Our guest this week is an overachiever in all areas of life. Goli Kalkhoran is the founder of USIE Booth and Creator and Host of the Lessons From A Quitter Podcast. Goli attended Law School at California Berkley and became a successful attorney, earning a high six-figure salary. But she was absolutely miserable. During her time on maternity leave, she explored what her life could be if she could design it to be fully aligned with how she was wired. In doing so, she became a quitter!
Goli’s journey brings many different elements together for one dynamic story. She was born in Iran and moved to the United States. She is a self-professed perfectionist and steered her life based upon the praise of others. When she realized that it was her concern for other people’s opinions that kept her from leaving the career she hated, she had a decision to make. Should she continue to live a life that pleases others or should she live the life she was capable of? She obviously chose the latter.
In this episode, you will hear how hard it is to realize you’ve spent your entire life driving for a singular goal only to realize how miserable you truly are. Plus, Goli will share just how crippling a perfectionist mindset can be. Goli’s story is a unique one for The Startup Story because it is the first one where our featured founder was not born in the United States. Goli is an Irani-American immigrant, and if there is anything we have learned in our Startup Story journey, it is that our early childhood is incredibly influential in the shaping of our entrepreneurial future. This is Goli Kalkhoran’s startup story.
Connect with Goli on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/golikalkhoran
Follow Goli on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lessonsfromaquitter/?hl=en
Lessons From A Quitter Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/lessons-from-a-quitter/id1412305413?mt=2
Lessons From A Quitter Website: http://www.lessonsfromaquitter.com/
Usie Booth: https://www.usiebooth.com/
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Special Guest: Goli Kalkhoran.
The Startup Story - Goli Kalkhoran
Goli Kalkhoran: Hi. I'm Goli Kalkhoran, founder of USIE Booth and host of Lessons from a Quitter Podcast, and this is MY startup story.
James McKinney: Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
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James McKinney: Before we jump into our episode this week, I want to share a review that was written on iTunes by DBUCreatives, who gave The Startup Story a five star rating and wrote: "I'm a founder of DBU Creatives, an entertainment strategy consulting and management firm that focuses on the intersection of business, creative, and social impact. I reached out to James because I wanted our client, Tiffany Sorya and the Novel Education Group to share her story about launching her homeschool and education agency. In our early conversations, it was very clear that James' approach to the entrepreneurial journey and the storytelling that goes along with that was incredibly unique and had an angle unlike anything I had heard before. This show's ability to delve into the back-story behind the fame and success of its guests inspires me personally as an entrepreneur, even beyond our client's presence on the show. My favorite part is the tangible action items James shares in each episode, what we can personally do as entrepreneurs to take our ventures to the next level. James is an incredible host, genuine and authentic person, and has a brilliant way of being disarming and eliciting the best from the banter. So glad I got into this show and I can't wait until it and its concept blows up into a full on phenom, because it will."
Thank you so much, Donna from DBU Creatives for this incredible review, and for the belief in what we are trying to do with The Startup Story. We want to inspire the masses to get after their entrepreneurial dreams. Having Tiffany on in episode 13 was an absolute blast. Please make sure to visit DBUCreatives.com to see what Donna and her team are working on.
If you have found any value in any of The Startup Story episodes, please leave a review. I will continue to read one each week, so plug your brand in the review as well. Giving your business a plug is the least I can do if you take the time out of your day to write a review.
Now, let's jump into this week's episode. Our guest today was an overachiever in all areas of life. She attended law school at Cal Berkley and became a successful attorney, earning a high six figure salary, but she was absolutely miserable. During her time on maternity leave, she allowed herself to explore what her life could be if she could design it by being fully aligned with how she was wired. In doing so, she became a quitter. Our guest today is Goli Kalkhoran, founder of USIE Booth and creator and host of The Lessons From a Quitter Podcast. Goli's story is one that brings many different elements together for one dynamic story. She was born in Iran and moved to the United States as a child. From our time with Tiffany Sorya in episode 13, we know there's a layer of complexity that comes from being a child of an immigrant, or an immigrant yourself. Goli was a self professed perfectionist - try saying that three times fast - and steered her life based upon the praise of others. She even started technology based hardware company without any experience in product design, hardware, or software. Like I said, her story has many, many layers to it and each one brings so much value to all of us.
In this episode, you will hear how hard it is to realize you've spent your entire life driving for a singular goal, only to realize how miserable you are when you reach it. You will learn how truly crippling a perfectionist mindset can be, and you will discover how important it is to fully understand how you were created as an individual so you can protect yourself from being influenced by external expectations and perceptions. Goli's story is a very unique one for The Startup Story because it's the first one where our featured founder was not born in the United States. Goli is an Iranian American immigrant. If there's anything we have learned from our startup story journey, it is that our early childhood is incredibly influential in the shaping of our entrepreneurial future.
Goli Kalkhoran: I am a child of immigrants. I'm an immigrant myself. I wasn't born here. And I think that a common immigrant mentality is that your way to security and success is education. Both of my parents are highly educated. Both were accountants. There was never a time that there was a question of whether I would go to school beyond college. What's funny is I joke with some of my… I'm Iranian American, and my friends that are Iranian Americans. I honestly, even through college, never even realized that grad school was an option. I always thought it was mandatory. It was like you go to college, you pick a grad school. Doesn't matter which one. You can be a doctor, you can be a lawyer, you can be an engineer, but you've got to pick one, and you've got to do it.
