Late Bloomer on a Learning Curve

I recently had lunch with Amy Balliett, co-founder of Killer Infographics. It was great to meet another female business owner and get a little pep talk from someone who is now experiencing growth, but started out struggling, just like anyone else.

It was just what I needed.

Earlier this year I realized I make an extremely unlikely CEO. I took a talent insight assessment test to map my behavior and motivators, and it revealed that I’m a very passionate person who is loyal to a great leader and/or a great cause.

In other words, I follow well.

But instead of feeling discouraged by this epiphany, I found it to be a huge relief. It explained why I kept waiting around for someone else to tell me what to do next to grow the business — I was that someone else!

The assessment also helped me understand my strengths, and now I’m on a mission to improve my areas of weakness.

office with a view
I spend my evenings studying up on strategic planning.

“The two most important attributes of effective leaders are their abilities to predict and to delegate.”

This quote is from Verne Harnish in, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, a book that Amy recommend I read.

Turns out that I’m terrible at both of those things. I’m a control freak, and I prefer observation over prediction.

But the ability to predict and delegate is not an impossible thing for me to learn, and maybe my first big act of delegation is to give someone else the job of predicting!

The point is, I’m passionate about helping people and businesses tell their stories, and I love running a small business with people I love. With my strengths shored up, I’m ready to tackle the learning curve so I can be who I am and do what I love, successfully.

Many thanks to Amy for her pep talk, and to Shandel at True Life Coaching, who provided the talent insights assessment and interpretation.

Looking For Community In a Culture of Agendas

I attended an interesting discussion with friends last night on the topic of women in the workforce – specifically, at ad agencies.

(As it turns out, agency life is still quite the boys club compared to other industries).

I don’t work for an ad agency, nor am I trying to climb a corporate ladder (As my friend so brilliantly said, I’d rather build my own ladder than climb someone else’s!), but I went because I’m always interested in what women are talking about.

Admittedly, most women-oriented events irritate me. I don’t know why this is, but I’ve never been able to get on the bandwagon. Perhaps I’m too snarky and not feminist enough.

But even if the official discussion didn’t thrill me last night, I was energized by the time I spent with my friends who attended with me.

I realized how starved I am for community right now, particularly creative community. In my work I have a very small team, and I’m still learning how to create a culture of brainstorming and feedback. Somehow I’ve put myself in the position of coming up with all the ideas, and I figured out it won’t end well if I continue this way.

I also realized how fortunate I am to know so many smart and creative women entrepreneurs, and how silly it is that these woman are not yet my BFFs.

So here is where I get confused about my dislike for women’s events, because I actually crave community with creative women entrepreneurs. I think we face a unique set of challenges and can benefit greatly from sharing our experiences, but I tire of the how-can-we-be-successful-like-men drumbeat.

I don’t want to be successful like a man. I don’t even want to be successful as a woman. I want to be successful in what God has specifically gifted ME to do, which can’t be compared to anyone else, man or woman.

Why I Never Started My Own Company, by David Lee

Why I Never Started My Own Company | David Lee.

Every once in awhile it hits me: We employ people. We provide jobs. Maybe we don’t provide hundreds of jobs like some companies, but still.

Recently, someone who works for us moved into a new place. It’s a really nice place, and I feel a sense of pride that I had a small part in making that happen.

But there’s also a dark flip side: It’s possible they could lose everything because of me. I could make a mistake, I could steward my time or resources unwisely, I could not know the condition of my flocks.

I feel the weight of this reality most vividly at two in the morning.

And when I see prospective entrepreneurs tell me that they want to start a company because “they’ve always wanted to start a company” or “get operational experience” as if it’s the next milestone in their career ladder, I wonder if they know the real price. The price can be – and should be – excruciating.

This article by David Lee resonated with me. Like being a mom, you can’t really be all about yourself when you own a business. At home, my kids get new clothes before I do, and at work, my employees get paid before I do.

It’s not really a punch-the-clock kinda life.

I wouldn’t have it any other way, but sometimes it’s overwhelming.

