[wp_ad_camp_1] A little over a year ago, I said the fateful phrase that would dramatically change the trajectory of my career and life: "It's time for me to leave…I want to start my own company." And so began my entrepreneurial journey from leading one of the most well-known and successful companies in my industry to starting my own start-up baby from the ground floor.
And to make the process even more challenging, I was leaving an industry that I'd spent a decade building my reputation, my brand, and most importantly, my qualifications…to start all over in a completely different marketplace to launch my company. Sure, I had the standard 50+ page business plan, I knew enough about this new world to put together a very tight pitch deck for investors, and I had the blueprint if what it takes to take an idea and put it to market. But it was still a brand new world to me. I didn't know the politics, the people, or the culture of what I was getting into…and I knew that would take time to cultivate.
And sometimes I still think it was an incredibly stupid move to leave everything I’d built behind to start from scratch.
But it wasn't stupid. It was the smartest and most courageous decisions of my career. I look back on that conversation with the founder of my old company (my boss) and I was full of optimism and ideas and excitement and hope. I had 15 new ideas a second, my head spinning/brimming with that certain brand of audacity that only other entrepreneurs can really appreciate.
And now, a year later, am I still overflowing with that same childlike optimism? Hmmmm. Maybe.
I say maybe because a year in I now have enough (theoretical) bruises, scrapes, and scars to know that I sure as hell have the chutzpah to be an entrepreneur, but I had to learn some hard lessons along the way. The irony of it all is that now, more than ever, my confidence is off the charts, because even if I still fail I know that I have the knowledge, experience, and most importantly, expertise to try it again (and help others take that leap too).
Has my company "made it" yet? No. But we're so close; it’s right there! We're on the cusp of something really incredible. And I know that pushing through this dip is going to change the landscape of our company and the industry.
A Note About Female Entrepreneurship & Confidence
And I think as a female entrepreneur it's important that I explicitly discuss some things about the nature of women in work and start-ups. I'm not going to back up my confidence with "apologies" or act embarrassed for believing in myself or my abilities. I'm not going to credit good luck. I'm not going to say I don't really deserve the success I've had, that it was really others who made it happen for me. I'm definitely not going to suggest that I'm not smart/savvy/good enough to be a CEO. I’m not going to apologetically talk about my success and failure. I've had incredible advisors and experiences that have helped mold me personally and professionally. But at the end of the day, at every fork in the road where the direction and future of my company was on the line, it was me and only me making those decisions. I own every single one of them, good or bad.
I'm wearing my confidence as a badge of earned and deserved honor. No apologies. I'm saying it. I started a company. I've failed and made mistakes and cried and considered quitting and made more mistakes. But I'm feeling badass; still going strong; I'm still pushing and grinding and making moves to grow my business.
Employee vs Founder
When I was recruited to lead my last company, I was responsible for all business development and marketing. This means in my time there, I developed and launched nearly 10 different spin-off brands and companies to create new revenue-generating "divisions.” So a lot of what it takes to build a business, I learned through that process. However, something dramatically shifts when that business development process has no airbag, no unending funding from the main company to draw upon, no bigger brand to stand on and catapult you to a new level, no credibility in the industry that gets you meetings you otherwise couldn't get.
Basically, being an employee vs a founder is night and day. And here are the 12 critical lessons I’ve learned from 12 months of entrepreneurship:
1. Be Slow to Hire, Quick to Fire
The moment you think you're ready to hire someone, do more vetting, make a couple more reference checks, ask a few harder questions…it's okay to take your time. But then when you're in the trenches of start-up life with an employee and it's clearly not a good fit, don't ignore it. Come to terms with the writing on the wall, admit you made a hiring mistake, and cut the cord. And do it quickly. Letting it linger will only result in animosity and frustration on both sides.
2. Tech, Tech, Tech
I'm a scrappy entrepreneur and I can jerry rig most things when it comes to tech solutions and an online presence. But in hindsight I know that I could have achieved weeks, maybe months of faster progress if I had a tech co-founder or at least a solid "techie" contracted on the team. If you're creating a company that hinges on delivery of a technical solution (like an app or sophisticated web-based user experience), make sure you know what you need (what are the features?), who will build it, and how you'll roll it out. And as the founder, it's up to you to prioritize all those features based on the user experience, funding, and the long-game of your company. Take the time to find and vet an excellent tech person - whether you just need basic brochure website or a very complicated technical development. You need someone who is reliable, trustworthy, AND has the tech skills you need. (Bonus Tip: The cheapest option will mostly likely cost you more in the end. Invest in quality.)
3. All entrepreneurs are masochists. (Read: It is hard.)
Really hard. Everything takes longer than you expect. You'll hear "no" 1000x more than you anticipated. You'll need more money than you thought. It will be harder than you ever imagined. If you don't believe me, check out this site where company founders write anonymously about the challenges of start-up life.
Crying in the shower will become a regular occurrence. Your social life will suffer. You'll worry about the success of your company…and that will directly tie into your worry about paying your employees, keeping investors happy, making your mortgage payments, being too busy to exercise, not connecting with your family, working 18 hour days, forgetting to eat healthy, running out of gas on the side of the highway because you were just too busy and focused to remember to fill up.
Your relationships will suffer, because most people won’t understand how your "job" is more important than your relationships. And everyone will think you have a "job" rather than a start-up baby whose livelihood is entirely dependent upon you.
All of these things have been characteristics of my journey the past 12 months. Some worse than others, but all of them creating a snowball of the one big truth of entrepreneurship: it's f*cking hard.
But it's worth it and if you are a true entrepreneur, you'll love every painful, tear-inducing moment of it. You’ll love the highs that come from the lows.
Go across to Brooke's blog, The New Dorothy, to read more!