The bell above the door at Washington Post was tingling consistently, giving us a melodic clue that the store/coffee shop was busy that day. We sat next to the windows looking out on the street, the smell of Kaori’s mango passion tea slowly waking us from our still not-quite-awake stupor. After I dove into a 15 minute long explanation of my work and projects, she excitedly explained her decision to leave her company.
A Realization and Transition
Over 4 years ago, Kaori and her fiance moved to St. Louis from Pittsburgh. He had grown up in the area and still had family here, but she knew very little about her future hometown. At the time, it didn’t really matter to her where she lived, as long as she had an airport nearby, because in her role with Deloitte she was traveling most of the time. This constant traveling was taking a toll. Not only did Kaori have no knowledge of the city, she also admits that for 3 years she didn’t know a single person here.
However, there wasn’t much time for her to be lonely. In addition to constant traveling, she was often beginning her work day at 6am and leaving the office after dark. Despite it all she enjoyed her work, but she didn’t love the types of companies she was consulting for, like big oil companies.
So, when she learned about local schools struggling to maintain accreditation, she decided it was time to get involved somehow. Not long after coming to this realization, Kaori met Jake (coffee #71) of Project IDWIL at a 1 Million Cups event. “That catapulted me into this whole entrepreneur space,” she said thoughtfully drumming her fingers on the table.
Somewhere In The Middle?
While quitting a job is never easy, it was a piece of cake compared to what Kaori was trying to do next. Her goals were defined from the outset: figure out what was going on in St. Louis, determine how she fits into the community, and decide on a new career.
First, figure out what’s happening in St. Louis. After learning about the startup movement and seeing the energy of these companies, she realized this was the answer. Second, determine how she fits into the community. Shortly after leaving Deloitte she began networking and volunteering her time and skills to new companies in the area, making her reflect, “How can I be part of leaving a legacy for St. Louis as it turns into a more entrepreneurial hub?”
The realization that she wanted to be a long-term, integral part of the entrepreneurial community here, was an important one for Kaori. “If you had asked me 4 or 5 years ago if I’d ever live in St. Louis, I would be like, ‘where’s St. Louis again? Somewhere in the middle there?’” But now… “I absolutely love it here. Definitely love being here. All of these little stores… there’s so much character and life in it.”
She continued to volunteer her time to these companies, offering to help with 2 to 3 week projects for free. In the end 10 companies benefited from her expertise and ultimately she even found her next career move with the new Venture Cafe at the CIC! “It’s been a really fun way of learning about organizations and how startups work and learning about the ecosystem with the startup scene.”
A Unique Perspective of the City
When she told me that she enjoys working in the yard, I asked Kaori if she would like the strawberry plants in my garden. Her face lit up as she accepted my offer and told me this was one of the reasons she has come to love our city. “Out of this experience and I’ve never done this in a different city, so I can’t say it’s unique to St. Louis, but I think it is, it’s the willingness of people to help out and even have a conversation. Even you! Offering your strawberries!”
For example, when Kaori first started her project everyone tried to help her find a job. It took some explaining before they understood she wasn’t ready for that, yet. “I’m serious about figuring out what I want to be when I grow up!”
Gathering our cups and belongings we reluctantly prepared to leave the warm, inviting atmosphere of The Washington Post. We continued our conversation out on the sidewalks and then said our goodbyes. However, Kaori’s adopted love of our great city stuck with me throughout the past several months and has turned what was a casual coffee meeting into a burgeoning friendship.