This post is written by Mary Lemmer, author of, Straight from the Investor’s Mouth.
As an entrepreneur and former venture capitalist I have been privileged to work with amazing entrepreneurs from around the world. Each entrepreneur I’ve encountered has taught me something, as the best ways to learn anything are through action. In my recent book, Straight from the Investor’s Mouth, I share 111 pieces of advice from venture capitalists to entrepreneurs.
Now, in honor of UP Global’s focus on “women in entrepreneurship”, some of my favorite female founders shared their advice for entrepreneurs. These ladies have started and built companies that span industries and the lessons they’ve learned and are sharing are valuable for entrepreneurs of any type.
Lauren Bass, founder of LolaBee’s Harvest, recommends starting your company with a co-founder. She admits, “the biggest mistake I made was starting the company without a co-founder. Entrepreneurship is a very lonely path. If you can find the right person to take the journey with, take that risk. It takes an army of great people to build a company that can grow and make an impact.”
If you played sports or every worked on teams growing up, you may have learned similar lessons as Lauren Bass. She recommends entrepreneurs learn how to be good at failing/making mistakes. She shares, “being a competitive athlete growing up I lost way more often than I won. I learned how to study my mistakes, learn from them and let them go. and most importantly, not to take them personally or think that they define my ability. They were education, and education isn’t free. I’ve even grown to appreciate my mistakes, they make the successes that much sweeter.” She also says “building a strong team is the most important thing you will do”. Hire people who share your values, are open to constructive feedback, and are more committed to professional and personal growth than they are committed to their ego. Then work through the challenges together relying on open communication to build trust. Once you hire someone and they show promise, trust them, delegate, don’t micromanage but offer support.”
Jennifer Beall, Founder of CleanBeeBaby, recommends entrepreneurs “start small and test your idea. Create an inexpensive pilot or a minimum viable product (MVP) that you can try out with customers before you raise money. If your pilot proves there isn’t demand for your concept, its easier to call it quits before you pour a ton of cash into it. Conversely, if your pilot is successful, you can build traction before seeking investors.” Her company, CleanBeeBaby, is proof that if you are scrappy, you can do a lot with little resources! CleanBeeBaby provides an eco-friendly cleaning service for baby strollers and car seats and has a vision to become the “Geek Squad” for the baby industry. Jennifer bootstrapped her company in order to test demand in Los Angeles and was able to align major partner, such as Nordstrom and Whole Foods, before fundraising.
We’ve all heard the advice to network, network, network. Megan Smyth, founder of GoRecess, emphasizes the importance of building your network as an entrepreneur. She says “The most important lesson I have learned is the value of networking and relationships to open new doors. More often than not, it is who you know, not what you know. Take the time to expand your network, build relationships, seek out mentors and stay in touch. And don’t limit your relationships to the office; coffee meetings, happy hours, conferences, volunteering, fitness activities, and networks such as Levo League, Women2.0 and 85 Broads are all invaluable to building relationships and expanding your network.
Neha Sampat, CEO of raw engineering, recommends entrepreneurs “surround yourself by people who are smarter than you; and that are your best champions. My most successful career triumphs have been those in which I have been backed up, every step of the way, by men and women who believed in me, my ideas, and carried the torch with pride — fully sharing the accomplishment. Embrace positive people and positive energy, and make a graceful exit from negative and cumbersome situations.”
When starting and building your company ask for help when you need it. Clare McDonnell, founder of True Link Financial, shares “As a founder, you not only have to excel at whatever your function is (call it software development, operations, or customer acquisition), but also be able to tackle the unfamiliar, often random challenges that pop up every day in the course of building a business. These might have to do with hiring, HR, legal issues, evaluating partnership opportunities, branding and naming, the list goes on. The internet can get you pretty far on this front — I can’t imagine running a startup before the days of Quora and Stack Exchange. But I’ve found that there’s no substitute for a conversation with someone who’s expert (or at least experienced) with the issue at hand. Almost every time I’ve thought to ask for help, I’ve found such a someone, and it’s saved a lot of time and at least a measure of angst. And, if you’re worried about imposing, it turns out that most people seem like being asked to share their hard-won wisdom.”
Kelly Hoey, an investor, startup board member, and co-founder of WIM, challenges entrepreneurs to “take ‘funding’ off the table (because we all need or could use more money), and pause to ask yourself ‘right here, right now, what does my startup really need?’ or ‘what will help my startup really grow?’ Is it an introduction to a strategic partner? I s it sales leads or technical advice or guidance on a revenue model? Write down your answers then start moving on that list. Fast. Very few startups get funding (from either VCs or Angels) so stop imagining that money is the answer to your startup problems.”
According to Emily A. Hay, founder of Hay There Social Media and socialgig.co, “when you get started as an entrepreneur, you need to do all you can to propel yourself forward, to keep taking action towards realizing a goal. In order to do so, you must tell yourself you are too far to turn back now. When you reach the point of no return, not going forward isn’t an option. Plain and simple. It took me a while to grind out to get to that point of no return, so while you are pursuing that point, stay laser focused, keep your nose to the grindstone and know that reaching the point of no return is liberating! Then it’s not as scary to keep going forward because it would be silly to go back. Even though I haven’t reached my end goal, getting to that point of no return is one of the most satisfying accomplishments I’ve had to date as an entrepreneur. Only you can define that point of no return for yourself.”
And of course, don’t forget to have fun! Christine Luby, founder of Pinrose, shares “Things go wrong all the time. When they do, there is a temptation to put even more pressure on yourself, feel bummed out, feel alone. The truth is, the sun is still going to rise again tomorrow, you (hopefully) have your health, and things are going to be a-ok. Most mornings I try to write down three things I’m grateful for to help me keep perspective on how lucky I am and remind me of what a fun journey I am on, even when the going gets tough.”
Like these ladies, as you pursue your entrepreneurial venture take note of what you’re learning, as the lessons you learn not only will help you weather the storm of your startup, but can also help other entrepreneurs just like you!