McLane Creative

Start-up Mode, What We’re Learning

“So, how is the start-up stuff going?”

It’s a fair and caring question. I get it all the time.

Several months ago Kristen and I felt God pulling for a big change. Long before we even knew exactly how it would play out… we knew it was time to go for it. You know, a double dip recession and the worst economy in a generation is the perfect time to launch a start-up, right?

Actually, it is.

If you have a good business idea there is no such thing as a bad economy. If you want to think about economics, tomorrows biggest business winners are being determined today because the people who profit while everyone else is floundering will pay bigger dividends than those who either lose ground our don’t do anything now.

“It’s crazy.”

That’s my response when people ask that question because it’s the truth.

It’s crazy fun. It’s crazy the things I’m working on. And it’s crazy to think about all the conversations I’ve had as I’ve considered various opportunities over the past months.

It’s crazy to have to do things like month-to-month forecasts. And it’s crazy to have to rent an office for myself when I’ve had an office of my own provided by an employer since I was about 19 years old.

What I’m Learning

  1. I wish we had done this earlier. It’s not that I regret a moment of my time at YS, but as we ramp things up that I could have done this sooner and we’d be further along in our development.
  2. It’s not scary. Right now, there are millions of people doing jobs they hate because they are too afraid to make a change. I’m more afraid of doing a job that I don’t want to do than I’m afraid of starting my own business.
  3. Mission drives focus. I’ve been asked to consider projects that just weren’t right for what I’m trying to do. And a few times, in my insecurity, I’ve said yes to things that were more a distraction to my mission than they were profitable for our business.
  4. You have to stand up for yourself. In the past I’ve either just dealt with difficulties or had someone to help me with things I couldn’t correct. But now? I’ve got to have difficult conversations with people. I’ve got to be clear about what I am and am not going to do. If I won’t stand up for myself, I’ll get stepped on.
  5. Disappointment is part of the deal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten amped for a big thing that hasn’t happened. It just goes with the territory. It’s not that I don’t allow myself to be disappointed anymore. But I have learned to deal with it quickly and move on.
  6. Dreamers get paid. Some of the most fun projects I’m working on happened because of saying, “Hey, wouldn’t that be cool if…?” Or it’s cousin, “How can we work together on that?
  7. Helping people is best. I LOVE helping people do stuff they thought wasn’t possible. There’s nothing quite like doing some training and seeing people go, “Oh, I could do ___ with that. Wow!” Believe it or not… that’s not that common. Traditional business wisdom would teach the opposite.
  8. It’s all about value. I have a philosophy that I want to deliver ridiculous value to the people I work with. Why? Delivering value builds loyalty.
  9. Admit when you suck. Just like I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself I’ve had to learn to go over and above when I’ve stunk. It happens. It will happen. Just admit it, pony up, and resolve to do better.
  10. Take advantage of the flexibility. The biggest mistake I’ve made in the past six months is not taking time off. I’ve gotten good about scheduling stuff. But vacation time? I didn’t do it. In 2012, I’ve got 4 weeks of downtime already booked.
McLane Creative The Youth Cartel

Beginning life in the Cartel

For those who missed my earlier announcement: I’m no longer with Youth Specialties. Starting today I’m joining my friend Marko (Mark Oestreicher) to launch a brand new kind of youth ministry organization, The Youth Cartel.

I’ve spent 3 months waiting for September 1st to arrive. Words can’t express how excited I am to get started today. Our byline is “Instigating a revolution in youth ministry.” So let’s kick this thing off.

How can you get involved in the Cartel?

  • Sign-up for YoutTube You Can Use – This is a free resource I’m producing every week as a discussion starter with the teenagers in your life.
  • Sign-up for Cartel Culture – More than a newsletter, this will give you regular entry points to kicking off a revolution in your community.
  • Collaborate with us – If you share a vision for seeing foundational shifts in how we minister to adolescents, I want to hear from you.

How can you invest RIGHT NOW?

My first big idea for The Youth Cartel is the Extended Adolescence Symposium. It’s a one-day event, bringing together two of the countries top thinkers, and drilling into the root causes of extended adolescence and it’s effects on adolescent faith development. We are funding it through Kickstarter, and investing as little as $10 would help us out a lot.

