For Yard Bar Founder Kristen Heaney, the path to entrepreneurship wasn’t one she sought out; it’s one that chose her.
By Kristen Heaney, Photo courtesy of Summer Maulden Photography
I almost didn’t apply to the University of Texas master of architecture program. I wasn’t convinced I wanted to be an architect. I prepared applications addressed to far more glamorous places like Los Angeles, Boston and New York, but Texas? Texas? Who the hell moves to Texas?
Still, I couldn’t dismiss that UT offered some of the best resources and opportunities for a studying architect. So, I applied, I got accepted, I came to visit Austin and I left still not convinced I wanted to be an architect, but without a shadow of a doubt, knowing I had to be in Austin.
Austin fit. One could feel that “Hi, how are you?” vibe before having ever laid eyes on Daniel Johnston’s famous mural. Austin had a certain kind of hospitality to it. People were curious about what you were up to, how they could help you and who they could connect you with. It was the perfect place for exploration.
I eventually completed my master’s degree, taking detours in theater, acting for nonactors, painting, drawing, photography and even law. I went to work for some of the best architecture rms in town, designing homes and schools, bars and restaurants. I kept grinding through it, not because they were bad places to work, but because the work was a struggle for me. I was good at it, but it didn’t come easily or naturally. And there was still this sinking feeling, this unshakeable knowing that this was not it for me. But what was?
In 2009, my breakthrough came in the form of a 90-pound American bulldog that I named Murray. Being a young professional with a new dog, I was constantly juggling my own happy-hour plans with Murray’s needs to socialize. I could take Murray on-leash to most outdoor bars, but he couldn’t run around.
“Why couldn’t I open a beer trailer in the dog park?” I thought to myself. This was it. This was the kindle to that fire of knowing in my gut, a fire that sustained me for six more years before a solution came to life in the form of Yard Bar, Austin’s first and only dog park, bar and restaurant.
In his 2005 Stanford commencement address, Steve Jobs famously said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something— your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Entrepreneurship found me through my willingness to explore, to try things on, to trust that sinking feeling in my gut that said, “This is not it,” and to keep reaching for and seeking those scary and exhilarating butterfly flutters that say, “Oh, hell yeah! This! This is it.”
Entrepreneurship is about recognizing that knowing feeling, taking it seriously and developing yourself, your idea and your world to match up with it.
When Yard Bar opened, people would often say, “Wow, how great! You got to follow your dream.” It took me a while to absorb the impact of that comment. Really? This was my big D dream: a dog-park bar? Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. My little dog-park bar fell very short by comparison. My little dog-park bar couldn’t possibly qualify as a dream. I couldn’t make the connection.
Then, one day, I was signing payroll checks, not paying too much attention, when suddenly, I got stopped. I was signing a check for one of our “bark rangers,” for a person whose job I had created, a job that had never existed before, a job that provides for this person’s livelihood, and I just started crying.
This little dream of mine had created this job and 30 more. This little dream of mine has yielded new friend-ships, new homes for good dogs, loads of laughter, joy and delight. This little dream has given me a family of the best managers, bark rangers, cooks and bartenders in the game. Most importantly, this little dream has allowed me to cultivate community in this city that I love, this city that gave me my entrepreneurial journey.
That is the dream. It’s worth searching for, worth preparing for. Don’t give up on it. Don’t give up on yourself. When it’s your turn to leap, I promise, the net will catch you.