So that was just my mindset. I was actually the exact opposite. I had created a story for myself from very early on that I don't know business, that I don't like business, that I have no interest in making money. I'm going to do something to help save the world, and I don't even know how… I don't know the first thing about business so I'm not even going to concern myself. I had had that in my head, and I also whether it was good or bad, I benefited from the fact that I was good at school, so I never had to question it. I always say praise is a drug, and I was praised my whole life because I kept getting straight A's, and I would just keep going. That feels great. And you're like, "Hey, I'm on this great path. I'm going to be successful." I just had my head down and I had decided I was going to be a lawyer. That's all I did, and I worked towards that. I went to college and I got good grades, and then I got into a great law school. There was never a question of should I do my own thing, what else do I even like. It was just like lawyer, lawyer, lawyer. That was my tunnel vision for the first 30 years of my life.
James McKinney: It is amazing how things line up. So episode 13 I believe it is, we have Tiffany Sorya. She is a first generation child of Cambodian parents. Exact same narrative. She was brought up with education. So obviously there is a ton of truth to what you're saying. But one of the things you said that was very interesting to me was that you had this story in your head. You wanted nothing to do with business, you didn't like business. That's a unique story for a child. Where do you think that came from?
Goli Kalkhoran: I don't know because there wasn't… I don't remember like my parents ever, there wasn't a bad connotation. I think maybe, my parents both had a safe job. I know throughout my childhood I did see people fail at certain businesses, like buy a franchise and it not work out, like family friends. Maybe that's where it kind of came from, where you see that failure and you think, "This is not the safe way. Why would you take that risk? That's just crazy." Because I did have a lot of, you know a lot of people talk about they were entrepreneurs as kids. I think most kids try to figure out how to make money, so I did do the lemonade stands and try to sell this and that, and try to see how I can babysit and make money. So that was something that I was interested in, but maybe I was just, I don't know. I was just scared of that, why would you take that risk when you can do this sure thing that I know I'm going to succeed at? I'm just going to succeed. That's what I want to do. I don't want to take any risk.
I think a part of it was early on, that perfectionism and like I said, one of the problems with succeeding is that you don't tend to take risk, so you don't tend to do things just because you like it or because it's fun. It's like you hone in on I want to always get the best score, I want to always be the best, and that's all I'm after whether I'm miserable or not. I'm going to be the best.
James McKinney: It's interesting because perfectionism has a lot of strengths to it, but it also has a lot of bondage to it. What do you think that combination of perfectionism and that love of praise did for you in your idea of risk taking as you were going through, I would say all the way up through college. Let's not get beyond college, but all the way through college. What do you think that combination did for you?
Goli Kalkhoran: Yeah. I think it kept me squarely in the box. I had zero ability to think outside of the box. I didn't have any desire to. I see it now sometimes with my nieces. My own children are a little bit too young but, and I've heard a lot of these statistics that girls tend to do this, but I saw early on that I would do things that I was good at, whether I liked them or not. I would stop doing things that I wasn't good, whether I liked them or not. So it very quickly narrowed down the things I was going to do and it stopped me from experimenting. It stopped me from exploring and figuring out different parts of me, and what really does light me up. It made me really focused on this hyper competitiveness with myself. I'm not a super competitive person with other people.
James McKinney: You don't have siblings?
Goli Kalkhoran: I have an older sister, but I'm not actually like that competitive. Even with team sports and stuff, I'm not that huge on them. But with myself, I will always try to be what my last score was in something. I'm always very driven to outdo what I did before.
James McKinney: Driven by accomplishments.
Goli Kalkhoran: Yeah.
James McKinney: Got it. Now let's jump into college. So you're in college. You're set on this path of being an attorney. Nothing has even tried to deter you from that journey, correct?
Goli Kalkhoran: Right.
James McKinney: So when did you strategy getting an inkling that, you know what, I'm a little bit interested in entrepreneurship, or was entrepreneurship not that first inkling outside of being an attorney? What was that journey? What were those initial thoughts from attorney to something else?
Goli Kalkhoran: Yeah. I was never even conscious of that until after I became a lawyer, but I will say I had my initial inklings when I was going to college, because one of the things with law is that there is no major. So unlike medical school where most people are biology majors, there's a wide variety of what you can major in college. So the first time when I got to college that I did start thinking, "Hey, what if law doesn't work out? What if this isn't for me? Maybe I should major in something else that I find interesting in case I want to do something else." So I majored in psychology because I really loved learning about the human mindset and how we're wired, and all the things that can go wrong. So I majored in that. I loved it. But even then, I never questioned. I never thought should I become a psychologist. It was always still this is super fascinating, but I'm going to take the LSAT and I'm going to go to law school.
I never waivered from that. I don't know how to explain the amount of those blinders on me. It was like that was the goal, and I'm getting to that goal. Even through law school. I loved law school. I'm one of the rare people that loved law school. I never thought I wouldn't be a lawyer. So that inkling came once I started practicing.
James McKinney: Did you pass the LSAT on your first pass?
Goli Kalkhoran: Well the LSAT's just a number, it's not a pass or fail, but I did score a very high score on the LSAT, and I did pass the Bar on my first.
James McKinney: I'm sorry, the Bar is what I was thinking of. So the Bar, you passed first time.
Goli Kalkhoran: I did pass the BAR.
James McKinney: I figured you might have, just because of how achievement driven you are.
