A high school dropout from a small town in Nebraska creates a successful, multimillion-dollar startup in this debut autobiography.
“As they say in Texas, he can’t eat you and he can’t take your birthday,” marketing executive Ellermeier reassured herself before facing the new boss who demoted her. Colleagues also affected by the company’s restructuring convinced her to start a new business with them, but in the early 2000s after the dot-com crash, lenders were nervous. So was the author, as she struggled in her new role as CEO of Lingualcare, traveling abroad, fundraising, training, demonstrating her product—innovative customized orthodontic braces—and fighting ghosts from her past. A go-getter from the day she hawked Christmas cards door to door in the 1970s to buy a record player, she nevertheless endured a rape, dropped out of high school, found herself briefly homeless, and overcame alcoholism. Starting her new company, Ellermeier recalls that she was very clever in thinking on her feet and turning around bad situations but she still lacked confidence. She bluffed and blustered her way through mostly male opposition, despite her fears of bankruptcy. This “will require a real CEO, at best you might be qualified to run marketing,” sneered a potential investor, sounding like the author’s hypercritical, overbearing mother. Ellermeier fought all of the negativity and managed to hold onto her goal: a product that improved people’s lives and the sale of her mature venture. Readers of this memoir who think that government should be run like a business will discover a startup is deeply political: Activities include hiring friends and family, conducting backroom deals with competitors, and schmoozing with sharks. Yet at a startup’s core, the author maintains, is hard work, a call to service, and integrity. Ellermeier convincingly recounts meetings and re-creates dialogue to show how exhausting and precarious entrepreneurship truly is. Unlike so many difficult childhood narratives, this work delicately entwines the author’s personal and professional experiences to demonstrate why she makes certain decisions later. Her humor (with chapter headings like “So That’s a No” and “Emergencies of the Prada Kind”) is tender and smart, and this book becomes a mini-mentorship for future entrepreneurs.
An absorbing, thoughtful, and joyful account of a business executive’s remarkable rise.