Joy in the Tight Spots

The year after I dropped out of college I worked as a receptionist at a tech company and shared an apartment with my best friend. I can’t remember the exact circumstances of our financial situation, but I remember we were in a Tight Spot.

We were in danger of not making rent and didn’t have enough money for groceries.

Is was so bad that we ate an onion fried in butter for dinner one night, cashed in our penny jars at the bank, and grown-up friends left a few bags of groceries at our apartment door on more than one occasion.

We also tried to sell my friend’s tiny green Le Car by posting signs in the window that said, “Please buy this car or we’ll be living in it.”

In the years since then I’ve been in both plenty and want, but this month feels a little like those Glory Days of eating Ramen, fried onions, and selling stuff to pay the bills.

I’m not sure we’ll get enough client payments to make the mortgage, we decided the destination of our date night based on the amount of gas we had in our car, and the Porter I’m drinking now is courtesy of some Christmas money I’d stashed away for a rainy day.

And still, I think I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time.

Money is just money, and things are just things. We work hard and I’m sure the mortgage will get paid eventually… but even if it doesn’t, we’ll be okay.

I remember talking to my mom those many years ago, and she fretted. She was good at fretting. “What do I do??” she fretted. “Do I send you money??”

No, I said. We’ll be fine.

And even now as I think back on that season, I remember it as being fun. I’m sure it wasn’t at the time, but that’s the beauty of retrospect: we only remember the important things through a filter of maturity.

I don’t remember feeling stressed or scared, but I do remember watching Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin for $1 at the King Cat theater, then walking all the way home to lower Queen Anne in the middle of the night because I didn’t have bus money.

So in this current season I attempt to trust God with things I can’t control, rest in the sovereignty of his provision, and enjoy the moments that bring me joy in the midst of our Tight Spot.

Momageddon: Not As Awesome As Being “The Talent.”

Studio time at Bad Animal.

Awhile ago I popped into Bad Animals studio to record a voice over track for one of my clients (Do you like how breezy I was when I said that? Like it happens all the time?). When I got there, the staff ushered me into a special parking spot and asked if I wanted my water chilled or at room temperature.

A few hours later I picked up my kids at the bus stop. Ruthie yelled at me (in public!) because (as usual!) homework comes before playing (gasp!), and Thomas got distracted 42 times while emptying the dishwasher.

How is it that my own children don’t understand what an expert I am, and that I’m to be deeply respected? After all, I’ve helped organizations worldwide communicate their story, yet MY OWN CHILDREN can’t seem to understand a word I’m saying.

For instance, when I say to Ruthie, “You can play with a friend after your homework is done,” she hears, “You will never see that friend again. Ever. Global warming will melt glaciers & flood the continent before you ever lay eyes on any friends ever again,” and responds accordingly with, “YOU’RE THE WORST MOM EVER!”

Our First Mother, Eve, was bent the same way.

God said Adam & Eve could eat from any tree in the garden except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but Eve heard differently. She heard, “BACK AWAY FROM THE TREE! DON’T EVEN TOUCH IT! IN FACT, AVERT YOUR EYES!”

It seems a small discrepancy, but how often do our minds exaggerate to justify what we want? Because surely if God (or mom!) is really that unreasonable, then I’m totally going to talk my way out of this one.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it (Genesis 3:6).

Eve believed a half-truth (which is worse than a lie!), surmised that God was a jerk, and ate the fruit anyway.


When my kids act out like Eve, it’s so tempting to love my job more than I love parenting (which is also a job, in case you missed that). On my worst day with the worst client ever (hardly ever happens!), I can shut the lid and quit working.

But oh lordy, this parenting thing is forever.

Date Night on a Budget

Date night

We’re pinching our pennies for date night these days, so I was excited to remember I’d bought movie passes on Groupon months ago.

A free movie + conversation over steak tacos = a win for budget date night!

Which gave me a great idea! Because our entrepreneurial income tends to fluctuate throughout the year, I think I’ll buy myself a movie gift card and refillable cash card when times are aplenty, and save them for when times are lean.


I’m full of great ideas.

You May Call Me Mrs. President.

Last week on the morning of my 40th birthday, Bryan woke me with a kiss, handed me a mug, and said, “Your coffee, Mrs. President. Happy Birthday.”