Goli Kalkhoran: Yeah. No I did and when I went to law school, and like I said I loved law school, and I never went to law school to make money. I always went with the drive to use my law degree to work on some kind of issue that I was passionate about. A lot of people go with that and then you get heavily in debt, and then you start thinking, "Well, I've got to start paying this debt off." So I was lucky enough to get an offer from a very large law firm that paid a substantial amount of money. I had told myself, "Okay, I'm going to work, I'm going to go do this. I'm going to move back in with my parents. I'm going to work here for a year or two so I can pay off a lot of my debt so that when I go be a public interest lawyer or a nonprofit lawyer, then I don't have to worry about my debt." That was probably the smartest decision I think I've made, is that I did that. So to answer your question, I knew going into the big law firm that it wasn't going to be for me. I knew I would only stay there, I gave myself two years max. So when I was there, I knew I was going to hate it. I still didn't think law wasn't for me, I just thought this wasn't going to be for me. I just had to suffer.
James McKinney: But what you hated was the big law firm environment.
Goli Kalkhoran: At that time, I thought I hated the big law firm. The reality of it is, and yes there's certain unique things about big law that make it very difficult, like the hours and stuff. But what I never stopped to really think about is what is the day to day of a lawyer, and what I would be doing, and how much that was against what my natural personality is like. While I hated the big law, it was more just sitting in an office for 12, 15, 16 hours a day behind a computer, writing these long motions, and I hated that work. That was just like soul crushing to me. I really found that out when I went and I became a public defender because I thought that was my dream job, and I was like this is where I'm going to be for the rest of my career. It was when I got there that I was like, "Oh my God, I hate this too." By that point, I'd been practicing for a couple years and I knew a lot of my friends in all these different fields, and none of their jobs sounded good to me. Every one of them, I realized what the day to day was of all of these jobs. It's all kind of the same, maybe a little bit different here and there. I was like I just hate the day to day. So where does that leave me?
James McKinney: That's fascinating. So many questions, but as we talk about some of these threads and nuances, even as you get into big law, you knew your endgame. Well, you thought at the time your endgame was to do some type of public service law where you are helping people. I assume psychology, you were probably drawn to that because you saw the ability in how you can help people in that. So there's that thread somewhere in your life narrative that you just want to be of service to others. I can see how that plays out into your entrepreneurship journey. But as you're in this season where you're going through your legal journey, what were some of the conversations of your parents? Was it, because again back to praise, obviously they were probably incredibly proud of you, but I have to believe some of that frustration was bleeding through into family life. What was some of their advice to you, like stay the course?
Goli Kalkhoran: Yeah. My parents, again I think that there is now a bit of an obviously generation gap, and what is possible now with internet and all of the possibilities out there, just weren't there 20 years ago, 30 years ago. It's not like I don't understand where they came from, but it's like my parents immigrated from another country and built a life, and worked really hard. So there is a lot of, "Hey, you don't like work? Guess what? Nobody likes work. Stop complaining." That's sort of the mentality, and I understand it. It was actually really difficult to complain about it because I was coming out when I was saying I was at big law, I was coming out as a 26 or 27 year old, making a high six figure salary. My parents weren't even making that. I was making more than my parents were. It's a really hard thing to sit and cry about the fact that, "Oh my God, I'm making this much money and I hate what I'm doing." It's like cry me a river. So I did get a lot of that tough love. I think my mom especially is very especially, not no nonsense, but such a hard worker and she was just like, "This is work. You have a great gig. You have this great opportunity. Stop crying about it and just do it." So I felt that a lot. I felt like I should be grateful for this job that I have and I should just not complain and just keep doing it.
James McKinney: Did that make your decision to leave law, spoiler alert in case those listeners didn't realize she left law at some point, did that make that decision hard for you?
Goli Kalkhoran: Oh yeah. Oh my God. That, everybody is like… my whole community. This whole praise and achievement thing, part of that becomes I was and I still to a certain extent am a slave to what people think of me. I'm so wrapped up in other people's opinions. That's been my biggest personal journey of leaving is really getting away from that and figuring out who I am and what I like, and being okay with other people not liking it or not approving of my decisions. Before, I just always wanted to do what would make everybody happy. So the biggest thing that kept me stuck is what will people say? What am I going to tell my parents? What am I going to…
James McKinney: How long do you think that thought and that narrative held you in law?
Goli Kalkhoran: Gosh, more than I can even tell you because the entire time that I was unhappy, I practiced for about seven years, I didn't even let myself think that I could leave. It held me to such a point where I was like, "Okay, we're all miserable, get over it." So it wasn't even giving myself permission. When I finally, I had my son and I had to take some time off for maternity leave and to move, that was when I started getting this inkling. Honestly, it was from my husband, God bless him, who really started planting the seed of if you hate it so much, why don't you try looking for something else.
The first time he said that, I literally almost flipped over a table. I was just like, "What are you talking about? I've worked my entire life. I can't just do something else. What does that mean?" I had no idea what I would do. From even that, and in the back of my head it started getting me thinking can I do something else? Am I allowed to just leave? That even took an entire year for me to admit to myself, that I want to leave. To have the courage to say those words and say, "I'm going to quit law," took me a whole year of mentally preparing myself to say it out loud to people and see what they say. It was an intense journey.
James McKinney: That is amazing. How much do you think that is specific to the fact that you are first generation, or actually sorry you weren't born in the US you said, so how much of that do you think is attributed to the fact that you are an immigrant citizen?