As of right now we’ve raised $2470 of the $6000 we need by September 17th. Many of you have asked me how you can help me get The Youth Cartel going. This is a very practical way. $10, $50, $250… all makes a big difference.

Weblogs YMX

Best of 2005

Note: I’m on vacation this week. My family has a rule for daddy– It’s not a vacation if daddy brings a computer. Each day this week I’m highlighting my favorite post from the archives. These are oldies but goodies.

Check Out YMX!

Hey, a buddy of mine and I launched a website lately for youth workers to connect up. This is filling the forum void left behind since YS closed their forums back in June.

Anyway, check it out at


This changed everything. As I look back on the last several years, no event changed my life more than creating Youth Ministry Exchange.

For years the youth ministry world was pretty self-contained. There were a limited number of players and it seemed impossible to get your foot in the door anywhere.

So we created a new door.

Within a month we created massive traffic for our new business. We had some sense that what we were creating was important– but the truth is we had no idea what we were doing. We were even afraid to call it a business. We didn’t have any of the legal stuff done. We never had a business plan. We never spent $1 on marketing. And the two original owners have STILL never met. 3.5 years later I was sitting in an office at Zondervan signing paperwork and waiting for a bank transfer as we sold Youth Ministry Exchange, LLC to Youth Specialties. It’s mind boggling.

How in the world does a guy go from being a no-name youth pastor at a church of 150 to shaking hands and receiving a check from the CEO of a major publishing company in 3.5 years? Simple: Looking at closed doors and building an open one to walk through.

Investing $72 in an idea changed my life.

Want my advice? If you have an idea that you are absolutely passionate about… do it. Do it now. The idea and the opportunity are never going to get better than they are today. But invest less than $100. If it’s a good idea it won’t make a difference if you invest $100 trying it out or $100,000. (Donald Trump may be good, but that guy has led his company into bankruptcy three times! Never finance an idea with debt. Pure and simple.)


The Resurrection of the Cottage Industry

Photo by James Whitesmith via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Is this the best time ever to start a small business? It sure seems like it!

  • Countless brilliant minds, long cooped up in boring corporate jobs, are on unemployment and unable to find new corporate jobs.
  • The internet has made the world pretty flat. You have a good product? You can move it online for about the same per unit price as the big guys.
  • Culture has a distaste for big business. Enron, big banks, BP, Monsanto, Wal*Mart– we’re all questioning if we can trust giant. But we know we can trust local.
  • The genie has left the bottle. With all of that knowledge leaving big business… these folks know how to run a business, are well networked, and know all the tricks of their trade.
  • It’s never been cheaper. Seriously, in a bunch of states you can legally start a business for less than $100. Using existing free tools like Craigslist, Etsy, or Ebay you can advertise a product for free. (Or darn close to it.)
  • People are more willing to buy thoughts, ideas, designs, and concepts than ever before! Consultant isn’t just a fancy word for unemployed anymore.

If you are thinking about it, let me encourage you on two quick things.

  1. There is no time like the present. I started my first company in 2005 and sold it in 2008. It wasn’t scary. It was fun!
  2. While I don’t agree with all the MBAs out there that you need a business plan to start a small business, I do think you need to do the 30 minutes of work in setting everything up legally. Get a Tax ID, get a business bank account, get a business license if its require, form the right tax entity to protect yourself. None of that is hard and you don’t need a lawyer to do any of that.

Here’s a bi-product I love. All of those small businesses need a website. Which supports my cottage industry.


6 Questions for Those Starting a Business

Grand Opening
Photo by whizchickenonabun via flickr (Creative Commons)

The Great Recession of 2009 has created a new breed of entrepreneur– the I-don’t-have-a-job-but-I-was-once-successful-in-business-and I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-life-since-I-can’t-find-a-good-paying-job-that-satisfies-me-quite-like-my-old-job-did-entrepreneur.

What’s interesting about this group is that they have great ideas, limited capital, and a mixed bag of preparedness for starting a business. Honestly, that’s a perfect combination!

Tunnel Vision
Photo by rcameraw via flickr (Creative Commons)

The bad part is that since they don’t have jobs, they need this thing to take off instantly and provide for their families before their unemployment benefits run out.