And it’s true. I am now the President and CEO of my own company. It’s called What Now? Exactly! and we make kick-ass animated explanations.

There is a long story behind this momentous day, but I am too tired to tell it. Not because I’m 40, but because I just launched an explanation company and it kinda took a lot out of me.

And here is where I get sappy, so grab a box of tissue.

I made some amazing friends over the last couple years, and without them I’d probably be managing the shoe department at Target. Not that working at Target is bad, but I’d have to wear pants and brush my hair to fit in.

Wait, that sounded bad.

I don’t sit in an office with my team, NOT wearing pants. We all work from home and collaborate on Skype. So, just wanted to clarify that in case you thought this was some sort of “special” animation studio.

We met while I was running a different explanation company, Lilipip. As contractors, we bumped into each other on several projects and soon realized we had the perfect chemistry for cooking up some great animated explanations.

This gave us the entrepreneurial itch to start our own thing.

That’s why I’m so excited about our first client, The Startup Foundation. It’s their mission to help folks like us do what we did – plant a flag in the community and start something new. It was an inspiring project, and just the thing we needed to keep our momentum going during this stressful season of getting launched.

Like I said, my team made this all possible, and I want you to meet them:

Andrew Imamura – Storyboard artist, Art Director, Partner.
Yas Imamura – Branding & Design, illustrator.
Linda Spain – Animator.
Fancy Morales – Everything else.

If you feel so inclined, please “like” us on Facebook, follow us on twitter, and hire us to make your next animated video.

On Working Alone.

Lately I’ve been experiencing a creative conundrum.

You see, I have it made. I’m one of the lucky ones. And no, I’m not talking about my hair. It’s amazing, to be sure, and the world is generally very jealous of my thick and gorgeous mane, but I am talking about my lifestyle.

It’s amazing that I get to write for a living. It’s amazing that I get to work from home. During school hours. And that I don’t have ongoing expensive day care costs. This luxury is not lost on me, and from a working parent’s perspective, this is a perfect arrangement.

But it also means I work alone, which can be lonely. And uninspiring. And depressing. And did I mention lonely?

Amazing things happen when I’m in the same room as my creative team. The creative process is sometimes internal, but most of our best ideas happen in collaboration, and most of the time that collaboration is ambient, meaning it happens organically as we’re crossing paths in the hallway and not necessarily during a scheduled brainstorming session.

The watercooler conversations, if you will.

Anyway, back to the conundrum.

I like that I’m in control of my schedule, that I can be highly productive in my pajamas and use my laundry cycles as an excuse to stretch my legs and take a break (it’s better than smoking!). I like that I can be a “working mom” without compromising my affinity for being a “stay at home” mom.

But I hate that it sucks the creative life out of me to work alone.

I’m certain there’s at least a handful of solutions to my conundrum, but I can’t think of one that doesn’t involve compromise – either by me, my family, or my team.

Really, I just want to have it all. Even more all than I already have, apparently.

Bootstrapper Family

“Gotta go sew a Tyvek tent. I blame YouTube and marrying crazy.”

My friend posted this to her facebook page the other day. I have no idea what a Tyvek tent is, but I know the sort of person her husband is and that these things usually start with a wild-eyed idea, followed by a wife who rolls her eyes but secretly enjoys the adventure of it all.

I, too, married crazy. Only I’m not sewing outdoor gear to survive the inevitable collapse of the American economy and life as we know it, I’m buying a domain for every Big Idea, starting a new adventure every six months, and green-lighting gear purchases that spark a little twinkle in my husband’s eye.

In my wedding vows I said I would follow Bryan through seasons of hot dogs and caviar, through dry and plenty. This is because he warned me what life with him would be like. He warned me that I wasn’t signing on for a suit and tie, nine to five, salaried existence, but that our life would be filled with curves and cliff hangers, surprises and disappointments.

In retrospect, I’m so thankful he prepared me for this. His ideas are adventurous, sometimes costly, and usually risky, but the man is an entrepreneur at heart and I knew what I was getting into. Occasionally I forget who really rows our Strange Boat and panic, but for the most part I chuckle, roll my eyes, and go with it.