Goli Kalkhoran: A lot, from my person experience, but having done this podcast and having had so many people reach out to me I see so many people that are even American's raised through and through here, their whole families, that have this hang-up. So I can't say that it's unique. I do think that in a lot of immigrant cultures, including the Iranian American culture, there is a big focus on the community over self. So one of the biggest differences I think with the American culture is it really values individuality and doing for your own life. The Iranian culture is just not like that. It's really how do you make the cohesive whole happy.
So when you're raised with that, you're just taught to not make waves and make sure everybody is okay. Other people do it for you, too, so there's a level of support that's in that culture that there might not be in America. But it's also you have to put your own wants and needs on the backburner a lot. So there was definitely part of my parents gave up everything, they came here for me. They've given me this opportunity. I have more of an opportunity than most people. I have in the back of my head, "You're being a brat. Oh, you just don't want to do it? What does that mean?"
James McKinney: One of the things that I'm passionate about is the awareness and visibility that there are challenges with female entrepreneurs that there are not with male entrepreneurs. So I want to ask that same question, but in light of being a female. How much of that challenge and journey of leaving law was because you were female and didn't want to let some unknown or unconnected female community group down by making that decision?
Goli Kalkhoran: That's a great question and it's a huge part. That was something I wrestled with for a really long time because I consider myself a feminist and when you are carrying this torch, and you are in these… you're rising up within a field that is predominantly male, you're falling behind people that paved the way for you and you're paving the way for other people, and you feel that burden. I remember when I was in law school, I was at a panel discussion for women on I don't remember the topic, but somebody brought up there was a study that had come out when I was in law school about how many women are leaving the law. It's just because it's really not conducive with having a home life.
So a lot of people were finding that they couldn't balance it and there were a lot of women, like a mass exodus of women in law. I just remember distinctly one of the panel members saying to the people in the audience, "If you are planning on staying at home when you have kids, you don't deserve to be here. You took someone's spot in this school, and it's a prestigious law school, that would help change the field, and you don't deserve to be here." I remember-
James McKinney: Oh my goodness…
Goli Kalkhoran: … being like the wind knocked out of you. It was funny because at that time, if you asked me, I would have never said that I would be a stay at home mom. I just never thought that it was something that I would even want to do. So I didn't feel like she was talking to me because I felt like I'm going to continue working at that time. But I still remember what a gut punch that was. I was like what does that even mean? How do you know? There's so much to life and this education can be so many things. Even if you take an amount of time off to be with kids, who says that you're not going to come back?
I just remember feeling really appalled, but I say that as that was one of many of these signs that you're given throughout your journey that you are doing something to pave this way for other women, and it is your responsibility to keep going with it. So I felt a huge amount of back to what will people say, a lot of it was what will my fellow female law school classmates and the lawyers I work with, am I going to look like a failure to them? Am I going to look like, "Oh, she couldn't hack it, she left because she can't." and I wrestled a lot with that.
James McKinney: I poke a little bit in these areas for some purpose, and that purpose being that there are people listening that I suspect are probably not Iranian American. If I do, awesome. A mix of male and female, but every single listener has some narrative in their mind that is blocking them from something. I guess now, with having the perspective you have, I want to ask this very poignant question because I want every listener to listen. You just heard the challenge and the struggle that Goli went through with that narrative. All the scenarios you painted in your mind of what people were going to think, when you finally made the decision, how much of that narrative became true?
Goli Kalkhoran: Oh, none of it.
James McKinney: Exactly! Yes. Listeners, did you catch that? None of it! We built it up in our mind to be so big, that it's just it's not reality. It's a lie that holds us bondage. There's this great proverb and I wish I could figure out where it originated from, but it's an elephant grew up with a chain around its leg that, as it grew up, they took the chain off but because the chain was next to the elephant, the elephant still didn't move because they thought they were chained up still. That is what that narrative is in our life. It is a chain. So now that we've unpacked that a bit, let's talk about the moment you left law. Was it like the Jerry Maguire moment where you wrote this memorandum and you had your goldfish in a bag and you're like, "Who's coming with me?"
Goli Kalkhoran: Yeah, I wish. No, it was not that dramatic or exciting. Like I said, it really actually took me… the reason I think I even got to this place was I had a unique set of circumstances where I had a baby so I was taking some time off. During that time, we decided, it happened very quickly where me and my husband wanted to move from Arizona back to California. So I had to quit my job. So I was in this unique position where I was at home, I was on maternity leave for part of it, and then I had a very young baby.
I was looking for a job. It was during that time that my husband was saying, "Why don't you look for something else?" It kind of gave me the space while I kept applying for jobs, even though I knew I didn't want any of them, I was looking into other things. So I still didn't have to tell anyone that I wasn't going to go back to law. I was still kind of saying, "Oh yeah, I'm looking for something that works for me." Then secretly exploring other things and listening to podcasts, and kind of changing my mentality. So by the time I got to the point, it wasn't like I was even at a job where I was like out of here and barging out, burning bridges. It wasn't like that. And I don't think I could have done it like that. To be honest, I think I would have stayed stuck in that career. I think it was a very slow evolution where I just, my mindset shifted over those months.
One of the fears in law for some reason, and I think in a lot of professions, is that you can never take any time off. If you take even a year off, you'll never find a job. It's such an absurd notion. I had told myself that. Once I played that fear out to the extreme and I saw how ridiculous it was, it was easy for me to say, "You know what, I'm going to give myself a year and if it doesn't work, I'll go back to law." Even though I knew I wasn't going to go, because I never wanted to do it again. It was a safer way, even to other people, to get people off my back. I'd be like, "Well, I just had a baby. I'm going to take some time, figure out what I want, and then I'll go back in a little bit." So that was kind of the little baby steps I needed to kind of get myself to a place where I'm like, "Okay, I'm actually doing this."
