50 States in 1,000 Days: Entrepreneur Helps 500 Americans Overcome Recession
On January 5, 2011, Greg Hartle stood in the pouring rain near Pike Place Market in Seattle, drenched and alone.
Though he intended to travel across the country and inspire hundreds of Americans who’d lost their jobs in the Recession to reinvent themselves, Hartle, two hours into his journey, was the one who needed some encouragement.
“Those two hours could have been the most nerve-racking two hours of my life,” Hartle tells Mashable. “At that moment, I thought, ‘No one really knows about this, so I should just back out.’”
A fear of change and new beginnings was exactly what Hartle wanted job-seekers to avoid. If he was going to pass on that message to them, he was first going to need to experience what it was like to start over.
“When we go in a new direction, our immediate reaction is to use our memory and imagination to sabotage us, instead of serve us,” he says. “We find all the reasons why this experience isn’t a good idea or why this idea won’t work.”
“In order to grab hold of something new, you have to let go of something old, and a lot of times we don’t let go of something old because we fear the gap.”
Hartle knows firsthand how to overcome a gap. In his 20s, he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease and told he had just six months to live. Thankfully, his mother gave him one of her kidneys, but Hartle still spent the better part of 16 months sick, and he slept for 18 hours a day.
When he recovered, Hartle began to rebuild his life and regain the passion for entrepreneurship that led him to found two telecom companies before his health declined. Though he went on to start a real estate development firm and a business acquisition company, Hartle learned that deeply immersive projects inspired him more than any one business venture could.
“I backed out of the businesses I was running to focus more on my individual projects,” he says.
Hartle’s first effort, which he began in the late ’00s, was a project called “Why Waste a Good Recession,” in which Hartle interviewed 120 small business owners to find out how the recession had affected their industry, how they responded to it and what other businesses could learn from their experiences.
Turning words into action
After completing that project, Hartle embarked on his most ambitious idea to date — the one that left him rain-drenched and uncertain in Seattle. Called TenLap, the plan was for Hartle to abandon all of his material possessions (save for a $10 bill and his laptop, hence the name TenLap) and spend 1,000 days traveling the country to speak with 500 people affected by economic downturn and help them start their own businesses with resources already available to them.
“There seemed to be a rapidly growing divide between those who had adjusted, started to make changes and move forward, and those who were still thinking that we were just going through a typical recession and the economy would bounce back,” he says.
To finance his trip (because $10 doesn’t get you very far), Hartle performed inexpensive advisory services like resume writing and interview prep. He also got his hands dirty doing manual labor. In one instance, he borrowed a stranger’s lawn mower and went around the neighborhood offering to mow lawns. Then, to hammer home his point about the importance of emerging technologies for small business owners, Hartle used a donated iPhone to accept lawn-mowing payments with a Square credit card reader.
Though he began his journey in Seattle, Hartle was determined to traverse the country and meet hundreds of people in smaller towns whose situations weren’t being covered by the mainstream media.
“We see microcosms in the media, but there are many towns and cities around the country that are doing things we don’t know about because they’re not typically highlighted in the media,” he says. “I want to know what’s going on in New York and Los Angeles, but also Moore, Okla., West, Texas, or Des Moines, Iowa, so I can learn about what experiences they’re having as we go through this economic change.”
On the road
In particular, Hartle hoped to demonstrate how job seekers and aspiring entrepreneurs could take advantage of free and low-cost online tools such as WordPress to make an online resume, Craigslist to advertise services, Skype to communicate with clients and PayPal to give and receive money. Then, Hartle told budding entrepreneurs around the country, they could also make online connections (through sites including Twitter and LinkedIn) and turn them into opportunities to attend networking conferences or visit community working spaces.
In Michigan, where more than 850,000 jobs were lost from 2000-2010, according to Mlive.com, Hartle was able to connect with people seeking an alternatives after they became unemployed during Detroit’s industrial collapse.
One man who Hartle consulted with was laid off from Hostess after 20 years at the company. It was only the second job he ever had.
Another woman, in her 50s, was an upper-level manager at Ford. After she was laid off, Hartle helped connect her with engineers he knew so she could create an app to help minority children in school.
“She had no tech experience, but a great idea,” Hartle says. “It was about giving her the right people to connect with.”
In California, Hartle met Srinivas Rao, an M.B.A. who graduated at the heart of the recession. Saddled with student debt and struggling to find stable work, Rao connected with Hartle and was encouraged to leverage technology he already owned to start a business.
Using his laptop and a microphone, Rao created a podcast, “The Unmistakable Creative,” that tapped into his knowledge of entrepreneurship and tech to interview “creative entrepreneurs and insanely interesting people,” according to Rao’s description of the program. Today, the Unmistakable Creative garners nearly 15,000 downloads per episode and Rao has become a best-selling author on Amazon.
“For a lot of people, I was an example that you can go in a new direction and change the trajectory of your work and your life,” Hartle says of his inspiring journey across America.
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