Mike O’Krent and LifeStories Alive
I want to tell you the story of my dear friend, Mike O’Krent. Several months ago, I wrote the post, Share Your Story and Inspire Others with this hope that some of my readers would step forward and share their own Career Pivot stories.
Here is the first of the series!
Carpeting to LifeStories Alive
Mike grew up in San Antonio when his family owned a carpeting business. It was in his grandfather’s carpeting business that Mike started his work life as a teenager.
After graduating from SMU with a Bachelors in Business Administration and Management, he rose through the ranks to eventually run this business. He would later leave it to run his own carpeting business. As we will later see, this was a valuable experience that would pay off years later.
Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation
Mike was given the opportunity to interview Holocaust survivors as part of Stephen Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. He was given special training to interview Holocaust survivors. He learned to listen in a very specialized way in order to capture the purpose of life.
From 1996-2000, he interviewed 30+ Holocaust survivors. He listened in a way to be able to retell their stories. This was a “pivot” moment in his life. He learned many valuable skills during this process. Mike had a passion for the project but, at that time, he had not even considered that he could interview people and tell their life stories for a living.
Exiting the Carpeting Business
In 1998, Mike moved to Austin and bought a new carpeting business. However, the carpeting industry was changing dramatically. He decided to sell and exit this business in 2004.
Next came his second pivot moment.
Mike spent the next couple of years as a corporate employee. He then sought the advice of a career coach who put him through a battery of exercises. Every time Mike talked about interviewing Holocaust survivors, he lit up. The decision to create his new business, Life Stories Alive, was born.
In January 2006, he founded LifeStories Alive, a company that specializes in making personal history videos—digitally mastered records of life stories with personal accounts, photos, and mementos of family history.
Mike was able to bootstrap the business very quickly. He had very little overhead and he quickly had a family friend as his first client. From this first client, he received much referral business.
Mike was able to survive the first few years because he and his wife lived a modest lifestyle. They lived within their means.
The skills Mike learned from working in the carpeting business proved invaluable while getting his business launched successfully. He understood sales, marketing, accounting, and many other business disciplines. He still needed to be able to adapt.
I remember talking with Mike in 2008. He had plans to franchise the business, but then the great recession came along. What Mike has since realized that he is not the “guy” to develop a franchise model. He loves interviewing all kinds of people and is now focusing corporate leaders. What he creates is special.
Besides interviewing fathers, mothers, grandparents, and other family members to capture their stories, he is now interviewing corporate and non-profit leaders to capture the organizational stories so that they are not lost.
Did the business turn out exactly the way he expected? NO.
He adapted as he went along.
I have found a common theme in the stories told by those of us who have made a career pivot in the 2nd half of life.
- There was a pivot moment that gave us the idea but not the impetus to get started.
- There was a 2nd pivot moment that gave us the kick in the butt needed to get started.
- The ability to adapt was key, as what was created did not look exactly like what was expected.
I hope Mike’s story will inspire you.