James McKinney: What was your first step after you realized okay, maternity leave is no longer my reason, I want to do something and it's not law. What was that?
Goli Kalkhoran: Yeah. So I just spent a ton of time, because honestly until that point I hadn't even explored like what do I like. I really was at a point where I was like I have no other skills. I can't do anything else. And I was so paralyzed that what I ended up doing, this was like months, I read every book on how to change careers. I made lists of everything I loved to do. I took personality tests online. I just was really starting to get more of an understanding of who I am and what do I like doing on a day to day basis. What does my next career have to look like?
I started going to meet up groups, and honestly just random meet up groups that I had no business being a part of, but I would just look at stuff in Orange County and I'm like, "Let me go see what these people are doing and see if it's something I like." First, it was baby steps. I was like, "Maybe I could just work for a nonprofit, not as a lawyer, and I can be a part of these mission that I really wanted to work towards." I was looking at other jobs. I was all over the place. I was desperately trying to grasp at what am I supposed to do next, what am I supposed to do next. The more quiet I got, the more I started realizing what are the things that interest me. I started learning just so much more about myself.
I started going to these meet ups, and I'm like someone that I've told myself always that I'm really bad at tech for being in my generation I should know a lot more. And I'd always tell myself I'm not a tech person and I'd already told myself I'm not a business person. Then I started going to the, I don't know how it happened, I started going to OC Tech Happy Hour. I think a friend invited me. I loved it more than I've ever loved any group meet up I've ever gone to. I was just so fascinated by the people that were presenting, and the people that were there, that I just started going to every event they had. It just opened me up to a world that I never even allowed myself to consider, and I started learning more about the tech scene and the Orange County tech scene.
I started meeting people and it is a long winded road to where I go to when I started my business, I'm sure we'll get into. That is how it happened. There wasn't like a spark. It wasn't like, "This is what I'm going to do next." It was a lot of feeling lost and fumbling my way around in the dark of figuring out what is next, and trying to calm down my monkey mind for long enough that it would let me just not panic and say, "I'm just going to give this a shot and see what this is."
James McKinney: There is a shift that has to take place where you say to yourself, "My next step is not to be an employee, it is to be an entrepreneur." Going to a meet up helps that, but what was that change for you? Because that is, they're polar opposites of each other.
Goli Kalkhoran: Sure. One of the things that was happening throughout this time is I was just listening to tons of podcasts, mostly because I was trying to figure out what I should be doing and so I wanted to hear other people's stories. I feel like I was also listening because I was looking at specific jobs. And in those podcasts, I would hear these entrepreneurial stories and I just found myself really drawn to entrepreneurial podcasts, which I didn't know why I was. I would listen to each story of an entrepreneur and it fundamentally shifted my mind. I cannot explain the way that it shifted how I thought for my whole life like what is possible, and it really got me to accept even leaving law.
That was part of the reason. I would hear these people and I would think, "Yeah. I have this one life. Why am I doing what other people want? Why am I so scared that someone else is going to be upset? I'm the one that's going into that office every day. They don't have to go. So who cares if they're upset?" Those little things started really empowering me to think I don't need to live my life for somebody else. It was just those little mindset shifts. Then, on top of that, it's like you hear entrepreneurial story after entrepreneurial story, and you're like, "I would love to work… who wouldn't want to work for themselves or be their own boss?" It was all the fear that kept me, like fear to lose money and you're going to fail at this, and you're going have to tell people that you have no idea what you're doing.
I just really started listening to a lot of people and how they talked about how they didn't know, and they had no idea what they were doing. I started really resonating with we all feel like this. Nobody felt like, "Oh, I had the whole plan. I knew exactly what was going to happen. I had every step laid out for me." Once you connect with that, once you start seeing you're not unique, you have the same exact fears that everybody else has. You have the same drawbacks. You just think it's just you. I kept saying, I would go to these meet ups and this might sound bad but, I think a lot of times I would meet these entrepreneurs and I'm like, "I'm just as smart as them. This person doesn't know that much more than me. I figured it out. If I figured out my life up until this point, I can figure this out."
It was just a slow build of confidence and seeing what's possible, and seeing that there is another way. Really not finding a job… at the time I was still looking for jobs, and I just wasn't finding anything that I wanted to do or that I felt like this is my path. So it sort of led me down that path.
James McKinney: So what was your first entrepreneurial endeavor?
Goli Kalkhoran: I think I tried two separate things. I didn't get very far. One was, at the time my cousin and I, we both had kids around the same time. Her son was a little bit older and we were like making fresh, organic smoothies for our kids because this was like four or five years ago before all these organic pouches came out. The only stuff that was on the shelf at the time was like Gerber still, the ones that had been on the shelf for six months. I was like, "This is disgusting." I would make my son all these kale smoothie whatever's. We started thinking there has to be, we could sell these.
So we went down that rabbit hole for a little bit, and it was just overwhelming. I knew nothing about it. The margins were so low. We got so far as to finding a kitchen that was going to make them. We kind of got a little bit, but then we realized we were in over our heads with that as our first venture. She wanted to be more focused on being at home. She didn't really want to do a business as much. She wanted more of a side, fun project and I wanted more of a business. So we just decided to can it.
James McKinney: How long did you work on that project?
Goli Kalkhoran: A couple months.
James McKinney: A couple months. Did your family and network know about that venture?
