Transcript Episode 1: My Story: 100 Degrees and No A/C

Stephanie Skryzowski:

Welcome to the 100 Degrees of Entrepreneurship podcast, the show for purpose-driven entrepreneurs who want to get inspired to step outside of your comfort zone, expand it to your purpose and grow your business in a big way. I’m your host, Stephanie Skryzowski, a globetrotter CFO, whose mission is to empower leaders to better understand their numbers, to grow their impact and their income. Let’s dive in. Hey everyone. I am so excited to share with you today my story. So this is the very first episode of the 100 Degrees of Entrepreneurship podcast.

And I really wanted you to get to know me a little bit better and understand where the name 100 Degrees comes from, what my journey looked like, and why I am sharing with you, why I even started a podcast. So we’re going to go all the way back today. We’re going to go back to when I was 12 years old, and I remember taking a field trip to a courtroom and it was kind of like an old school courtroom with a nice wooden bench and just this beautiful big room. And I just became obsessed with the idea of being a court reporter. So I wasn’t aiming to be a judge or a lawyer at that point. I was like, “Wow. A court reporter is the coolest job ever. You get to type all day and be in this nice courtroom and dress up.” And so from that point on, I wanted to be in the courtroom. I read every single John Grisham novel there is, and that was my plan for all of middle school and high school.

I eventually changed and decided I wanted to be a lawyer, but that was really my goal. And that didn’t waiver, I guess, I’ve always been very goal-oriented. I think, I may have had some second thoughts in there, like in high school, I was pretty good at math. So I thought, okay, maybe I want to major in math in college, but then thought to myself, well, I don’t really want to be a math teacher. And what else does one do with math? I don’t know. So I decided to stick with the law thing. So I went through three years of undergrad and I graduated in three years. I graduated early because I was part of this program that had you do internships for credit in the summers. And so that gave you enough credits to be able to graduate in three years.

And so again, everything was going according to plan, the first summer I interned at the district attorney’s office in my local county. The summer after that, I interned at a private law firm. And after that, I interned at City Hall in London working for one of the city assemblymen. And so everything was going according to plan. And I remember sitting at the law firm in Rochester, New York, where I was interning that summer and thinking to myself, okay, well I need a job after graduation. And because, of course, I am a Type A planner, I certainly don’t want to wait until after graduation to find a job.

So I sat there at that computer and I googled best law firms in the world. I can just vividly remember literally sitting at the computer googling best law firms in the world. And a handful of firms popped up. I found one in New York city and I applied. They started classes of legal assistants that was the entry level position. So I applied to be a legal assistant at this law firm in Manhattan. And I can’t remember if I had applied to any other law firms. I don’t remember. I definitely remember this one. And to my great, great surprise, I actually got a call about an interview. So they wanted me to fly down to New York on my own dime, of course, which at that point I had none. I had none of my own dimes. I’m not sure exactly how I paid for the flight to get down to New York, but I did. I flew to New York City and I took a taxi from JFK into Manhattan, went to my interview.

And it’s so funny, I remember that was only the first or second time I had ever been to New York City. And I was really, really worried about not being able to get myself back to the airport. So I asked the taxi driver, can you just come back here in like hours to pick me up? And he was, I think he said yes. And I’m thinking back now, it’s just so funny. I was trying so hard to plan even that little tiny detail and I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned, any detail unplanned. And so I even asked the taxi driver to wait for me or come back in two hours when I was done to take me back to the airport.

Anyway, interview went well. I ended up getting the job. So right after college, I moved down to New York City and started at my very first day at the law firm. And I distinctly remember sitting in this room, this conference room with about 30 other recent college grads and feeling completely out of place. These were people from Ivy League schools around the country. And I had gone to a very small state school in Western New York that nobody had ever heard of. So I was feeling a little bit out of place and I remember the head of the legal assistant people were telling us how to interact with the attorneys, how to really do our jobs well, how to really help the attorneys out. And I remember a lengthy conversation about making sure that you use your attorney’s preference, either staples or paperclips, and always make sure you ask the attorney if they prefer staples or paperclips.

And while I thought it was funny then, I think there was a little bit of a tiny red flag going off in my head like, that’s a little weird, is this really what you want? So anyway, each legal assistant got their own caseload where we were assigned to different attorneys and those attorneys assigned work to us for different cases. And I was assigned to this particularly difficult woman working on a company that I won’t even mention, but that Holy moly, my values are not aligned with at all. And I just remember it was day after day long hours being at the attorney’s back and calm, basically making copies, assembling documents, reading things, redacting things. And I felt like it was just an endless churn.

And so after 10 months, I realized this is not for me. Not only do I not want to be a legal assistant, but I also really don’t want to be an attorney anymore. I don’t want to be a lawyer. I don’t want this to be my life. The problem was, I didn’t know what I wanted my life to be. So I bought all the books to study for the LSAT. I bought them off of Craigslist, used, of course, because I couldn’t afford books that were new because I was making no money as a legal assistant, and studied for the LSAT.

