Paige Hulse trademark attorney for entrepreneurs

The Year It Almost Burned To The Ground

I’ve owned my own business since 2017. I’ve heard all of the same stats you have- the vast majority of startups survive until year 5 (appx. 80ish percent). A good number of those “year 5 survivors” fail before year 7. And then, roughly 90% of startups fail before year 15. There’s a lot to unpack […]

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I’ve owned my own business since 2017. I’ve heard all of the same stats you have- the vast majority of startups survive until year 5 (appx. 80ish percent). A good number of those “year 5 survivors” fail before year 7. And then, roughly 90% of startups fail before year 15.

There’s a lot to unpack behind those stats (for example, how many year 10-15 “close” due to buyouts? Not “shutdowns”?).  All that to say, these numbers are indicators, not law.

I honestly sailed relatively smoothly until year 5.5. Sure, there were days I didn’t know if I’d be able to tackle the road in front of me, but I never wondered if I’d fail. Today, I want to peel back the curtain on the raw, honest, behind the scenes of the year that made me question that. Many successful companies encounter similar scenarios; they typically just don’t happen all at once.

Before we get into the Annus Horribilis, relevant context: I’ve had 10 major surgeries, and a greater number of hospitalized emergencies since I began as an entrepreneur. 8 of those surgeries occurred with a days’ notice or less. Believe it or not, 28% of the first 75 months of entrepreneurship have required me to steer the ship through extreme physical emergencies where I was suddenly absent. When nearly a third of your time as an entrepreneur occurs in and out of a hospital, it pushes “business succession”, and unique business considerations to the forefront of your mind that most don’t consider until decades later.

I mention that all just to say: one bad year wouldn’t normally be defining. However, September 2022-September 2023 were *uniquely defining*. We will encounter hardship in phases, and it’s so important to remember they are phases, not permanent. At the same time, as leaders of our businesses, we have to be prepared for chaos- and you can think you’ve climbed the hurdle just to realize you didn’t see the mountain range.  

Please, let’s use some of my lessons and add them into your arsenal, so you don’t have to experience the same. Frankly, I thought I had passed the benchmark of the “most volatile” years of owning a business, it wasn’t until year 6 that I thought, for the first time, “what if this fails”?

It made me put tangible action behind changing course. If I wanted radical change, I had to do something radically different.

A quick recap:

  • September 2022: after 2 years of living out of boxes with family, we moved into our house. I was in a horrible accident days later.
  • October 2022: We built our pasture and moved our horses home. The same week, I broke my sternum. Doctors didn’t see it until March, so I lived with a 3-inch bone literally stabbing my diaphragm with every breath for months with no explanation.
  • Q4 2022: A deep grief phase over losing one of my closest relationships; the uniquely painful intertwining of business and friendship. In hindsight, I do find great irony in that my “solar plexus” collapsed at the same time. 
  • 2023 started with an unexpected temporary challenge that proved to be the stress test that exposed cracks in my team. By the second quarter, large sums of money were missing.
  • Q2 2023: I had to start over with an entirely new team. For context, my revenue at this point was directly derived from my law firm, and the Creative Law Shop®. I simultaneously assumed the role of CEO and COO in a weekend. The day before this occurred, I had a major surgery repairing my sternum. I have a scar up my entire abdomen from this injury. I had to salvage both companies from the literal hospital bed. I couldn’t even sit up alone; I had to literally pull myself up with a rope.
    • A truth about hiring I’m learning: not everyone you hire can grow in tandem with your business as it scales. It’s so hard to see at the time, but I do regret not accepting this hard truth earlier, and avoiding the impending car crash.
    • More tangibly, maintain an open network for any and every role in your business. No hiring circumstance is guaranteed.
  • Knowing it was time to close certain doors, personally and professionally, in a season of so much literal pain frankly felt like the definition of being hit while down. It was the first time I felt like my own internal “barometer” had been broken, so instead of going off the grid like I wanted to, I tore everything down to the studs, and examined the whole truth, right in the face.
    • Ironically, this level of thinking-the “throw it all against the wall, even when you have no chips to play”, led to the out of the box thinking that would change everything
Paige Hulse trademark attorney for entrepreneurs


  • My clients in the law firm were my upmost priority bar none. I knew that nothing else mattered, other than serving each client to the absolute best of my ability. All the bells and whistles could come later.
  • I wanted to grasp onto control and not let anyone in. It was so hard to trust anyone within my company after the year’s betrayal, but I knew I had to be more strategic than my own head trash. I chose to hire people better than me, who could not just course-correct the firm, but could supplement the effects that the hardship of that year may have had on me. I hope I never re-live that year, but never forget the importance of being open to course-correction.  
  • By May 2023, I had a new team across the board (less my mentee, who ironically mentored me through the triage), and ironically, was in another accident. That accident forced me to be still, and you see the results of that stillness in these articles.
  • In August, my entire Meta account was wiped. Two weeks after I launched this website. It was an oddly vulnerable experience; not because I had great pride in that account, but because 7 years of my business story was gone; 7 years of professional relationships gone. Right when I felt small, I also felt invisible.

2023 was mostly a matter of gritty, scrappy CPR to keep the businesses alive. At the same time I was betrayed, I had to put a new level of trust in new hires. At the same time money disappeared, I had to leverage my cashflow to keep the business afloat. At the same time I felt like I’d barely escaped the calamity, I had to become even more risk-averse and invest nearly illogically. If you want radically different results, you have to take radically different action.

Here’s how I pulled the businesses up by the bootstraps:

  • I hired a consultant to challenge my modus operandi
  • I joined a mastermind. Not because it made sense on paper, but because I was so guarded, I knew I needed to influence from like-minded entrepreneurs.
  • I focused on the only thing that mattered: taking care of my clients. Then, bringing in the right hands that are my paralegal and associate, who carry an equal amount of care and attention to detail 


Fast forward to September of 2023:

I have the best law firm team, and Creative Law Shop® team, I’ve ever had. Right when things started to look up, my horse fell on me. I wrote an article about holding a loose grip to process those thoughts, and my meta account was shut down again, while in the hospital. I almost had to laugh about getting hit while I was (literally) down like that

But you know that second wind you get in a workout that makes no sense? That’s what I started to feel. I also learned the (much too) hands on lesson that nothing is guarantees, so there is absolutely nothing to be gained by fear, or trepidation of the “one day”. I could handle nearly any disappointment, but I couldn’t live with the ghosts of “what if”. I had, and have, bold and concrete dreams for our future, and my family. I want to live a big, bold life, and squeeze every single ounce of life that I can.   

The silver lining to a year of fire is that your risk tolerance raises significantly. You remember that discomfort and calamity are two different things, and too often, we confuse the two. So, I started pursing an idea I’d been joking about since 2021. And it was like dominos fell into place, repeatedly. I’ll be sharing more about that on May 14th (which you can hear about live here).

As we speak, our law firm is thriving, the Creative Law Shop® is thriving, Fairway Stables® is growing, and the Special Forces Support Fund continues to support our soldiers. We weathered the storm.

We live in the country, and it’s wild to watch the farmers conduct controlled burns each year. So much is seemingly destroyed, leaving the soil richer and the next year’s harvest even more bountiful. You can weather the storm. You’ll walk out the other side completely different, but choose better over bitter.

It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but more now than ever, I still don’t want to do anything else but entrepreneurship.

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