In 2006, on a wing, a prayer, and perhaps a delusion, I started a publishing company and produced my first book, Hometown Pasadena. Over the past 13 years, I’ve had two offices, 10 employees, three banks, 137 interns, one partner, and untold sleepless nights. Counting the books in the works now, Prospect Park Books is responsible for more than 100 titles. This journey has given me the hubris to share 10 lessons learned over the past 13 years as a Pasadena entrepreneur.
- It’s All About Community
If there are stronger community networks in any other cities, I don’t know them. The nonprofits, the companies, the clubs, the churches, the schools, the youth sports, the associations, the museums, the colleges, the incubators—they all add up to incredible resources. Even though Prospect Park’s reach is international, so many of the best things to happen to my business have come from my own backyard. Become a Rotarian, volunteer at the Pasadena Senior Center, join the Women’s City Club, hear a speaker at Caltech, coach a team, get a meeting with an angel investor … just get out there and get busy in this community.
- Hire Local
Yeah, I know, smart business owners are supposed to cast the net far and wide to find the best talent. But I call BS on that. The best employees I’ve ever had, and the best and only business partner I’ve had, have come from right here. The greater Pasadena area has an incredible pool of smart, educated, talented, creative people. Use ’em.
- Double Your Timeline
Ah, the exuberance of the new entrepreneur! Sometimes when I can handle some self-flagellation I go back and look at my sales projections and business plans from 10 years ago. Hahahahaha! I had no idea what I was guesstimating, and Prospect Park Books never would have survived if I didn’t have the financial support of my husband and a family real estate business. My advice in retrospect: Double your start-up capital budget and double your timeline to become a sustainable business. Scratch that: Triple the timeline.
- Being a Woman Ain’t No Thing
To be honest, I’m not in corporate life, so I don’t get the “women in business” thing. I’m old enough to have experienced straight-up sexism and exclusion, as a pre-Title IX girl in the 1960s who had no access to the “boy” sports (baseball, basketball, football) that I loved. But those days are over. I haven’t experienced a single issue as a business owner for being a woman. I’m just a business owner, not a “woman business owner.”
- Walk to Work
Years ago, when my office was across from ArtCenter South, I realized the absurdity of my regular practice of walking 4 miles from my house around the Rose Bowl, only to be followed by driving a couple of miles to my office. So on days when I didn’t need a car, I started walking to work, soaking in my city and arriving at work clear-headed. Now my Altadena office is even closer. I rarely walk, but I’m going to change that any day. Really, I am.
- Fly Burbank
Like so many entrepreneurs, I travel for business. I used to obsess on getting nonstop flights. Now I’ve chucked that goal and am willing to take three flights each way if I can just fly out of Burbank. Each trip to LAX from Pasadena takes a month off your life. Just don’t do it.
- Have Kids
I fully respect your decision to not have children. I’m just saying … your business will be more successful if you have kids and raise them in the Pasadena area. My particular posses came from Cottage Co-op in the early ’90s and Sequoyah in the mid-’90s to mid-2000s. In fact, four of the five writers of my first book, Hometown Pasadena, were Sequoyah moms, and several employees and my former business partner came from those worlds. I’ve seen similar connections and business deals emerge from parent cabals at practically every school in the area, from Blair to Mayfield, Westridge to Eliot, Sierra Madre Elementary to South Pas High.
- Read Helen of Pasadena
Speaking of kids, schools, and Pasadena networks, if you have not yet read Lian Dolan’s novel Helen of Pasadena, you need to do that right now. I’m not just saying this because it’s Prospect Park’s all-time best-selling book, or because Lian lives on my block and normally writes this column. I’m saying it because you will understand this place so much better after you read it. Plus, you’ll laugh out loud and enjoy a terrific story.
- Get Out
Over my years as an entrepreneur, I’ve had approximately 4,150 lunches at my keyboard and 2,999 office evenings that stretched till 10 p.m. Pasadena has a zillion great places to meet people for lunch or happy hour. Don’t be like me. Get out there. It’s my new resolution. I hope to run into you soon at Little Flower or The Proper or the 1886 Bar.
- Have an Exit Plan
Not that kind of exit plan—I mean have a traffic plan for when you have to leave the Pasadena area for a meeting. I have a strict rule: Meetings taking place west of Glendale or south of Lincoln Heights may only occur between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. And no meetings are to take place in Beverly Hills. Ever.
Colleen Dunn Bates is the founder and publisher of Prospect Park Books and the editor of the book Hometown Pasadena. prospectparkbooks.com.