Goli Kalkhoran: Our husbands did. I think I probably mentioned it to my parents by that point. They knew at that point… by that point it was clear I was going to take some time from law. I was talking about it with the close people, yeah.
James McKinney: Okay. So was it hard then to shelve that after a few months?
Goli Kalkhoran: Yeah.
James McKinney: Why?
Goli Kalkhoran: You just get so tied in. When you think it's a great idea, you think this is it. This is going to be the next thing, and it can be huge. You start going down this Google rabbit hole, you're like, "I'm going to raise money and I'm going to do all this stuff." It's another defeat. You get to a place where you're like, "Ugh, I didn't make that work." I've been working now on it for three or four months, putting in all this time during the day and doing all this research, and going to meet these people and find a kitchen and all this stuff. It definitely felt like I'm back to square one and I still have no idea. And it's so hard to not do this and I would advise people to not do this, but it's way easier said than done. It starts reinforcing that maybe I'm not cut out for this. Maybe I'm not good enough to do this. I couldn't make this work. I couldn't even get this past the first step. Maybe I'm in over my head. So that was definitely where I was at.
James McKinney: How long did you stay there before your next venture?
Goli Kalkhoran: Not very long, because like I said, whether it was a thing or not, my monkey mind was running. I love that a lot of times people, not that they like to glorify it, but I think that when you look back in hindsight, you say, "I gave myself a year to kind of figure out what I wanted to do." Yes, that's what I had done, but that year was a year full of panic. That year was like what are you going to do next, what are you going to do? What are you going to tell people? What's going to happen? You're already a failure. It's just on constant. I would wake up panicked, like what's my next move? I have no idea. I have zero other skills. I would just run through this so I felt like I needed something to shut my own mind up, to say like, "Here. I'm going to work on this, and this is what I'm going to focus on, and we're going to be okay. I can tell people when they ask me what I'm doing this is what I'm working on."
So I don't even know if it was… I feel like I was probably working on these thing simultaneously, because if this doesn't work out, I've got to figure something else out quick.
James McKinney: So what was the next venture?
Goli Kalkhoran: I don't even know if this is the next one. I can't even remember. I had a bunch of ideas at that time, going back and forth. I'm telling you, I was like all over the place.
James McKinney: It was a real discovery process.
Goli Kalkhoran: It was, yeah. A discovery process that was like sped up into a couple months. But during that time, just as an aside, my husband is an entrepreneur so he has a business that he has been running for gosh, over like 12 years now, 13 years. It's with his father and another partner. He is an electrical engineer and he makes imbedded computers, so they make basically every device has like a tablet in it. They make those tablets. So your toaster has like a screen, he makes those computers.
James McKinney: So a non technical married a technical.
Goli Kalkhoran: Yeah, exactly. It's so funny. This is the most I've been able to describe what he does. Before you should have seen, I would introduce him, and he would just shake his head like, "None of those words make sense."
James McKinney: You would overstate it. "Oh, he makes iPads."
Goli Kalkhoran: Yeah, exactly. He's like, "How have you not learned what it is yet?" But the reason I say that is, it just happened where I wanted to make a photo booth for my son's first birthday because we tend to have large parties, we tend to have a lot of parties, I've always loved photo booths.
James McKinney: I have to ask. Is "we" meaning you and your husband, or "we" meaning Iranian Americans?
Goli Kalkhoran: Iranian Americans, yeah. The Persian culture is just one, it's very much about partying. So we, as a family, have always had lots of parties. A first birthday party is kind of a big one. Me and my husband always loved photo booths. I honestly don't know how this idea came out, but at the time, I was just like, "It'd be cool." I was thinking get a balloon guy. We got this idea of having a photo booth, but I didn't want to spend $1000 to rent a photo booth. So we got to a place where why don't we make a photo booth? There has to be a way to just use an iPad at the time, find some software, and set up like a booth. So that just took me down this rabbit hole.
At the time there was really nothing. There were a couple tutorials on YouTube about putting up a tripod and setting up a camera with a clicker. I was like no, I want more, like more of a photo booth experience. My husband was like, "Oh, I made a photo booth for a customer that wanted it for a trade show. We put it in this device that they had." I was like, "Oh, let's make one. Shouldn't be that hard." He's like, "Yeah, just if you make the case, I can help you with the electronics." So that's where it started. That really took me down… I started looking online.
I was so surprised that I couldn't find it, that that's what kind of sparked me, "Hey, this could be an idea because people love photo booths. People love having parties, and this is just the kind of a low cost solution to having the same fun in a photo booth without all the hoopla." For now, it's spending $1000, that's for maybe a wedding or something. You're not going to do it at every party. So that was the next venture, and that kind of led me to USIE Booth.
James McKinney: So how long had you been working on USIE Booth?
Goli Kalkhoran: Gosh, it's a long time. I started in 2015, so we're about four years in.
James McKinney: And has the journey been everything you hoped it would be?
Goli Kalkhoran: Yes. It's all been smooth sailing, just no issues whatsoever. It has been the toughest thing I've ever done in my life, without fail because one of the things with entrepreneurship that makes it so hard is that there is no path. There is no right step so for somebody that always wanted someone to tell me what's the next thing and I could accomplish it, it's very difficult to know what do I spend my time on, what do I spend my money on. Is marketing the right thing? Is sales the right thing? Do I build this out?
