The struggle is real: expecting the unexpected with Burgundy Oak

December 7, 2018 ATB Financial

The struggle is real: Expecting the unexpected with Burgundy Oak


This is the second of three articles in our The struggle is real entrepreneurial series. If you haven’t read the first article yet, check out Erin Moffat’s story.

As an entrepreneur, you’re no stranger to facing unexpected circumstances; they’re a part of daily life. There’s often no clear-cut line between balancing personal and professional, so when life happens, it happens to you AND your business.

Erin Moffatt, Joel Jelinski and Michael Tighe are three Calgary entrepreneurs who know what it’s like to face the unexpected—and how to move forward. Read on for Joel Jelinski’s story and advice to other entrepreneurs who may be facing challenges of their own.

’I lost my identity’

Joel Jelinski founded Burgundy Oak when he was in university. The company makes furniture and home decor out of whiskey and wine barrels.

Pursuing an engineering degree is challenging enough. Doing that while starting a business? Even tougher. But that’s how Joel Jelinski founded Burgundy Oak. Early on, Joel brought in a business partner—they each had 50 per cent of the business—to help out. A year later, the business partner decided to take a different job while still maintaining his stake in the company.

“I went from having a partner to having nobody, and basically having to start from scratch,” Joel said. “Having a partner, having someone that believes in your vision...there’s an element of trust there. And to have that trust broken so early on was a very difficult hurdle to get over.”

Despite its early struggles, Burgundy Oak has grown rapidly in its three years in business—the company now has 14 employees and its products are in hundreds of stores across Canada. But even to this day, Joel says he still feels the repercussions from the partnership fallout.

“I got so into my business that I lost my identity,” he says. “I’m trying to figure out how to separate this. It’s difficult to try and put on a brave face and embrace the business as my identity when I don’t necessarily know who I am [outside of it]. If I don’t want to go to work in the morning, then what do I have?”

Joel’s advice to entrepreneurs

Figure out who YOU are, not just how your business defines you.

“I never figured out what I wanted and who I was,” Joel says of his early years with Burgundy Oak. “I poured everything I had into this business and a big part of why we’re so successful is because I did that, but it’s not a long term solution. There has to be a life outside of this business.”

Check out the other inspiring stories from Erin Moffatt and Michael Tighe as part of our series of features on expecting the unexpected.

Thank you to Erin, Joel and Michael for bravely sharing their stories about mental health and entrepreneurship at The Struggle is Real in Calgary in November. The next Struggle event will take place at Work Nicer Beaver House.


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