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Returning to My Roots: Becoming a Small Business Owner

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This month, I quit my job to dedicate myself full-time to Expand Yu. To celebrate, I wanted to share a little story with you about my family.

When my grandmother was young, she packed up her things and left the village where she grew up to try her luck in Mexico City. She lived with her brother and his wife for a few years, where she convinced him to start a laundry and dry cleaning business with her.

Eventually she got married to a self-employed handyman and left the laundry business to her brother. But she never stopped finding creative ways to make money: selling food on the street, taking lunches to the men working at the factories, making flan with her kids, and eventually opening a convenience store which she ran together with one of her sons for several decades.

Today, most of her surviving children still own their own businesses. Two run their own restaurants. One runs a small bike repair shop. One manages a couple of properties for rent. And several of my cousins also have their own businesses, in a wide variety of fields.

My father owned and operated a wholesale import business for 20 years. I grew up spending time after school at the warehouse watching my parents and their employees work. As a teenager I helped run the retail shop they eventually opened. I would accompany my dad on business trips to pick up merchandise and visit customers.

Business runs in my family, and yet I never imagined myself becoming a business owner myself.

All I knew was that sales, wholesale/retail, and moving inventory wasn’t my calling — I just don’t have the same charisma my dad has. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My parents never tried to pressure or influence me in one direction or another, and so I had to explore on my own.

I pursued my personal interests in college, studied abroad, and earned my Bachelor’s in both Philosophy and Japanese Culture. I tried out working for a big corporation and got so burnt out I had to take a break from working altogether.

And then I went back home and helped my parents build two businesses — one, a smaller and retail-only version of what they had done before; and the other, a cottage law sourdough baking businesses. It was my first time taking such an active role in running and managing a business, and when I first considered building something myself.

From there it would still take a few more years, a move across the country, some more therapy, many more experiences, and a lot of new friends.

This move is the accumulation of several years of small steps, of slotting things into place piece by piece until I felt ready to take the leap. And now that I’m doing it, it feels more natural than anything I’ve done before. It feels like coming home.

A photo of a large tree with tall roots exposed. The sunlight is streaming through the branches toward the camera.

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