I sat for the LSAT and you know what? I did really, really poorly. And it was a slap in the face for me almost because I was a pretty good test taker all throughout school. I took the SAT early for fun, if that tells you anything about the type of person I am. That is it. I took the SAT a year early, just for fun to see how I do. I got a really, really good score. So decided just not to take it again. And I didn’t really prepare. I was just a naturally good test taker. So when I bombed the LSAT, it was also a wake-up call. But the problem was, like I said, I didn’t know what to do. So I went on a little bit of a soul-searching journey. And I think about my time back then. And any downtime at the law firm I had, I was googling, I was journaling. I had notebooks upon notebooks filled with different business and career ideas, but nothing was clicking.

But while I was at the law firm, I was actually assigned to this wonderful, wonderful partner at the firm who had founded a nonprofit. And because she was a partner at the firm, she was able to use the firm resources and the nonprofit was a pro bono client of the firm. And so I was able to help her with fundraising events, with donor letters, with prospect research, like fundraising type research. And I finally found a connection to something bigger than some of these terrible corporate clients that I was working with.

And so I ended up leaving law firm after just a year, which to me felt like a little bit of a failure because it was something that I had prepared for for so long. And I felt a little bit like a failure, but I ended up leaving and working for this organization full-time, this nonprofit. And I loved it. I had ownership over a whole bunch of different tasks. I had autonomy. I got to try lots of different things. And most important was there was a purpose. There was a purpose to my work. There were people on the other side of the world that were benefiting in some indirect, roundabout way from the work that I was doing.

And so if you’ve ever worked for a nonprofit before, or it’s very similar actually to owning a business where you wear all the hats, you are the CFO, you are the chief marketing officer, you are the fundraising person, you’re the operations person, and you are the janitor, and everything in between. That’s what I was doing at the nonprofit and I loved it. So I actually ended up going to Afghanistan. The very first time I went to Afghanistan, it was to go help train their finance team. I had really started leaning into the finance side of things, like I said, math had always been a strong suit. And so that felt very natural to me. I was doing all of the reporting and accounting and bookkeeping and I loved it.

So I was off to Afghanistan, flying into Kabul, all by myself, had really never been to a developing country before. So this was brand new. And of course, Afghanistan has been ravaged by three decades of war. And at the time, this was in the mid-2000s, 2007-ish, Afghanistan was not exactly a great place for Westerners to travel. I think it was a little bit safer than it is now potentially, but still it was not really a great place for Westerners to travel in here. I was going there by myself. I made it, it was fine. And it was literally one of the biggest life-changing moments that I’ve ever had.

So this organization worked with farmers in Afghanistan to help them rebuild or create farm-based businesses so that they can make money off of their land. After three decades of war, there are a lot of widows. So the problem is, these widows have children and elders and other family members to care for in their household, but it’s very difficult for them to go out and get a job in the marketplace. And so this organization helped them build gardens within their households and then go sell the fruits and vegetables in the market.

So I went out into a very rural village outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, into this woman’s garden. And she was so excited to show me what she had grown from the help that this organization had given her. And so she motioned for her son to pick one of the cucumbers from her garden and she showed it to me and she was just beaming from ear to ear. This was just so cool. It was the connection of the work I was doing in New York City sitting in an office building to the actual work on the ground. So she picked this cucumber, her son ran away with it, came back and it was dripping wet. So he had washed it and he handed it to me and she motioned for me to eat it. So I took a big bite out of this cucumber that had just been picked from the ground. And it was amazing. And she was just ecstatic. She was so excited and so proud of what she was able to build from the support that this organization had given her.

And so it was there, it was that trip that it all clicked for me. I found my purpose. I could see how the pieces of the work that I was doing were intertwined and interlocked with this transformation for not only this woman, but her children and her family and even her community across the world. And so it was right there that I realized that at the law firm, I saw money tying people to a desk, the legal assistance, the associate attorneys, the partners, they were tied to their desks in pursuit of money, a lot of money, but I realized there that money doesn’t have to tie you to a desk. Money can create impact because people were donating to this nonprofit, they were donating money and money was able to create this huge impact in families lives around the world. So I realized this is my purpose in life. I love the finance side of things. And if that can tie to the impact that I have seen firsthand on the ground, boom, I am sold.

So I worked there for a few years, then I went to another organization that built primary schools in developing countries around the world. And I did very similar work and spent time in Nepal and Haiti and Nicaragua and Mali and Malawi and Senegal, different countries in Africa and did very similar work where I was literally traveling and watching the connection from the financial reports that I was preparing sitting in Connecticut, connected to education for thousands of children in villages around the world. It was just amazing and this work was completely transformative. So it wasn’t all perfect, right? It is not all perfect.

