It was bound to happen eventually. I knew that feelings of doubt would come.
I didn’t know whether I’d do it to myself, or if it would come from outside my own mind. It might have been a scoff from a professional horse person, or an eye-roll from a teenager with ten more years of experience than I have. Maybe it would be that stony silence in one of a thousand scenarios where I’ll miss a horse word or a reference to the horse life.
I knew that I’d feel like an idiot at some point on this journey. Probably lots of points. Objectively, I am fine with feeling like an idiot from time to time. I’ve done a lot of hard stuff in my life that required passing through the idiot phase on the way to expertise. I’m humble enough to keep going when things feel uncomfortable. . . even when they feel really, really, really uncomfortable.
When the doubt came today, I remembered how powerful a feeling doubt can be, and how that temporary feeling has the potential to make us quit on our best ideas.
I finally started researching the horse community in Knoxville. I hadn’t done it yet because secretly, I was scared. That is the real place where I want to plop this real dream of mine. Whatever competition or customer base already exists there could either make the dream possible, or not. I have been afraid to start the market research that could doom all of my plans. But it needed to be done.
I did a quick internet search for horse boarding in Knoxville. It didn’t take long to find exactly what I wanted to build. Only, this facility was more shiny, more polished, more perfect than anything I think I can muster.
Sonny Brooke Stables is a champion facility run by a local family, where the owner’s daughter is the head trainer. They’ve got a gajillion stalls, two warm wash racks, even laundry facilities. (By the way, that’s genius! Putting laundry on the list of must-haves, thank you very much!) The property is dead center bullseye in that prime real estate zone I’ve been looking, just 15 minutes west of downtown Knoxville.
It seems like exactly what I wanted to produce – bam, already where I wanted to put it – and it’s loaded with people who have way more to offer than I do.
That was the seed of doubt, anyway.
Not all seeds are destined to turn into plants. Some of them, you just pick up and throw in the damn trash before they put down any roots. Sure, it stung to see this gorgeous facility run by talented people that I am very unlikely to ever replicate. Yet viewed in another light, it was also validating.
For one thing, I was right about the real estate. These horse people with all their horse knowledge and their ability to wait out the right land in the right place…. they chose to put their spot right where I would have put mine. For another thing, they’re doing summer camp stuff just like I wanted to do. For a third, their story sniffs a little at the positive atmosphere I wanted to create: “Our goal is to treat all of our clients as part of the Sonny Brooke family, providing a constructive environment for horsemen and women to learn and grow in all areas of their lives, stretching and challenging them through the sport of horseback riding.”
But wait – there’s more silver lining to this idiot story.
When you click on Boarding, there are no words on the page. No prices, no information, nothing. And when you click on Lessons, after the galling fees I have no hope of commanding, in a tiny sweet little font, there is this: “Our lesson program is currently full, but we would love to add you to our waiting list!”
So first, they’re busy – which means there’s market out there for me to grab. More importantly though, they’re after something very different from me. Nestled under their history and mission statement, I found their vision statement:
To develop a competitive equestrian school for committed riders of all levels. Top rated boarding, breeding, and facilities in an elite atmosphere with a kindred love for sportsmanship.– Sonny Brooke Stables
Sonny Brooke has a lot to offer, but this facility is not going to be a problem for my business model. In fact, quite the opposite. It is ideal to have a facility of that caliber right around the corner – especially if they take all the elite riders out of the pressure zone of my business. I have no desire whatsoever to develop a competitive equestrian school. The idea of breeding horses gives me the heebie-jeebies. An elite atmosphere makes me feel tired, and if I have a kindred love for anything, it is absolutely not for sportsmanship. Their stable will draw horse people, shows, notoriety, and money to the area . . . and I will make a family of those who can’t or don’t fit there.
I don’t have to compete with any facility anywhere. What I want to do does not exist; that’s why I am doing it. This feeling of having to ‘break into’ the horse world, this fear of being viewed as an idiot, these are evidence of the motivation I feel to make horse stuff accessible to normal people. This is the “it-factor” I have that other facilities do not. My community of kids being kids, horses being horses, food and people coming and going . . . the accessible atmosphere of community and calm . . . there is still very much a market for that in Knoxville.
And so, the little seed of doubt gives way to the deeper sense of purpose. I have many more hours of market research ahead of me, and probably many more moments of doubt. But you push through these things. The obstacle is the way.
One last thing for the record:
There’s this little tab on the Sonny Brooke website for Parties & Events. Seems reasonable at first glance; who doesn’t love a party?
Look here, horse people – and I don’t care how much money I lose on this – do not call me for horsey birthday parties.
Fireside Nation will never, not-ever, no-never, host a unicorn party. You can bet your momma on it. Know what though? There’s a place up the road… I think they do that there.