Introduction and Interview of Robin Chapekis by David Wagstaff
This interview with Robin is one of the first in a series of articles from entrepreneurs, compiled with the goal of providing other business owners and soon-to-be business owners with a realistic view of what it takes to run a business and some of the challenges commonly faced. Robin’s LinkedIn profile caught my attention. In her intro she starts with these words:
“As a hardworking, ethical, HR Professional who likes to enjoy work. . . .” Each of those are attributes that I admire and that resound with me as qualities of a successful entrepreneur.
In my experience working with hundreds of entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs work very hard, yet for many of us the work we do is not work but a passion and fun. Entrepreneurs unlike employees get . to choose which services we offer, and we even get to choose the kinds of customers with whom we work. because We choose our business model based on the sort of customers we wish to serve.
Ethics are often mentioned when someone in business operates unethically. In my experience, most successful small business owners operate with a high degree of ethics. They care about their customers, they care about their employees and they try to do what they believe is the right thing to do.
In my interview with Robin, I love her passion and fierce commitment to just being herself and not having to conform to a standard. I love that her ambition is to be the primary source of income for her family. And I believe her challenges will speak to many entrepreneurs, especially those just starting out.
What led you to become an entrepreneur?
I didn’t want to be a change agent, individual contributor, or an associate. I am an advisor, a learner, a strategic thinker. I’m also passionate; I use colorful language, gesticulate like an Italian, and tell it like it is. Not exactly a poster professional for corporate conference calls.
As an entrepreneur, I get to do all of the things I find great in my field without getting bogged down by HR transactions. Besides, I’ve done too many somber termination meetings and thought how much fun it would be if I ever had to fire myself! ‘You can’t fire me, I am me!’ ‘Without me, there’s no business! Literally. I am the business.’ I can’t fail myself; I can only learn, adjust and move on.
A brief description of your business and what are your aspirations for it?
SVELTE HR transforms human resources into a competitive advantage. Talent is our most valuable asset, yet we still approach talent like a commodity, and with stupid, rigid rules. I work with organizations to align their employer brand with their customer brand, create consistency across values, policies and leadership style, and then develop people systems to support the employee experience. I also lead a community of HR professionals who help each other solve real HR problems. My aspiration is to turn Detroit into a leader in HR Transformation. Also, to be successful enough that my husband doesn’t need to work.
What have you done with your business that you are proud of or that has worked really well?
At this point, three months into it, I am proud to have had several paying clients to have discovered my salable product/service, and that I haven’t given up and just gotten a W-2 job. What’s working really well is building my network by volunteering to help with events, supporting local HR groups, and just meeting with as many people as possible. This gives me a platform for testing my ideas and collecting market research data on my product. (Anthropology degree finally put to use!)
What were some of your biggest challenges along the way?
The biggest challenge has been translating a hodgepodge of ideas and experiences into a workable model. The first iteration was a mouthful, but a mouthful of salad, not meat and potatoes. The second iteration was too feely, ‘thoughtful’ and just not working with the rest of the business model.
By the third iteration, I had discovered which points to assess in current state and on what to focus in future state. Now the model was sticky and I could move on to developing the product and marketing the service.
Have you overcome the challenges? If so how?
Time. And Diet Coke. I gave myself the luxury of not chasing after the money at the expense of staying true to being an advisor, a learner, and a strategic thinker. Have I taken jobs that are transactional for a line of AR in my budget? Yup. But I haven’t let that consume my time and energy.
What have you learned and what would you like to share with other entrepreneurs?
WD40 took 39 tries. We may never get it right, but if we keep at it, we can find a formula that is workable, that excites us, and that others want to pay for!