Now, looking back, I might have not picked the best idea in that it had hardware, it had software. It had everything that I knew nothing about. I did it at a very slow pace which was nice. It allowed me time to figure it out, but I figured out I had to learn manufacturing and I had to learn how to find a software team. Beyond the fact of learning how to set up a business and how to do marketing, and how to do all this other stuff. I feel like I bit off a little bit more than I could chew. So it's been very frustrating. It's definitely not what I envisioned it would be when I started it. It's taken so many twists and turns, but it's been a real learning experience. It's been really cool and I'm proud of the fact that I made a photo booth and I made a company. We're still growing and I've been able to balance that while having two kids.
James McKinney: What has being an entrepreneur done for your perfectionist mindset?
Goli Kalkhoran: Well, it's thrown that out the window.
James McKinney: It'll mess with it, for sure.
Goli Kalkhoran: Oh, it definitely will. You know what's funny is I just never even looked at perfectionism as being bad until I never realized that perfectionism is just your fear of failure disguised. I didn't know that. Now, I realize that like oh my God, it was just me protecting myself and saying I'm not even going to try anything that I might fail at, so I can keep it… because it has to be up to this standard. Now, I mean that is just out the window. It's like what it has done is allowed me to really get used to feeling uncomfortable. I had no capacity for feeling uncomfortable. I would do anything I could to get out of that, and to feel like I was in control and I can control everything. Now, I'm just like… it's just a part of every day. I have no idea what I'm doing, just figuring it out as I go along.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness, that is a perfect picture of entrepreneurship. And I love that one, I did not know we were walking into this journey together to unpack perfectionism, but I'm so thankful that it was part of your journey because I know so many listeners that they wear it as a badge of honor because they don't know what it really means to hear someone who has overcome perfectionism. I think if anyone who really wants to wrestle with perfectionism, I think entrepreneurship is a great therapy to get through that.
Goli Kalkhoran: Yeah, it will humble you real quick. If you're going to try to be perfect, you can't be an entrepreneur.
James McKinney: So USIE Booth is not the only thing you're working on right now though, and you also have a podcast.
Goli Kalkhoran: Yes.
James McKinney: So what is that podcast and how did we get there from USIE Booth?
Goli Kalkhoran: Yeah. So the podcast, it's unrelated but it's called Lessons From a Quitter. I wanted to start this podcast, gosh, almost three years ago now, two and a half years ago. Really like a year or two into my own journey. Because what I had found was, like I said, podcasts were instrumental in my own development and mindset shift. What I wasn't hearing on podcasts at the time with entrepreneurs was a lot of stories of, "Oh, I'd always been an entrepreneur. I could never work for anyone else." And I never identified with that.
I also started hearing from so many people, like friends and family, and people that I went to school with or I worked with, that were kind of confiding in me, "Oh, you're so lucky that you quit. I wish I could quit. How did you do it? I hate this but I don't know what else I would do." It also, when you're a lawyer, I'm sure if there are any lawyers listening, it's sort of accepted that everybody is miserable. No, I'm serious. I'm totally serious. You think it's funny. I never thought how weird that was until I got out, where it's like everybody was like… you kind of brag about who's working the most hours. It's a very strange world. It starts to become strange when you leave and you were just talking about the elephant. Someone had said it best to me. They said, "Lawyers," and I think a lot of people, "are caged birds with the door open." Where you just feel like you're stuck, and you're not. You can walk out any time you want to, but all of the society pressures and all the stuff keeps us in.
I would hear from all these lawyers about how miserable they were, and I knew they were miserable because I was having the same conversations when I was a lawyer. Then I would hear from doctors and dentists. That kind of blew me away because I don't know why I just assumed they liked what they did. I started getting this space where we need to have this conversation, where it's okay. Even if you climbed a corporate ladder or if you've gone down a path, you are not required to stay in one path for the rest of your life.
We are not the same people in our twenties and our thirties and our forties. You made a decision at 18 without knowing, and if you're 35 and you don't like it, guess what? You have another 30 or 40 years of working. Figure out what it is that you like. It's hard, but figure it out. That was really I was having those conversations one on one so much with people, and I really was like this needs to be a bigger conversation. I want to showcase people that have gone through these self doubt, but decided to jump and decided, "Hey, I made this decision. I did all this work, and I still walked away."
James McKinney: That is incredible. How much do you love being on that side of the podcast?
Goli Kalkhoran: Oh my God, I love it so much. Again, I chose a podcast because the medium really spoke to me. I obviously really like talking. I'm an outgoing person. So it was something that really made me excited, because it is a lot of work. But I say now, I'm at probably I don't know close to 40 episodes in and it has been the best decision I've ever made in my life. I have gained so much just from being able to have these conversations with people that I would never have any reason to connect with, and being able to really see how everyone's journey, everyone thinks they're unique, but we all have the same fears. We all have the same doubts, and why do some people push past and other's stay stuck?
Just the feedback I get from people that listen now and people that reach out. It's the most heartwarming. It really just gets me going. I guess a lot of times I read my emails or DMs on Instagram to my husband and I'm like, "Look what this person sent me!" He's like, "It's so crazy that people are listening to you." I'm like, "I know!" It's been a really fun experience.
James McKinney: Do you feel like, whether it be USIE Booth or it be the podcast, do you feel like you are doing what you should be doing right now?
