When a Risk-Averse Agency Leader Takes A Leap of Faith

 Catherine Merritt

By Catherine Merritt

As someone who has worked since she was in eighth grade (yes, I was the shampoo girl at Mary Sue’s Hair Design), going out on my own never felt possible, not even an option. I always gravitated towards stability, safe-roles and opportunities that would be around for years to come. In other words- I was as risk-averse as it got. But that changed, by accident, and now here I am, writing this post from home, running my successful consulting business where I’ve learned to lean into the unknowns and taking chances. Let me explain…

Three years ago I was working full time at a marketing agency called Olson Engage (a great agency, I should add) in a demanding job. While there, I was promoted twice in that time, elevated to a Vice President role. In addition to the work I was doing at the agency, I was also running a startup, MUMZY, on the side during the hours of 7pm-11:30pm most evenings. And in addition to the demands of work and MUMZY, I was also raising two boys to be civilized members of society (and by civilized I would have settled for not peeing in public). And staying married, mostly happily, but remaining in the union with my patient and supportive husband.

It was a lot. More than I could have imagined if I’d known at the beginning what it’d take. There were good days. There were great days. But mostly there were hard and breaking days. I can say it now, though I didn’t alway feel it then, but I loved it. I loved the challenges, the highs, the lows, the people I met along the way. As I think about it, it’s not that far off from childbirth (stay with me…). The pain and anguish often disappeared when the good moments happened. Even when we decided to move on from the startup and were able to sell it, I wasn’t done with the journey. I had only just begun.

Going through the grueling path of entrepreneurship can often do one of two things to someone: Turn people off of it forever (which I get- remember, most of the days were hard and breaking). Or, people want it more.

I was in the later group.

Despite all the challenges, tears I cried with the frustrations I faced time after time, they paled in comparison to when the going was good. When I was able to make a breakthrough. When I was able to seal a deal I’d been working on for months. And when MUMZY was dissolved and in the hands and ownership of someone else, I immediately began looking for my “what’s next”.

Who knew that “what’s next” would have been as simple as a cardboard box.

I was introduced to Shawn Bercuson through a mutual friend and he was setting out to launch a new baby e-commerce company called Finnbin. It was a baby box, full of newborn essentials, but meant to bring about the Finnish tradition wherein newborns sleep in a cardboard box their first six months. Why? It’s an incredibly safe method that drastically reduced the cases of SIDS in Finland.

When Shawn and I spoke I knew right away I had found my “what’s next.”

I was still working full time at a new agency, this time as a Senior Vice President, co-leading an entire practice and a leader in our Chicago office. I realized if Finnbin was going to be as successful as I believed it could (and should) be, I’d have to give it more time and attention than my previous startup. I began kicking around the idea of leaving my job (a very stable, successful, enjoyable job with awesome people- not something easy to walk away from) and consulting while also spending time on Finnbin. I knew I had a strong network. I knew I could hustle, but there were still a million reasons that would get in the way for me to mentally take the plunge.

It wasn’t until I had coffee with a friend and neighbor that she helped empower me and realize that consulting was a viable option to give me the additional time to work on Finnbin. I began doing some research and reaching out to a few people to learn more. Ultimately, it took a couple of months to get things in a good place to where I felt I was ready(-ish) to take the leap and give it a shot.

I should also add that there was another huge factor in all of this. My boys. I have a six year old, Teddy and a four year old, Archie. Throughout my career, I have advocated and ensured I had enough of a ballance in my life so that I was a present mother. But as my jobs got more demanding, I realized that I was missing out more and more. I’ve never had regrets about working. In fact, I’m a believer that for me, working makes me a better mom. But I began to feel that I would soon regret the things I was missing, especially since the time goes by at such a rapid pace. Being home more with my boys played a big role and it’s important to call that out.

My last day at the agency was December 6, 2016.

So- for the past six weeks, here’s what’s going on. I’ve started my consulting business, Merritt Group Consulting, LLC. I have awesome clientsI’m working with and adding more. I’m loving the opportunity to work with brands and companies that are engaging, challenging, good-minded and fun to work on and work with. I have reconnected with many of my previous clients who have been incredibly kind and supportive and connected me to new opportunities. I love consulting and only wish I’d decided to do this sooner.

Finnbin launched mid-December and we’re growing and seeing amazing success. We’re working with companies who want to provide Finnbin as a benefit for their employees who are expecting, we’re working with hospitals who want to provide Finnbin to patients and we’re working with all sorts of moms, dads, families who love what Finnbin is all about and want to bring this tradition into their own homes.

I have no idea what the next three, six, 12 months hold, but I’m okay with that. I like seeing where the journey takes me and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s to be open to new opportunities and go where the path takes you. I have no doubt it will be hard. It will be challenging. It will break me at times. But I also know that I’m doing it for myself and I finally hold the reigns to my success and opportunity in a way I never have before.

Catherine Merritt is the principal and founder of Merritt Group Consulting, LLC and co-founder of Finnbin. She’s a serial entrepreneur, marketing leader, consultant and problem solver. If you’d like to connect with Catherine and work together, visit her site at: http://www.catherinemmerritt.com. She lives in Evanston, Illinois with her husband, Ian, and their sons, Teddy and Archie.


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