And I specifically remember one night in Senegal, I was laying on the floor with a very thin mattress in a cement room and it was hot. It was midnight because I had my phone and I looked at my phone and it was hot. It was probably about a 100 degrees at midnight with no fan, no electricity, but I had a mosquito net over me and I was just so uncomfortable. And I remember thinking to myself in that moment, why in the world am I here? Why am I not home with my husband hanging out in the summer, going to the beach, doing fun things? Why am I in Senegal suffering right now? And I was just mad that night, I was uncomfortable, I was tired, I was cranky, I was probably thirsty and was just miserable.

And I woke up the next morning with a fresh outlook on life. We were getting ready to go out into one of the villages to visit one of the schools that this organization had built. And I just realized, you know what? I got to push through the hard stuff. And when I pushed through the hard stuff, the impact is what’s on the other side. So it changed my entire outlook. And that’s not to say that there were not other miserable times. I can specifically remember a couple of examples, like sidebar right here, in Nicaragua, my very first night in Nicaragua, and this was my very first trip for the organization, I remember waking up in the middle of the night needing to use the bathroom, flipping on the light, the floor was covered in cockroaches, covered. I literally could not even get a pass out to the bathroom. So that was fun.

And there were mice and there were all different kinds of rodents and bugs in different countries. And I could go on and on about the creatures. I think the creatures were probably the worst part. And so it was far outside of my comfort zone many times. It doesn’t matter how many trips you go on and how many places you stayed, there are still things that are outside of your comfort zone, but pushing through, you get to the impact on the other side.

So how did I get to where I am right now? So first of all, the name 100 Degrees for my business came from this idea that 100 degrees with no AC is incredibly uncomfortable, but on the other side of that is impact. So as I was traveling around the world to all of these different countries, I really struggled with balance. Balance is really hard to find when you are constantly moving around the world in different time zones. And honestly, my husband and I, we were really ready for that next stage in our life, we wanted to start a family. So I ended up leaving the nonprofit. And it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make because my heart was so tied to that work and to my team and to the children in these countries that were going to these schools that we’re building, my heart was there, but I made the tough decision.

I left the nonprofit and I worked at a job very close to home at a university. And it was a nice, easy job. It was a job. That’s all it was, it was a job, but it lacked that purpose, that sort of ownership, that autonomy that I loved and craved that I had working at the nonprofit organization. And I kept coming back to this idea while I was at the university that I think that there are nonprofit organizations out there that need a CFO, they need somebody to come in and look at their numbers, but maybe they’re too small. They can’t afford somebody full-time or maybe they don’t really even have enough work to need somebody full-time, but they need somebody.

So, of course, not being one to ever do just one thing at a time, I had my day job and then every single night, I would come home and I would research, painstaking research of nonprofit organizations whose number one mission I loved and had a passion for. So those first organizations that I reached out to were all international development and education organizations. So as I had loved their mission, they had to be the right size. So I was finding that smaller organizations were a good fit. And then I would take it one step further to go to their website and see if they had a CFO already. And if they did, then I wasn’t going to reach out. But if they didn’t, then I started sending emails one by one by one, sending personalized emails to the executive directors and CEOs of these nonprofits saying, “Hey, listen, I love what you do. I have a passion for your work. And I also have really strong experience in financial management, do you think that you might need some help? Can we talk?”

And you know what? That little by little by little effort, night after night of researching and sending out emails, that resulted in my first four clients. So that turned into the next four clients and the next four after that. And pretty soon, small businesses started coming to me saying, “Hey, listen, can you do the same thing for me that you do for those nonprofits?” And what I realized very quickly was that our challenges are all the same, right? We struggle with understanding our numbers, we struggle with managing cashflow, we struggle with seeing into the future in terms of revenue and expenses, we struggle with long-term financial planning. And so that’s how 100 Degrees came to be where it is today.

And when I first started the business, I did not think very about the name. I said, you know what? 100 Degrees, I really like that. I used to have a blog called 100 Degrees and No AC, talking about my travels. And so I said, okay, 100 Degrees Consulting it is. So that’s how the business was born. And that is how this podcast was born, 100 Degrees of Entrepreneurship.

So I am so excited to share with you lessons that I have learned along the way, stories from Afghanistan and Nepal and Haiti and many other places. And I am so excited to share with you stories of other entrepreneurs who have busted out of their comfort zone, who have scaled their businesses and their lives to new heights, because they were not afraid to get out of their comfort zone. And that’s not to say that there were not road bumps along the way and challenges that we’ve all had to overcome and difficult conversations and pain, but on the other side of that is always impact. And so the entrepreneurs and the business owners and the leaders that you are going to hear from on this podcast are making a huge impact on the world today in so many different ways.

So I am so excited you’re here. Thank you so much for listening to my story today. And I can’t wait to share more with you, and hopefully, get to know you a little bit and learn about your journey as well. So thanks so much for listening to the 100 Degrees of Entrepreneurship podcast and I will catch you next time. Thanks for listening to the 100 Degrees of Entrepreneurship podcast. To access our show notes and bonus content, visit Make sure to snap a screenshot on your phone of this episode and tag me on Instagram, @stephanie.skry. And I’ll be sure to share. Thanks for being here, friends. And I’ll see you next time.