Military Spouse Magazine

JAN 2019

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When I was dating my now-husband, my biggest trepidation was his position in the military. As a journalist, I'd been on assignment across the United States, Asia, and Africa. It was New York Times or bust for me. In the months leading to our wedding, I agonized over my career prospects as a future military spouse. I turned to the Internet to learn how other spouses grew professionally, which only discouraged me. Most articles focused on jobs, not careers. Most people told me I'd have to set aside my ambitions, at least for a while. My best decision? Ignoring it all. I now run Tuli, a multi- national business with a fully remote team of 24, giving me a job that's both reward- ing and PCS-proof. In 2017, my husband and I completed two overseas PCS moves in fewer than six months, and I didn't miss a beat with work. I launched a new product line while we were living in a hotel awaiting housing, and I'll never forget setting it live while sitting in a laundro- mat and then watching it sell out as my husband's uniforms tumbled nearby. It's not easy, but it's a lot more doable than the narrative I heard sug- gests. Here's what I wish someone had told me: Tuli fights poverty by creating sustainable jobs in East Africa. By selling jewelry made of recycled paper beads and brass, the company provides fair-wage jobs to artisans living in some of Africa's largest slums. A consistent paycheck allows them to feed their families, educate their children, and rise out of poverty. DEVELOPING AN IDEA I didn't want to start over with every PCS, so I decided to start my own business instead. Military spouse or not, building anything worthwhile takes perseverance, so I needed an idea I could throw myself behind. I thought about what compelled me to become a journalist: I loved writing, but I also wanted to help people by telling important stories and inciting change. Tuli is an extension of that desire. We sell jewelry that's handmade in East Africa and fights poverty by creating sustainable, fair-wage jobs. It's an idea I developed while report- ing in Uganda, and I decided to pursue it. Starting a business is creating your own job, so it should be one you love. Even on the hard days (and there are plenty!), because I believe in my company, I never consider giving up. Whatever you do, it should have a lasting appeal for you. BUILDING A REMOTE TEAM Tuli started as just me and three women in Uganda. Today, our U.S. team comprises four people, and we work with nearly two dozen in both Uganda and Kenya. We also have 32 ambassadors in the United States, who work as contractors for the company. When it became clear that it was time to hire some help stateside, I knew a traditional office wouldn't work for me, unless I wanted to either move or replace my team every two to three years. I decided instead to develop a remote team. To do this, I've established clearer expectations and pro- cesses than I did when I managed people in the past. My team is never together, so we must be more intentional about communi- cation and deadlines. We manage them through tools like Slack and Asana, and it's forced us to be efficient, adaptive, and trusting. My team includes other military spouses, people I've met through networking, and recruits from traditional job listings. A great place to start is with a virtual assistant, whom you can hire from a multitude of agencies. THE MILITARY SPOUSE ADVANTAGE It's true: There are benefits to being a fixed-location business because you can build relationships and support within your commu- nity—but the military community is vaster than any hometown is. Military spouses fiercely sup- port each other because we all understand the unique struggles of our lifestyle. Much of Tuli's growth has hinged on social media market- ing, and because my closest friends are from across the U.S., when they help me out with shares, I reach people I never would otherwise. Transient living also means con- stantly meeting people. Tuli products are sold in stores across the country, and getting into those stores is easier when I meet buyers in person. A year ago, I was pitching to stores in Boston and New York, and now I'm building relationships in Honolulu. The key to making the military community work for you is to approach new relationships authentically, not transactionally. I don't set out to meet people just so my business ben- efits, but instead I seek relationships because I enjoy doing so, and a com- munity of reciprocal support follows. Working as a military spouse is difficult, but it's not impossible. I'd like to see a more encouraging narrative emerge than the one I heard (and ig- nored) as a soon-to-be military spouse. With creativity and grit, it can be done. As I type this, I can feel my first child kicking away in utero. I've heard often that I'll have no choice but to quit Tuli once the baby is born and my husband deploys. I'm looking forward to ignoring that narrative, too. H O U R L I V E S Manager on the Move How I developed and scaled an international business as a military spouse (and how you can, too!) By Megan Kitt, Navy Spouse Megan Kitt, Owner of Tuli Photos provided by Megan Kitt 32 MILITARYSPOUSE.COM / JANUARY 2019

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