What I've Learned About Entrepreneurship - and Life - From Starting a Business
Many of my earliest memories involve being at work with my parents. I grew up in a kid’s dream - my parents owned a small candy shop where they made the most delicious chocolates, roasted nuts, and sweet treats. Not only did I develop a sweet tooth early in life, but I also learned how much I loved the business world, especially creating an experience for the people who came into the store. This love manifested itself in all sorts of ventures during my childhood and teenage years, from making and selling friendship bracelets to a direct marketing campaign for babysitting services.
While I always had a desire to own a business, seeing my parents store in action showed me how much I needed to prepare and position myself before tackling something of that magnitude. As I reflected on developing J. Margaret Weaver over the past two years, and the lifetime of lessons my parents taught me, I wanted to share some of the most valuable philosophies I’ve learned about entrepreneurship - and life.
Start small. It can seem exciting to try and launch something big. There were moments where I’ve was swept up in the idea of launching on a much larger scale; a 20 piece clothing line with endless inventory, a PR company to magnify my brand message, and meeting with wholesalers to carry my clothing. While these are all tactics to employ at specific points in an organization’s lifecycle, I decided to start small (both product-wise and investment-wise) and test the market first. This allowed me to collect data and information on my brand and iterate early. In an environment where people often rush to secure equity funding or take on debt so they can “go big”, I decided to grow at the speed of cash. What does that mean? I gave myself a fixed amount of cash to spend starting the business, and I plan to grow it by reinvesting cash generated from earnings back into the business. For me, this minimizes risk and creates a foundation that keeps the business size grounded in reality.
Get scrappy. Sticking to a budget and starting small meant that I had to find unique solutions to launch my business. For example, rather than invest extra money in inventory, I decided to launch via Kickstarter so I would have actual inventory data to use when I placed my first production order. Also, I decided to lean on family for logo design and learn how to do the rest of my design, social media, and marketing using Canva as well as asking friends for advice and listening to a few helpful podcasts instead of outsourcing. When none of the existing options for a decision are good, it’s time to get scrappy and find another option.
Listen. The first sketch of my shirt looked very different than what the Mimi looks like today. Why? I gathered input from my customers and asked them a lot of questions to understand what they really wanted and why they wanted it a certain way. I’m not designing clothes for me, I’m designing them for a community of women. The most important thing is to hear the voice of the customer when designing a product or service so you can learn what the real problems are and solve those with your product or service — not what you think the problems are.
It’s OK to fail. Last, and the most important lesson, was learning that it was okay to fail. The two years I spent developing the J. Margaret Weaver concept were so much fun that I struggled to imagine not having this business in my life. I then started to find reasons to delay my launch, then COVID happened and people started working from home and wearing pajamas…and I realized last summer that I needed to set a date and launch in 2021, even if it meant failing. If I never launched, I would never have the opportunity to either be successful or learn from a failure and iterate to do something better next time.
A few weeks before launch, I saw a quote from Winston Churchill that struck me: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” While launching a business is certainly less stressful than leading a country, particularly during a world war, the advice was meaningful to me during a period of time when I worried that failure would seem fatal.
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