As an entrepreneur helping other entrepreneurs, I am fascinated by how difficult it can be to sink our teeth deeper into unaddressed problems. Being an entrepreneur to underserved markets can be lucrative, no doubt. But it presents such an abundance of heartbreaking challenges that only the altruistically-driven find a way to break down the complex, systemic problems into actionable steps.
For those not altruistically-driven, the problems often outweigh the profits, and the complexity is paralyzing. Like a home with enormous resell potential due to ideal location and unrivaled design but in need of major structural repair, underserved markets lie in wait for only the most dauntless entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial intent to bring product or service-based solutions to an underserved market often gives way to compassion collapse.
“Compassion collapse is when you see a problem that’s so big, the human mind doesn’t know what to do with it. Despair creates inaction.” – Premal Shah, founder of Kiva
Entrepreneurs are in good company when it comes to despairing at complex challenges, both personal and professional. Some people choose to avoid the pain of despair through inaction; others through intoxication. They may abuse substances or they may become intoxicated in a more socially acceptable way, drowning out the complexities of life with celebrityism, hyper-religion, materialism, etc. We humans can be “drunk” with anything that numbs our sensitivity to pain points and suppresses our ability to respond with self-efficacy.
The entrepreneurial journey often resembles a personal life-journey to sobriety. The entrepreneur must shed the socially-acceptable addictions in order to feel the weight of real life pain points. Only then can they envision innovative solutions and feel the satisfaction of improving their own life and that of others.
So, if being an entrepreneur to underserved markets requires above-average demands on the entrepreneur’s sobriety, what happens when a former-addict-turned-entrepreneur sets out to provide solutions for the underserved market of recovering addicts? Stacey Payne, a passionate social entrepreneur, is living out the answer.
In 2013 Stacey founded BlueCove Homes for those taking the next step after rehabilitation from substance use. BlueCove is a network of sober living residences that combines high quality recovery support services (adhering to nationally recognized standards for sober living environments) with affordable, upscale housing. Already making great strides an underserved market (post-rehab sober living), Stacey pinpointed another underserved market within.
“During the 2.5 years I worked with BlueCove, I grew my 7 home district to 16 homes. One of the most frustrating situations was encountering clients who had severe mental health issues, often permanently disabled, and were on small fixed SSI or SSDI government payments. These people were kicked out of houses repeatedly because they just did not integrate well with the substance user population. They needed more support. I often needed to ask these individuals to leave, which made me aware of yet another problem: they had nowhere to go. They had generally burned through all available housing options and were left with no options but the streets.” – Stacey Payne
At this point, Stacey sold BlueCove and founded LYFE Recovery Services on January 1, 2017. LYFE Recovery serves recovering addicts who have more demanding needs. Stacey expanded her original business idea to include more specialized services such as on-site staff and treatment providers, resume writing classes, employment assistance, sober companions, credit repair, and more.
The Source of Recovery Industry Pain Points
Why is Stacey so passionate about supportive living for recovering addicts? Because she is herself a former addict.
When Stacey finished rehabilitation, it was then that her greatest struggles began. She needed community support, but the sober living homes she looked into offered near homeless living conditions, and prices were astronomical.
“I refused to live in the conditions presented for the money that they were asking; so I didn’t. As a result, I stayed in the nightmare of addiction longer than I would have IF I had had better options.” – Stacey Payne
Over the next 20 years, Stacey took control of her life and delved into social work. She worked in nearly every sector of treatment for substance abuse and mental health. She observed that the crucial stage of addiction treatment – support after the conclusion of a formal rehabilitation program – was also the hardest to access. She became convinced that the solution to this pain point in the underserved market lay in providing community support and comfortable living conditions. This is where she saw addicts, given appropriate support in a healthy environment, making lasting changes on their road to recovery.
When faced with overwhelming complexities, Stacey did what all recovering addicts do when taking active steps in sobriety. She drilled to the source of the pain and turned one large problem into a series of proactive, simple tasks.