Goli Kalkhoran: Yes and no. Yes, 100% I feel like I am where I need to be. What I've let go of is this insane idea where we feel like there's one path and it's going to keep me… I'm finally at a place where I'm so excited that I have no idea what I'll be doing in five years, do you know what I mean? Before that would terrify me. Now I feel like I'm exactly where I need to be and I'll learn what I need to learn from this podcast and from USIE Booth, and hopefully it will blow up into something really big and I'll keep doing it. But maybe it won't. Maybe the podcast folds or USIE Booth does. That will lead me to the next thing, because I can't… there's no way I have it all figured out. But I'm excited about that. I'm excited the amount that I've learned already. I know my next venture will be that much more successful, because I'm 10 steps ahead of where I was when I started. That's all it is.
James McKinney: Oh, that is amazing. I love your story. So there's two questions that I ask all my guess as we come to a close in our time. The first being about gratitude. I truly believe that if we forget the people that contributed to our journey and our personal success, however large or small it may be, it will inevitably lead to our failure. So as you look back at your journey, all stages of it, who do you look back with incredible gratitude for because of their contribution to your journey?
Goli Kalkhoran: Oh my God, so many people. But I would still have to say my parents, number one. I won the lottery in that. In just the loving, supportive, kind hearted, amazing example that they set. But we talked about like my mom was very much very strict, but it's funny. We didn't get to this part, but when I made the decision to quit, she was my biggest supporter. It was never the type of, "Oh, what are you doing? Are you crazy?" It was once she knew I was serious about it, she is still my biggest supporter and helps me more than, like with my kids if I need someone to watch them. She's just always there. So without them, there's no way I would have done any of this.
And literally all of my family I would say. My husband has been just beyond actually words the most supportive, incredible person. I just am very lucky in the people that have been on my journey, and like you said, there's no way I would have done any of this without them. It's all a team effort, you know?
James McKinney: That's awesome. And the last question as we wrap up, we have people listening right now that are hearing your story and they're just nodding like crazy. Some maybe feel a little bit of freedom in the fact that you've accomplished something they want to accomplish in leaving a job that they hate. You have people are entrepreneurs and yet they're frustrated with the lack of growth. What do you say to any of the listeners, whatever you want to speak to directly. This is your chance to have that coffee talk with them and to give them that one on one. What is that one bit of advice you want to leave them with?
Goli Kalkhoran: A lot of times, we're always searching from on the outside for what we need, whether it's validation, we want other people's opinions, we want to know what our next step should be. We become so panicked, whether it's deciding whether we should stay or what our next move should be that we're constantly just, like I was talking about my monkey brain. I feel like we're just go, go. If I talk to more people or if I get this person's advice… and what I've learned the biggest thing is get as quiet as you possibly can. Get to know yourself and what it is you truly want.
A lot of times, even when people ask me, "What should I do? I don't know what I want to do next." No one can answer these questions for you. The more you get quiet and go back to what it is you like, what it is if there were no limitations that you would do. Really I think a lot of times we ignore or push down so many things that we know about our own personalities from when we're kids. If you really sit with that, whether that means journaling or meditating or going for a walk, but just getting quiet and not seeking it from outside. Things become so much more clear.
James McKinney: What a powerful story Goli has. Isn't it amazing how people hold the idea of being a perfectionist like it's a badge of honor? Don't get me wrong, everyone needs a perfectionist in their life. Who else is going to get those creases in your dress shirts or slacks razor sharp and straight as an arrow? Now, for all of you who struggle with perfectionism, I'm kidding. Kind of. No really, I am. Maybe.
I love the perspective that Goli shared with us, that perfectionism is simply a deceptive title for a fear of failure. Listen to how rich that statement is. Perfectionism is simply a deceptive title for a fear of failure. Now, I'm sure there are some perfectionists listening to this episode, hating the idea of agreeing with it, but at the same time having a really hard time arguing with it. Perfectionism is a 2,000 pound ball and chain holding you back from exploring all that you're capable of. Perfectionism is a flawed survival technique that does not allow you to fail. It does not allow you to really just spread out and see everything you're capable of. If you want to fully understand your strengths, you need to be clear on your weaknesses. Perfectionism will not all you to go that far. The step sibling to perfectionism is people pleasing, and wow did Goli drop some bombs in her journey to combat that mindset. When she realized it was her concern of other people's opinions that kept her from leaving the career she hated, she had a decision to make. Do I continue to live a life that pleases others and diminish my own self worth, or do I live the life that I'm capable of? She obviously chose the latter, and Goli acknowledges this is all a journey but she continues to march forward.
I hope you found some real encouragement in Goli's startup story. There are two things I would like you to do to show Goli some appreciate for being so transparent. The first is follow Lessons From a Quitter on Instagram. The handle is simply @Lessonsfromaquitter. The second, subscribe to Goli's podcast on Apple Podcast or wherever you listen. Her Lessons From a Quitter podcast is an outstanding podcast to keep queued up.
Now, for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible with sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We are a startup and the most powerful way you can support The Startup Story podcast is to leave a review on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory.co. Share The Startup Story on your social media, either with a link or a screenshot. Make sure you tag or mention us @TheStartupStory.co so we can see your help and say thank you for it.
Lastly, share the podcast on your LinkedIn profile. The Startup Story is for entrepreneurs, so please do not underestimate the power of sharing The Startup Story on your LinkedIn profile so other entrepreneurs can discover us. In fact, most people struggle to share good content on LinkedIn anyways, so if you want to support The Startup Story then search for The Startup Story company page, follow us, and share our posts to help encourage other founders and spread the word about the podcast. Every single founder has a story, and the startup stories we bring you every week can encourage and inspire another founder. It might just be what they needed to hear to keep moving forward on their dreams. I look forward to sharing these stories every Tuesday with hopes to inspire you to start YOUR story.