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My story: Why I gave up my plans for an MBA and years in the corporate world to start my own business


I'm Leighton.

A few years ago I graduated from college and married my beautiful wife, Ryan. My degree was in Graphic Design, but I wasn't quite sure what type of job I wanted to pursue. My wife is a true globe-trotter, having grown up as a daughter of missionaries and having lived in Paris, Benin (that's in Africa), New Jersey, and Haiti before she went to college. She did not like the idea of settling down in America just yet, and I was eager to explore the world as well, so shortly after getting married we decided to find jobs as English teachers in China.

In August of 2010, we moved to Changchun, China, and spent 2 years teaching English there. I highly recommend that recent college grads consider teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) overseas, as it's a fantastic intercultural experience. Our employing school provided housing and a comfortable salary, and we loved the experience of being immersed in a completely new culture and language, being forced to adapt and learn.

After a year of teaching there, I began to grow restless, wondering what I was going to do with my career. China was great, but I knew I didn't want to spend the rest of my life there. I considered myself an entrepreneur at heart, always itching to start a new business and having made half-hearted attempts at a few throughout college. I had done part-time freelancing as a graphic designer and web developer, and I was working on an idea for a custom wedding invitation business, but nothing was really happening with my businesses.

I began to consider the idea of pursuing an MBA. Why not spend a year or two more in school as a kind of springboard into my career? I figured that it would qualify me for a higher starting salary and make it easier to find a job. With our love for travel (and my wife's particular love for France), I began applying to business schools in France. I planned to try to find a job in Europe after finishing my MBA.

When I found out that I had been accepted to an MBA program in France, I was ecstatic. My plans were coming together! If all went according to plan, we would move to France in the summer of 2012 and I'd begin classes that September. I began the process of applying for a visa and other red tape.

All this time, I kept telling myself that the MBA was just a stepping stone to a career in the corporate business world, but I knew in my heart that the corporate world was not where I truly wanted to be. I told myself that I'd just spend 5 or 10 years in a corporate job, getting practical business experience, and then start my own business. But I had nagging doubts--why should I spend $50,000 on a degree to get a job that I didn't really want? Was it really worth it?

When I thought about being $50,000 in debt, I felt sick to my stomach. How long would that take to pay off? I tried to convince myself that an MBA would allow me to get a higher-paying job, so that I could pay it off quickly, but I started learning that many MBA grads had trouble finding jobs when they didn't have much experience to go along with it. Sometimes an MBA without experience has a harder time finding a job than someone with equal experience and only a Bachelor's degree, as they are overqualified.

My doubts grew, and I began realizing that if my goal was to ultimately start my own business anyway, why should I spend $50,000 and ten years of my life preparing for it, when I could start right now with just a willingness to learn and perseverance to work my butt off?

After wrestling with my doubts for several weeks and discussing it endlessly with my wife, I decided to change my plans: I would cancel my MBA and look for a job in my hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. We had already told our school in China that we would be leaving, and we were ready to move on to the next phase of life, even though we didn't know exactly what that was. My plan was to get a job doing web design (or graphic design of any kind), and get some experience while working on my own business on the side.

I began sending out resumes, contacting companies with job openings, doing everything I knew to find a job working for some kind of design or marketing agency. At one point I was called back for a third interview, and I was almost positive I had a job, but then they chose someone else.

I knew I wanted to start my own business, but I figured I would need a job to support myself until my business got off the ground. Eventually I decided to start looking for freelance work to hold me over until I found more permanent work, so I began using oDesk to look for freelance jobs.

By the way, if you are interested in doing freelance work, I highly recommend oDesk--I had great success by starting at a low hourly rate, creating a strong portfolio of previous work, and trolling the job boards for work I could do.

After a few months of finding work here and there on oDesk, I landed a few jobs doing long-term work as a web designer and developer. I began working with Open Think Group, specializing in building ecommerce websites for clients using the Shopify platform.

Shopify is a great platform that allows anyone to set up an ecommerce website, with no need for coding skills or other technical knowledge. However, some small business owners want professional help setting up their online stores. I helped these clients set up an ecommerce store, create a customized design, add features, and consulted with them about how to make their stores more user-friendly and profitable.

This work required me to spend hours every day poring over ecommerce websites with numerous clients, doing tons of research on ecommerce best practices and trends, and learning the ins and outs of Shopify, what I now consider to be the best ecommerce platform for most ecommerce entrepreneurs. There are several other good ones, and Shopify isn't the right fit for everyone, but overall I believe it's the most flexible system that's also easy to work with.

As I spent all this time researching ecommerce and getting hands-on experience building ecommerce websites, I began to see patterns in the clients I worked with--some were successful, and some did not do so well. I began to see what factors contribute to an effective and successful ecommerce business, and I grew familiar with how to best implement certain strategies that would make success more likely.

I then decided to do two things:

  1. Create, a free online resource for ecommerce entrepreneurs, sharing everything I know about how to be successful with an ecommerce business.
  2. Build my own ecommerce business, documenting my progress here on My purpose in starting my own ecommerce business while documenting it here is to demonstrate the strategies I discuss here and prove that they truly are effective, to share a real story of starting an ecommerce business from nothing, and to benefit others who are interested in starting an ecommerce store themselves. I haven't yet decided for sure what ecommerce business I'll be building, but I'll be posting about that soon.

My goal with EcommercePulse is to provide quality, understandable information for entrepreneurs like me who are interested in starting an ecommerce business, as well as those who already have a business and want to improve their conversion rates, marketing, website design, etc. I specifically want to be helpful to bootstrappers--people who want to do as much as they can on their own, rather than hiring someone else to do it for them. There are so many great tools available today, that it's no longer necessary to pay thousands of dollars for a custom website. I want to engage other entrepreneurs and provide any value I can, as well as learn from you as you share your experiences with me.

If you'd like to stay in touch with me, connect with me on Facebook or sign up for free email updates in the form below. I'd also love to hear your feedback about how I can help you--what questions do you have, what features do you want on your ecommerce website, anything! Let me know and I'd love to write an article answering any questions I can. To send me a message, hop on over to my Facebook page or send me a message on my Contact page.


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