Name: Carmen Westbrook
Business Name/Occupation: Aina
Tell us about your business! Aina is an online community for people that want to have an impact - those of us that want to leave the world a better place. Aina is the place for people that see the pain and hurt in the world and feel that a solution is possible - if only we had the tools available. Through crowdsourcing and training of community members, Aina provides those tools to make it possible for any person, anywhere, to connect with and help groups in need. How does that happen? Our highly trained liaison corps identifies issues in need of change in their area (e.g. child orphanage slavery in Kenya), identifies and heavily vets ngo's to find the best organization addressing the issue, and then develops a partnership with the organization to offer projects that people all over the world can do to make an impact (e.g. make a pencil case for a child in an orphanage, as often this $7 mandatory school item is all that stands between them and fostering with an aunt/uncle/grandparent). These projects are offered to our community members, as is the background on the issue and updated blogging by the liaison. Moreover, we offer the opportunity for our members to connect online with those people that they have helped.
Why did you choose entrepreneurship? Well, actually, entrepreneurship chose me. Truly, I was going to go back to school to get my MBA (that's in the process of happening) and I was planning on working for USAID/UNICEF/some other big organization. Through a series of events, however, I became frustrated by the lack of an easy mechanism to actually DO something to help people around the world (as opposed to giving money), and I started investigating how to do this. Over the past 2 years it's developed into Aina, with an amazing crew to support the business.
Why do military spouses make great entrepreneurs? I think it's out of a) necessity, b) a heart for service, and c) the ability to work out of the box. Invention is born from necessity, and when you move around all the time and still want to have a career, it becomes necessary to invent something that fits into that lifestyle. Often that invention is either an incredibly understanding boss or striking out on your own. I think that milspos tend more toward striking out on their own because they're so global, and they're so intimately involved with global issues as those issues really affect their day-to-day lives. This global viewpoint tends to make for the ability to see issues from many different angles, to shift the paradigm and answer the question outside of the box - thus providing a solution that is truly their own, and not something that can be found in a regular day job. Moreover, most milspos I know have INCREDIBLE hearts for service - their spouse has chosen to serve their whole life, but milspos are the unsung heroes in the background. That incredible heart for service translates into owning your own business, because every business owner is, in the end, in the business of serving others.
What is a "blocker" for you in business. What holds you back? Ahhh! Everything!! From my kids (who are FANTASTIC, really) to doing the wifely support for my husband's job to keeping distant family happy with massive phone calls/Facetimes/vacations to figuring out for the hundredth time which new dentist is the perfect one for our family, good grief. It's like there's never enough time for my own passion. I truly love all of the things I listed, and they make my life so incredibly full and fantastic, but there is a constant juggling act to have everyone settled, happy, supported, and frankly, just fed food on a regular basis. Finding time to grow my own business is a constant struggle.
How has being a military spouse changed your for the better? Oh my, in so many ways. I get to live all over the world and experience life in so many different cultures. I get to make new friends and develop new passions every couple of years, and I now have friends scattered all over the globe. My children get to experience SO much of life that I didn't have growing up. I get to be constantly pushed, constantly challenged to grow and change - I know I wouldn't have done half of the things I have if I hadn't been forced into it by moving around so much. I have been able to be a part of some really big events in our modern history, and while there's been a lot of pain associated with some of it, pain pushes us to grow and evolve, and I now have a much different view of the world than I did when I was younger.
What strengths do you possess, that you did not know you had, until you became an entrepreneur? Perseverance. I knew that I was really stubborn, but I thought I had an issue with seeing projects through to their completion. I now know that that's just because I'm a perfectionist, and that my stubbornness translates into sticking with this business until they pry it out of my cold, dead fingers. Also humor. People keep telling me I'm funny, which is weird because I've never seen myself as funny - I always thought my hubs was the awesomely hilarious one. Frankly it's weird to write down that I have humor as a strength, because the moment you write something like that down it tends to no longer be true, but there it is. It's on you if my sense of humor goes away.
What would you tell a milspo entrepreneur who is feeling discouraged? Go drink some wine. Ha! No, but really, find something that lights your buttons and just GO DO IT. If that's shopping for some rad new clothes (um, yep, that's me), go shop for some rad new clothes. And DON'T feel guilty about it, because holy cow you spend your life supporting other people. If drinking coffee with your ladies rings your bell, drop everything for two hours and go drink some freaking coffee. If your version of heaven is a glass of wine and Game of Thrones, go find yourself some Rob Stark. We ALL have those moments of discouragement, we all go through time periods of suck, so don't feel like it's just you. Every single other entrepreneur has been right there with you, sister. So go find some fantastic Netflix, go run 8 miles, go do something that is JUST FOR YOU. Let it all go for a while, and remember that literally everyone (Steve Jobs included) has gone through the doubts and tears - often both at least 4 times per day - and that most often those huge blocks happen right before a huge breakthrough. So have faith! And drink wine. It'll happen.
What are your five favorite things that you can not live without as a milspo entrepreneur?
- My entrepreneur podcasts: EntreLeadership, The limitless Business Podcast, and Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders
- My iPad. Makes it poss to take kids to everything and still work.
- My standing desk. Epic. 'Nuff said.
- God. For. Reals.
- My girlfriends. They get me through everything.
What is the most amazing thing you have experienced in your business thus far? The sheer number of people that have said they want to help out. It's been awesome to have people - both friends and strangers - feeling the same passion I do and jumping in. Amazing.
How do you want to be remembered? As someone that always brought people together in love, faith, and hope.
Facebook Page: AinaGiving