employment because of issues like poverty, addiction, or felony conviction. As a result, those very challenges become self-perpetuating realities because of an inability to support one-self through employment.

With the reality of the two natures of work--its creative necessity and its frustrating nature—there is an important role for faith venture employment ministries in today’s world. Organizations like Belay Enterprises and other business as ministries can step into an area where the market fails the needs of individuals. For a person rebuilding a life from a felony conviction or homelessness, a job can be the first step towards future success and realizing God’s creative designs for an individual’s life.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Adapt and Overcome

Our annual budget planning cycle and October board meeting has kept me from my regular schedule of blogging this week. In the midst of planning for Belay’s future in a rather unprecedented economic situation, I have a couple of observations:

  • In Denver, we are experiencing a business anxiety recession in the midst of a relatively strong economy. Everyone seems panicked about the future. All day long I am dealing with individuals and business people fearful about the future. A friend of mine made an observation that we are scaring ourselves into a recession. We’re in danger of becoming like deer frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car. Collectively as a culture, we need to rediscover our inner drive to overcome problems and tough times. These were strengths of Americans in bygone eras. I sensed we were in trouble a few years ago when pundits were declaring the end of the business cycle. The reality is that economies have built into them the seeds of their own creative destruction. Economies go up and they go down. And there are opportunities to be found in both directions. I’ve chosen to turn off the news and focus on the fundamentals: God, family, serving our customers and clients to the best of our abilities. If it falls apart at some point in the future, we will pick ourselves up and try again, firm in the knowledge that God will provide a way.

  • The future is uncertain…but then isn’t it always? As an entrepreneur, the question comes down to whether you have confidence in yourself to overcome future challenges. Every business plan will face challenges. The key to success, in Army parlance, is adapting and overcoming.

  • Non-profits need self-sustaining models. Last week, I participated in a meeting of Christian ministry professionals. I had an opportunity to share about how Belay’s non-profit model is built upon self-sustaining businesses that do ministry. I forget how very unique it is to have a nonprofit organization that obtains most of its resources without having to rely on financial donations. I walked away from the meeting firm in my conviction that operating businesses isn’t the answer to most non-profits, but that non-profits need to think differently about raising money. Most non-profits act as intermediaries allowing individual donors to buy services for in-need communities or causes. Non-profits need to focus on finding investors that can build product delivery of non-profit services in a way that continually improves quality thereby building increased resources through efficiency and passionate donors. That is a non-profit equivalent to a self-sustaining business. I will explore this more in the future.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rising Above Fight or Flight

When we face fear, we face a choice. For most individuals, the choice becomes one of fight or flight. Should I buckle down and use all my human strength to get through this tough situation or should I run and avoid the problem? But this decision doesn't have to be a dualistic, even/or choice. Jesus teaches that's there's a third way that involves faith. It’s trusting in the God who knows the number of hairs on your head to protect and provide what you need. So with an active faith in God there’s no point running or hiding. God strengthens us to face our toughest situations. Indeed, Jesus teaches that the opposite of faith isn't doubt. It's worry and fear. (Matthew 6:31-34)

For individuals rebuilding lives in our Bud’s Warehouse and Baby Bud’s programs, fear often sets in at the moment of success. This reality of self-sabotage was one of the biggest surprises to me at Belay Enterprises. When an individual nears graduation from our program and starts interviewing for jobs in the community, fear of the unknown and fear of success starts overshadowing possible positive outcomes. Running becomes an attractive option. Program participants sometimes break the law because consciously or subconsciously they are more comfortable with the consequences of bad choices instead of the results of success.

A few weeks ago during a meeting of the Employment Committee of the City of Denver’s Road Home project, a staff member shared her “ah ha” moment related to a recent tour of Baby Bud’s. She said that across the many programs serving homelessness, people inevitable reach a point when they want to run. In her view, what faith-based organizations do so well is to create relationships that help overcome the flight response. She understood what lies at the core of all of our programs: the inherent nature of relationships. It is only through the support of circles of community and close one-on-one relationships that individuals can face their toughest challenges. These relationships mirror and reflect the even more important relationship with God. When these ingredients are in place, people rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness of felony convictions are on a path of healing and wholeness.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Power of Forgiveness

Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12

Like a contagious virus, sin has a way of infecting across generations. Those that are closest to us in our families are the one's most susceptible to collateral damage from our failures. The son who has been physically abused by his father is more likely to hurt his child. The daughter of an addict becomes an alcoholic. The child abandoned by an imprisoned parent channels their uncommunicated anger in unhealthy ways.

Individuals rebuilding lives from addiction and prison aren't the only ones that need to hear Jesus' reminder to forgive as we have been forgiven. We all need to understand that forgiveness is the only way to break the power of evil. The act of forgiveness breaks the destructive cycle of blame and retribution that develops naturally in the face of sin. Richard Rohr in his book Adam's Return notes, "Pain that is not transformed is transmitted." Forgiveness helps to transform the pain. Forgiveness lessens the impact of past memories on our current actions.

Yet, as one of our staff members shared the other morning, sometimes it's hard to forgive because it forces us to deal with our own wrongs. We may have been hurt deeply by a loved one in the past but the reason we can't forgive is because it forces us to face our own sin. Our staff member understood firsthand Jesus' gentle reminder that our hurts and our acts of hurting are related. So we must dive in and do the hard work of forgiving and seeking forgiveness. And we can watch Jesus' power transform our broken world.

Belay Venture Partners Program Selects First Founder

I’m excited to announce that Belay Enterprises has chosen Brittany Marlett as our first participant in the Venture Partners Program. B...