Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Kevin Merkelz, founder of The Humanitarian Insider, located in Geneva, Switzerland.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I'm the founder and creator of The Humanitarian Insider, a website that offers career advice for aspiring humanitarian aid workers from all over the world. My product is knowledge, and my customers are mostly students and fresh graduates who want to work in the aid sector but are struggling to find practical information about the career path, even after completing a bachelor's or master's degree in the subject.
What makes The Humanitarian Insider unique is that the advice comes straight from professionals who are currently working in the field, not from a professor or a career counselor. I lean on my own decade of experience as an aid worker and on my network of friends and old colleagues to ensure that the information is accurate and honest.
Tell us about yourself
After ten years of working in emergency humanitarian responses in conflict zones in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, I settled down in Switzerland to start a family in 2021. My career was changing, and my identity with it. As I transitioned out of the field, I wanted to give back to the next generation of aid workers who were transitioning in.
Over the years, countless young people have asked me for advice about how they too, could become international aid workers. I never found any good resources online to which I could direct them, so I was repeatedly typing out long emails just to share the same basic advice. So the inspiration to start The Humanitarian Insider really came from a desire to save me from writing the same email over and over again. I first jotted down the idea for the website in a notebook in 2018, but it wasn't until 2021 that it came to life.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I don't necessarily consider myself a business owner. I'm someone who enjoys helping young people find their career paths. What I consider accomplishments are the thank-you messages and emails that I receive from students and young professionals who tell me that The Humanitarian Insider has helped them in their career journey. That is incredibly rewarding.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Until now, my entire career has been in the non-profit sector, specifically in international humanitarian aid, working for the United Nations and international charity organizations. The ethos of the aid sector is about helping others for free. We would never imagine charging a fee or making a profit from the services that we provide.
Therefore, the hardest part about doing a business out of my little project was overcoming my qualms about putting a price tag on my work instead of doing it all for free.
In the end, I struck a balance with my conscience: I offer nearly all of the content on my website for free. I only charge for personalized sessions if people want extra help or tailored advice.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
First, if you have an idea for a project or a business, just do it. The feeling of seeing something that began as an ephemeral image in your mind become a reality is an unparalleled joy. And if your idea does not succeed, you won't have to wonder "what if," and you can move on to your next idea with a clear mind.
Second, bring in specialists to help you where you need it. Nobody is an expert in everything, and your time is valuable. Hiring someone to do your finances or your website optimization, or your legal registration is worth it.
Finally, get the opinions of people you respect and be willing to listen to their feedback, even if it's sometimes unpleasant to hear.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Those eye-roll-inducing motivational video montages on YouTube - where they mash up fiery monologues of self-help gurus with footage of people skydiving or lifting weights - actually helped me push through the low points in the early stages of building the site. They convinced me to trust in myself and believe in the worth of my ideas.
…Oh, wait, the question wasn't: "What's the most embarrassing thing you're willing to admit about the process of starting your own business?"
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email email@example.com; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Feel inspired to start, run or grow your own subscription business? Check out subkit.com and learn how you can turn "one day" into day one.