We always end up having fun, and are happiest when adventuring together.

To that end, I introduce Bootstrapper Studios, our multi-camera HD broadcast video studio, located in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. I’ve been spearheading much of the admin and set design for the studio, and can’t wait to show off photos when it’s complete, so stay tuned.

Finally, the tree fruits.

This is what I do for work – I produce animated videos like this one. In fact, this animation for Circle Street was my first solo project, back in February.

I work from home – mostly in our basement office, sometimes at the dining table, occasionally in my thinking chair. I work part time while the kids are in school, and during the summer I have an elaborate schedule of day camps, VBS programs, and babysitting swaps to keep track of.

Working from home has its pros and cons. It’s always there and the boundaries between work and play can get blurry sometimes. I find if I don’t leave the house with the kids during my off hours, I end up getting sucked in to email threads or answering my phone or otherwise getting distracted from family life.

But the advantages of working from home far outweigh the challenges – I have no commute, I can transition quickly between work and play, and I can do my laundry (theoretically) between tasks.

The best thing about working from home, though, is my kids get to see what I do. They see what I’m creating – the illustrations, the rough animations, the edits – always asking questions.

Recently Bryan took Ruthie on a daddy date, and he asked where she’d like to eat lunch.

“Sushi Palace!” she yelled enthusiastically.

Bryan looked at me, perplexed. “Where’s Sushi Palace?” he asked.

“It’s the fictional restaurant in my Circle Street animation,” I said proudly.

Ruthie’s connection to what I do all day long is the culmination of all the decisions about work, life, and community Bryan and I have made over the last four or five years. Finally, the tree fruits.

Work is not just somewhere I go, a place that takes me away from my family & gives me a paycheck. We worked work into the DNA of our family. Work works for us, not the other way around.

It is a long-established fact in the ZugHaus that I have Eeyore tendencies – I moan and whine about whatever inconvenience befalls me in the moment. But the truth is, my Eeyore moments are growing few and far between as I wake up to the realization that I am one very fortunate wife and mother.

My life is a both/and of hard work and God’s blessing, and I’m very, very grateful.

line weight

Painted Stripe

I came home the other day to this freshly painted line on the street in front of our house, and I cried.

For seven years we’ve laughed about this line. The city comes every few months to repaint it all the way down our street, but because our car is always parked out front they just skip around it, leaving it faded & scraggly in front of our house.

Every so often in the midst of my amazing life, something seemingly insignificant happens that reminds me that Things are not as they used to be, and this sparkly white line in front of our house is one of those things.

I grieve transitions deeply. No matter how fabulous it is, a transition means something is different, and inevitably something is lost. I struggle to live in the moment and enjoy what I have without looking back at What Was.

For some reason when I saw this line it represented everything we did last summer when I wasn’t working – long days at the beach, free movies at the theater, and blueberry picking every week. We’ve done plenty of fun things this summer, too, but sometimes I catch my self thinking, it’s just not the same.

I know I’m being completely irrational since this line could have appeared while I was at the grocery store, but because it appeared while I was gone all day working, this new line carries some weight. It’s a monument to the next chapter in the ZugHaus.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Sparkly New Line.

tag along

Ruthie joins Lilipip!

A couple weeks ago I gave a short presentation on Lilipip at Tech Cafe (formerly Lunch 2.0), and I brought Ruthie along to the happy hour event because I wanted her to see see me in action.

After seeing my name tag, which said @jenzug above @lilipip, Ruthie wanted to alter her name tag to be just like mine.

Sometimes I take it for granted how much Ruthie wants to be like me. More than occasionally I’m impatient or irritated by it because it usually involves some time and effort on her part, and I don’t like to be slowed down.

It’s pure selfishness and ridiculousness on my part, because aside from Jesus who ELSE would I want her to be like?!

Bringing her along was an experiment, and one that ended successfully. Ruthie stood at the door and handed guests a name tag and pen as they arrived.

Occasionally she gave out hugs.

Having her with me felt like one of those important stolen moments when Life and Work converge, and I look forward to letting her tag along more often.