I have a fundamental belief that people are at their best when up against that type of adversity. But while that kind of desperation can create tremendous energy to succeed– I’ve found that it can also lead to dangerous tunnel vision.

So here are my 6 Questions for Those Starting a Business as a result of getting laid off by the Great Recession of 2009.

  1. How little capital will you need to start generating positive revenue initially? In other words, how little can you invest to start making money with your idea now?
  2. What will you do to acquire customers outside of your sphere of influence? Your biggest weakness is thinking you have the contact base to maintain a business beyond 180 days– if you had that strong of a contact base one of them would have hired you by now. How will you grow your sphere beyond yourself in the first 30, 60, 90 days?
  3. Who are the gatekeepers to your success? Who are the power brokers in your niche and what do you need from them in order to succeed in this space?
  4. Have you defined the boundaries of your niche? What safeguards have you put I’m place to keep you in your niche?
  5. Is the product or service dependent or repeat business? If a repeat business, how will you manage customer relationships beyond the transaction?
  6. Is this a product or service that you need? If you don’t need it what makes you think it will keep you up at night making it awesome or that it will motivate others to evangelize your product?

What makes me qualified to ask these questions? In 2005 I started Youth Ministry Exchange with a small group of friends. We turned a profit on the first day and had positive cash flow every quarter until we were acquired by Youth Specialties in June 2008. In other words, I’ve done exactly what this breed of entrepreneur is attempting.

Church Leadership Harbor Mid-City hmm... thoughts

Fears of a new venture

What does youth ministry in this neighborhood look like?

That’s the big open question in my mind this week. A week ago I met with a couple of leaders of Harbor and let them know… I think I’m at a place where giving my energy to lead something makes sense. I’ve completely enjoyed stepping back– forcefully– and spending time in the pews. And yet it’s clear within my soul that I need to help Harbor figure out what is next with student ministry.

Replication is my fear. Honestly, that’s it. I am fearful that I’ll help lead them a direction towards “adamisms” and things that I’m comfortable with. I’m fearful that I lead them to replicating stuff that other practitioners are already doing without being sensitive to the needs of our church and community. I’m fearful that we’ll be too ambitious or not ambitious enough. I’m fearful that in our zeal to meet the tangible needs of students we won’t be Gospel-driven enough. I’ve lived in cities for half of my adult life, but all of my ministry experience is with suburban kids. I’m not fearful of the kids. But I am in full knowledge that I don’t know how to identify with their struggles. So that’s an over-arching fear mixed in there, as well.

Fear. It’s where I’m at. Not the trembling kind of fear before embarking on an unknown ministry for the first time. Thankfully, I’m not that 21 year old kid grabbing the mic for the first time. On the one hand this is a more carnal fear. Some fear is based in the success of my past and present ministry. What if I screw it up and everyone looks at me and says, “Doesn’t he work for Youth Specialties? Isn’t he supposed to be an expert? How come he sucks so bad?” On the other hand, this is fear based in saying to Jesus… “OK, I’ll try something completely out of my experience and culture. I’ll go where you want and do what you need done. I’ll swallow pride and embrace not getting it right and risk the humiliation of starting over.” It’s a fear based in a life dedicated to saying to the Lord, “I want to change this world, help me be that leader that changes things in my world.

I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve lead enough stuff to know that fear can be useful. Fear ultimately forces you to the core of what you’re trying to do. Fear forces you to look at the proposition of failure with a knowing grin. I may be afraid of failure but I’ve got enough experience to know what makes a success too.

3 life lessons I’m applying— If you are in the same boat– I’d suggest these things.

1- This is no one man show. Not that I’ve ever really run a one man show, per se. But from the onset of this I want to be clear that I’m no more than 1/4th the leader. I wish I had set this rule up 10 years ago!

2. This is about developing leaders for influence. If I’m going to invest my time in developing leaders, it’s not going to be so that they can be the shift supervisor at Starbucks. This is going to be about something much more important than this.

3. No more babysitting complacent teens. Since I’m not drawing a paycheck on this thing, I feel less-than-zero pressure to entertain. I want to invest in students, I want to invest in developing leaders. I want to teach God’s Word. And I have the ability to say no to the rest. Fun is always part of the equation. But watching kids be bored with the most exciting stuff on the planet… not my cup of tea.

More coming on this, I’m sure.