An Interview with Carol Bleyle from Pract.us
It is not every day that you get to talk to a serial entrepreneur. We had the opportunity to talk to Carol Bleyle, owner of Pract.us. It was an interesting, honest and inspiring interview. We thank Carol for taking time to talk to us and share her journey.
It is a pleasure to be talking to you to learn more about your entrepreneurial journey and how you have overcome the challenges in your way. Can you tell us more about Pract.us and your responsibilities at Pract.us ?
Practice is a software platform. We help companies improve employee performance through behavior tracking, behavior encouragement and on the job training. My job at Pract.us is manifold. I am primarily a client consultant and support person but I do most of the marketing as well.
It seems like you are in a niche market with little or no competition. There must be some challenges convincing customers to accept a new product. Could you elaborate on your experiences.
Yes, you are right. We really don’t have much competition. It’s a niche area and a part of work life that everyone experiences. When you have to figure something out on the job or adopt a new process, there are a few simple relatable tools out there to help us do that.
It does take some convincing. The biggest thing is that people don’t see the efforts they make at work to improve or develop new habits. They don’t see these processes as meaningful. Managers sometimes think their employees should just do what they are told and not learn how to do it. Employees accept that sometimes they have to learn on their own. We help people value that effort and understand that with a little bit of support and structure you can take every day experiences and make that much more powerful for a company.
How difficult was it to bring your idea to life and to make a proper business out of it?
It came out of the way the US Navy does its training. It is a very sophisticated teaching organization that has constant skill development. Everyone’s job in the Navy is to not only to learn your job but know how to teach the person who does your job next. My husband was the one who experienced this in the Navy and realized we could use it in the civilian world while making it more fun. We used the Navy approaches but created something that’s much more like an iPhone app. That is easy and fun to use and does not get in your way.
You seem to have the entrepreneurial spirit in you. You did establish few ventures before Pract.us. Can you speak about what triggered you to handle multiple business opportunities?
Pract.us is my third business and you could call me a serial entrepreneur. I worked in academia and the corporate world for a long time so I have had a taste of all of that and just felt that by going out on my own I could spend more time focusing on what I could contribute and making a bigger contribution to a particular goal then I could in the academic and corporate world. They put you in a box and I felt like I could have more satisfaction stepping out of that box.
What has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey with Pract.us so far?
In terms of my entrepreneurial journey I have really learned that I have an ability to identify a challenge and step in and figure it out. That doesn’t always mean I always succeed in overcoming the challenge but I’m not afraid of taking it on and trying different things. That is something that did not surprise me, but it was good to learn about myself. In Pract.us in particular the systems and program that I’ve been able to setup and our team has is really something special. It is a well thought out program with a strong user interface. I think it has a real power in a way that our clients are starting to see and I’m looking forward to seeing that grow.
How did you prepare yourself for the challenges and risks?
I didn’t prepare myself for these challenges. I was completely surprised and floored by the challenges and things that I expected that I would love about being an entrepreneur were harder. I pretty much went in as a naïve person and learned on my feet.
Could you speak about the help and support you received from your family and the business community
Yes, the business community in Loudoun county is unbelievably strong and supportive. I have been a member for several years now of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce and take advantage of the county’s small business support programs, meetup groups, and business education. There is no reason that if you are facing a problem or need to vent that you can’t find someone to talk to here. It’s an incredibly vibrant and supportive community. I also have an incredibly supporting family. You have to have an understanding family as an entrepreneur.
What are pros and cons of being an entrepreneur?
On the pro side, if you are someone who likes to fix stuff by yourself or have the autonomy and love to wear a lot of hats this is the job for you. These are all positives of being an entrepreneur. If you have a particular passion especially and feel like the work every day that you are doing is moving you towards a bigger goal, then that’s a great feeling. You really have the freedom to pursue your passion.
The flipside is the risks, you don’t have a lot of security, you fail a lot and you have to be really brutally honest with yourself about your own abilities and what you are willing to do. If your decisions aren’t panning out you have to move on.
Who are your role-model(s)?
Both of my parents own their own companies so from that point of view it did not seem foreign to me. It didn’t seem bizarre for me to branch out and start my own company.
Booker T. Washington was an historical influence for me. This was a person who had unbelievable perseverance and who had absolutely everything against him from the beginning and managed to overcome it. And not through good luck or landing a big contract but just through grit and enduring hard work. This is the person that I think about when I asked myself “Should I go the extra mile?”
Why do you think there are less women than men taking the risk of founding their own business?
I think it’s most likely going to be that women often have family responsibilities. If you look at a successful man and that he can put in a 60-80 work week it is mostly likely because someone else is doing the housework and taking care of the family. Women don’t typically have that luxury. They have to juggle both. The cost of jumping into your own enterprise is higher for women because once you finish your 80-hour work week you still have to go home and take care of everything else. It is more common to think of men as entrepreneurs and talk about whether there is gender bias and those are definitely out there, but I think it has more to do with women not having the right support structure. They will prioritize other things before a business.
Do you have any recommendations to other women who have startup ideas?
I would recommend absolutely going for it. Cover your bases, in other words say you have a job right now that is paying the bills and you have an interest in developing your own business. You need to make sure you can still pay the bills. If that means developing your business on the side or part-time, just make sure you still have money coming in. Until your business is up and running don’t put yourself in a precarious situation where you can’t take care of yourself. Examine your assumptions about who you are and who you should be. The messages we can get from our culture can be insidious and we don’t really question them. If you have a family and want to start your own business sit down with them and say to them that these things aren’t necessarily my job and whose going to get it done so I can go start my own business. Don’t assume that you should behaving in a certain way or have certain values or priorities. Allow yourself to questions those because they might not have come from you but what the culture has taught you at large.
The theme for International Women’s day this year is “Be Bold for Change.” What does this mean to you?
It means someone sat in a marketing room and thought that up. If you’re going to make change you’re going to have to something that’s a little scary. You don’t have to be outlandish or wear a funny color hat or go protest, but bold sometimes just means stepping outside of your comfort zone. For example, saying you want to start your own business but you have accounting fears. Go face your accounting fears, the worst thing that could happen is that you click the wrong button on QuickBooks. Those kinds of scary things takes some boldness to go out there and address it. It may not seem scary to one person, but to you it is. If you are going to make change you have to get used to some discomfort. Whether it’s a little change or big change or a lot of little changes that add up to a big change.
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