I Graduated! Five Lessons Learned in the Incredible Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Intensive

It looked like a funeral at our graduation. As the private ceremony ended, we stood in a circle and were asked to thank a person who had been meaningful to us. The mic was handed to me first. As I began to speak about Jennifer, my professor, my voice cracked and eyes welled up as I told her how much her belief in me and my business meant to me. It set the scene.

More than half of us were in tears at the end. They were tears of warmth, exhaustion, and vulnerability for coming through some of the most intense and challenging experiences I’ve ever had in business. Here are five of the lessons I learned from this remarkable program.

I graduated! Image of Kristy Grant-Hart holding her certificate from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses intensive with a background of flying graduation caps.

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Intensive

The application process to be chosen for the 10,000 Small Businesses initiative is long and hard, which sets applicants up for the 14-week road ahead if they’re selected. Competition is fierce.

Thirty businesses were chosen for my “cohort.” My cohort met in-person for 10 hours every Friday, and sometimes all day Thursday in addition for good measure. Does that sound exhausting? Oh, yes it was…

Lesson One: Time is Flexible when it Needs to Be

The program took up 20% or more of my workweek, and that’s just the in-person part. That ignores the homework and the 97-page (!) business plan I wrote during the course. The hardest part was that my business couldn’t stop during that period.

Saturdays became Goldman days. So did travel days.

I wrote standard operating procedures from the plane to Amsterdam from Los Angeles for the SCCE European Conference. I was on the ground in the Netherlands for less than 72 hours to make sure I didn’t miss my Friday class. The fatigue from that trip left me feeling delirious and depleted.

I worked through the forecasting and financials at night after the Compliance Week conference’s three all-day sessions in Washington D.C. It felt like too much.

I found that time is flexible when it needs to be. Jennifer, the instructor I thanked, laughed at me for “taking every single minute with intention” as I frantically pounded through emails during my lunch breaks.

LESSON LEARNED: When we need to push through, we can, and we do. When something is important to us, we find the time to do it. That’s the life of a compliance professional, executive, or entrepreneur with passion for their work.

Lesson Two: I’m Much Worse than I Imagined

We evaluated everything about our businesses – financial management, employees, operating procedures, marketing, and more. That’s where more tears came in. One of my fellow scholars (that’s what they called us) nearly left one afternoon as she broke down saying, “I can’t believe how bad I am at this part. I feel like I should just quit.”

It’s awful examining all the ways you aren’t doing things well. I had never worked in-depth with financial statements before. After a six-hour workshop on creating a balance sheet and profit and loss statement from scratch, I was ready to just give up. I have accountants and a finance manager who can handle this. Why do I need to understand this in such depth?

But I made a conscious choice to push through it. I created Spark Compliance’s 2022 and 2023 PnL report from scratch using our banking records and I’ve never been more certain of what I’m doing in that area.

LEASON LEARNED: Facing all the ways I could do my job better as a leader was daunting, revealing, and desperately uncomfortable. But it truly was the only way to grow.

Lesson Three: I’m Much Better than I Imagined

The flip side of the coin was learning that I’m doing some things incredibly well. I have done so much public speaking that it came completely naturally to me to get in front of the group.

Spark Compliance does a huge amount of marketing, much of which features me, and I’m confident in our strategy and the great team I have around helping me (shout out to Redsprout!).

I took solace and pride in recognizing what we’re good at and the great people I’ve hired at Spark Compliance.

The new product we’re about to launch, an extremely tailored, cutting-edge eLearning solution called Compliance Prodigy, was a hit with the cohort. The detailed business plan I had to create reinforced that we’ve got something remarkably special coming out, which made me proud.

LESSON LEARNED: It’s important to recognize your wins and the ways in which you excel. Human nature is to focus on our faults and failures. Frequently, we ruminate on them in ways we never do about our successes. Own your successes and strengths.

Lesson Four: We’re All Going Through the Same Challenges

My cohort included people who own a towing company, a cryo-therapy center, a digital marketing agency, a commercial real estate brokerage, a kettle corn company, and a landscape architectural design company, among many others.

What could we possibly have in common with each other when it comes to business? The answer, to many of our surprises, was nearly everything.

We all struggled with employee challenges and cash flow management. We all felt like imposters at times. We struggled to believe in ourselves and to share our visions. In short, our problems were universal.

That perspective helped me to understand that everyone working in a business has universal struggles, whether they are employees, managers, or other leaders. Humans scramble to feel important or heard. We aren’t sure what we should do all the time. Whether a compliance officer or head of sales, we all want to do a good job.

LESSON LEARNED: When you scratch beneath the surface, we’re all facing similar problems.

Lesson Five: Vulnerability Leads to Breakthroughs

We started the program as strangers. We didn’t understand what the other people did. I mean, I knew what the collision center did, but the software platform for dental billing wasn’t clear at first.

Through the group-learning exercises, we gave each other advice. We shared our trials and got feedback on our problems. Every class started with people sharing their wins for the week. Over time, we understood each other’s successes and challenges. We empathized.

One of the most powerful exercises we did was to bring in a cultural symbol for our company. I brought Kaboom!, a Japanese Crane, who is the mascot here at Spark Compliance. The birds have a bright red plume on the top of their head and dance like maniacs in the wild. When I was presenting with a doll of the Crane, someone asked me to demonstrate the dance. I don’t think they expected me to break into jumping up in mad whirls in front of the whole group, especially in heels, but I did!

On a more somber note, during the exercise, many people brought symbols of their childhoods or struggles that informed why they started their businesses. One person’s parental addiction and homelessness inspired him to be the man he was in leading his business. Others brought religious symbols that inspired their vision of service through their work.

Our relationships are deep and were forged in our choices to break down our walls and the veneer of invincibility that we frequently present as leaders.

LESSON LEARNED: Vulnerability creates the opportunity for empathy and care. Ultimately, vulnerability builds strength in ourselves and our relationships.

Forever Changed

I have been forever changed by the 10,000 Small Businesses experience. I have profound love for the people in my cohort. Even the ones who made me crazy some days. Our bond is real.

Thank you to everyone who has followed my journey here or been a part of it. I will take these lessons with me everywhere I go. And hopefully, as a result, be a better leader, entrepreneur, and human.

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Kristy Grant-Hart

Kristy Grant-Hart

Kristy Grant-Hart is the founder and CEO of Spark Compliance.
She's a renowned expert at transforming compliance departments into in-demand business assets.