Simple, but not always easy.
One of the first tasks for Stacey, as for any entrepreneur, was to secure funding so she could convert an idea into a profitable venture.
Funding Problems: Every Entrepreneur’s Nemesis
Every entrepreneur does what is necessary to launch their project, particularly an entrepreneur to underserved markets. Sometimes it means taking loans or cash advances at dangerous terms.
“I had to self-fund initially, and I have taken cash advances and loans that are almost criminal! I once secured a $25,000 loan at $45,000 repayment!” – Stacey Payne
While it is never a good idea to take out high-risk loans, Stacey’s business quickly reached profitability, and she survived. As Stacey currently expands her business, she is in a much better place. She has minimized her risks by partnering with a Coda marketing affiliate that provides research, development, and consulting on unsecured loans from FDIC-insured lenders at 0% introductory interest rates.
Funding is every entrepreneur’s greatest, yet often unforeseen challenge. Options are slim for a first time business owner. Entrepreneur’s have far more smart options once their business reaches profitability, but profitability takes time.
Being Different from Competitors
Stacey wanted to stand out from her competitors, particularly by providing quality living arrangements. As a former addict, she confronted the demoralizing reality that the living conditions in many sober living homes were only slightly removed from the unhealthy environments from which addicts extracted themselves at great cost.
At both BlueCove and LYFE, Stacey has been able to provide comfortable, upscale living at an affordable price due to her creativity and willingness to generously invest her time and effort. She has a gift for furnishing beautiful living arrangements on a budget, often acquiring new furniture and household items through thrift shopping.
Combined with onsite staff and a wide variety of supportive services, the beautiful and wholesome environment gives recovering addicts a safe space where they can continue their recovery and rebuild their lives.
Multiple Sources of Revenue
As Stacey grew her business with an emphasis on sustainability and profitability, she shopped for franchise opportunities that would complement LYFE’s mission and values. She discovered Naturals2Go, vending machines with healthy alternatives. Stacey recognized this as a perfect fit, since a key piece of substance abuse recovery is a healthy diet.
“I recently spent many hours sitting in a car dealership and the only options were sugar, chemicals, or water! I would like to utilize Naturals2Go’s business model to expand the amenities offered in my current business.” – Stacey Payne
Naturals2Go is a great example of a franchise that empowers entrepreneurs to underserved markets: namely the vending industry crowded with unhealthy selections. The two missions aligned perfectly, and Stacey put a plan in motion to install healthy vending machines at key locations throughout her LYFE campuses.
Stacey is an intentional entrepreneur to underserved markets with a long-term plan. Her vision is to build LYFE campuses that can process high volumes of recovering addicts through a four-phase program similar to a college degree. She has been developing her vision for over a decade, working in a variety of roles in the substance abuse and mental health. She observed that addicts’ success and failure rates are directly related to the amount of support they have while confronting the inevitable obstacles on the road to recovery.
Most addicts who finally come to a sober living home like Stacey’s have spent years accumulating a trail of destruction in every area of their lives. The physical health, mental health, relationships, and outlook on life have all been decimated. Stacey knows what it feels like to be this low.
“Sixteen years ago, I was fighting with a judge, demanding that he just let me go to prison, but he refused. He chose treatment – no less than six months – and it was at that point that I received enough actual support and did enough personal work to begin to rebuild my life. Looking back at the many people who I have had the blessing to have met and worked with, having given and received a substantial amount of support, guidance and knowledge, I’ve come to truly believe that anyone can take their life and rewrite a new ending to their story. – Stacey Payne
Like Stacey, any successful entrepreneur to unserved markets will embrace their personal journey to self-efficacy while attuning their attention to the pain-points of his target market. And for those audacious entrepreneurs passionate about underserved markets, the journey will be all the more challenging but the rewards more deeply satisfying.