RUNIN is not exactly about the joys (or pain) of running. It’s not about running out of food either. Did you realize that RUNIN is actually a back acronym? Huh? Let’s take a look at the qualities of the Ethiopian Diaspora.
They were all Resourceful in surviving tough living conditions and eventually found success in their business ventures. They Understood the local environment well and identified the target market audience before starting their businesses in Ethiopia. They had to Negotiate with business owners, investors and the local governments who at first had little faith in them. They had to be Innovative to find the right business that would fill a void. And they all made bold decisions but remained open-minded and nimble when they Navigated toward their goals.
Resourcefulness is about using the full resource of tools and other people to solve problems and reach goals. When the devastating EF-5 tornado ripped through downtown Joplin, Americans from near and far rushed to lend a helping hand. Thankfully, there was no shortage of compassion and generosity. The AmeriCorps displayed resourcefulness by allowing me to build an online database that tracked donations and matched them with survivors and their specific needs.
When our team didn’t place during Startup Weekend due to lacking a technical co-founder, I had to rely on resourcefulness to find a developer who was flexible enough to fulfill our requirements.
When we reached out to restaurants, many were willing to have us photograph their dishes, but didn’t want the food to go to waste. So we decided to photograph the food in conjunction with events and allow our guests to enjoy it. The events also served to promote the restaurants and we were able to capture amazing photography of attendees enjoying the ambiance and cuisine.
R also stands for Reflecting on what’s important in this journey and seeing how we can make improvements. Deb Santos taught me how to truly reflect — learning to invest in myself and showing self-compassion regardless of my mistakes.
R also stands for Researching. The secret sauce for RUNINOut was the behind-the-scenes research that we did for each restaurant to ensure that the user would get the best results possible.
The Irish Republican Army who sought a united Ireland clashed with the British forces resulting in massive death and destruction. When I visited Belfast, I met a tour guide named Arthur Magee who talked about building bridges. For peace to start and the troubles to end, both sides had to build bridges.
“If you come nigh you will see a city where on a micro level, people are building bridges. The most important bridge that is been built is in each and every single person here. That bridge is between who you actually are and how you see yourself. Whether you’re part of the problem, looking back and blaming other people, or whether you’re part of the solution and reaching out and seeing other human beings, as exactly that, human beings.”
From a business standpoint, one must fully understand the environment, the target market, and the competition in order to build a successful business. The diaspora community had done their research — that’s why they were able to build a leading PR firm, a luxury day spa chain, and a rose farm despite facing steep odds and many doubters that were skeptical that such business ideas could flourish in Ethiopia.
I applied these lessons when I worked with restaurants and bars. When I tried to sell our services to the Irish Channel, they were also receiving bids from other providers. In order to stand out from the competition, I studied the pub’s clientele and target market to determine which sports teams they could affiliate with and which social events we could host.
When the Lebanese Taverna requested to host a belly dancing event with Arabian folk music, I immediately did my research to familiarize myself with the art of belly dancing — I would then need to be resourceful to find the right talent and audience that would attract a strong turnout so we could host many more events and raise money for charity.
Over the years, we ended up working with several different groups and hosted a wide variety of events: running, comedy, political, food blogging — spanning a diverse group of bars and restaurants.
In the end, hosting tons of events took its toll, and I had to honestly look in the mirror and realize that the boozing had gone to extremes and I needed to start tapering off.
Many restaurants were receptive to our services but did not have the resources or the inclination to pay for them. So we found a clever way to negotiate by having them host our events and provide free food and other amenities. We often got paid, but we were willing to barter web and social media assistance for food, eatups, and fundraisers.
Negotiating is something that I’ve always done my entire adult life. Throughout my entire Navy career, I never seemed to get what I wanted so I had to negotiate for just about everything of value. Successful negotiating requires understanding the other side’s priorities, open communication, and settling differences.
My search for a technical co-founder led me to take a Greyhound to Vancouver to find a web developer who could create our site in Drupal. And once the framework was built, I had to stay current in both Drupal and WordPress by regularly attending tech meetups.
Innovating meant building a menu prototype for Burma Restaurant and Vapiano’s so customers can decide on their orders while waiting in line.
When RUNINOut got rejected by the GW Business Plan Competition, I had to find ways to gain traction with users. It was imperative that we were able to expand our reach throughout the entire city with innovative methods. That meant deploying a used pedicab to market our brand and acquiring loyal followers who would vote for us for Best of D.C. We won the “Best Restaurant App” award in 2012 and 2013, and my alma mater agreed to let us present in the Business Plan Competition after all.
Some people struggle to make a decision. Some may be very simple like what to wear, others are very complex like finding a new job. Many times, we’ll end up regretting the decision that we make, but the worst decision is making no decision. No decision can be a decision, also, but the main thing is you need to take some action.
Navigating means making a decision to go one way and to stay on course despite experiencing choppy seas. It also means making course changes if the path is not the right one for you, even if it means making a drastic change.
I wouldn’t be where we are today if I never got into a scuffle with my GWU classmate causing me to transfer out of the Executive MBA program to the Professional MBA. With more freedom and flexibility, I was able to enroll in a New Ventures class where the idea of RUNINOut came to life.
After working tirelessly for over five years, It was clear that it was time to change course. Hosting events was time-consuming and tiring, and there was usually excessive drinking resulting in anxiety and depression.
It also became clear that we needed to branch out further from the DMV (D.C. – MD – VA).
How we would achieve that and what would the next step would be, was still undecided. But it was clear that it was time to take a radical, new direction.
Wherever we would be going, it would sure be a magical ride that the universe has specifically earmarked for us.
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