Do you have a business idea? Are you entrepreneur-curious? Do you have the burning desire to know if your idea is actionable and how to build it into a successful company? If so, this book was written for you!
This book is a left brain/right brain map. It identifies 12 major steps to creating a successful business from idea to exit and elegant insights that help span the gaps between steps.
Use the quotes, insights and experiences of many prominent entrepreneurs and executives woven throughout this book to avoid pitfalls and map your way to success. The community of women within the entrepreneurial world are eagerly waiting to see you scale your ideas into full blown companies!
Each left brain chapter builds understanding of consecutive business concepts. Key information gives a foundation for applying these concepts to your idea. Each chapter concludes with a summary of insights and suggestions for further reading on the topic.
The right brain chapters focus on understanding the emotional triggers of each step. This transparent, candid glimpse into the entrepreneur lifestyle will help you make a clear decision of whether the lifestyle is right for you and your vision of success.
1. Idea/Innovation Gauntlet
Ask the Right Questions of the Right People
2. Validation/Market Research
Don’t Fall in Love Before Holding Your Idea Accountable
3. Business Planning
Operating Agreement Advice
4. Building Your Team
Use Your Previous Work Experience to Select Partners & Shape Your Business
5. Timing Your Leap
Own Your Entrepreneur Status
Customer Fund Before You’re Finished: People Will Buy Imperfect Things
7. Building Your Product
Have a Good Idea and Act Upon It Daily
Set the Tone for Your Corporate Culture: Never Let Your Mood Dictate Your Manners
Delegate Until It Hurts
10. Overcoming Setbacks & Competition
Build a Business Support Team Before You Need One
Lean In For Your Startup So You Can Stand Upright For Yourself
12. Exit Opportunities
Review and Realign Your Dots
Where do the ideas that launch startups come from? While there isn’t a specific formula for generating a business-worthy idea, most big ideas stem from personal pain or frustration. Are you truly frustrated by a problem that you have encountered in your daily life? Instead of stressing and complaining, act like an entrepreneur by examining the problem and looking for solutions. Investigate solutions that have real business potential.
Ever heard the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention”? It is true. People facing problems where they need something that does not exist are standing on the threshold of opportunity, whether they realize it or not. Some individuals will choose to give up and not solve their problem, electing to stay static and leave the world unchanged. Others will search for and create what they need, and realize the opportunity to share their product or idea with the world. The latter are the budding entrepreneurs that will someday revolutionize their field or how we live day to day life.
Think of some of the top female-founded companies and you will see women experiencing a problem and then creating an innovative solution. Sara Blakely founded Spanx when she could not wear a pair of white pants without nylons, but wanted to wear sandals. Footless pantyhose were her first product and through sheer tenacity to make her product succeed, Sara has built a net worth of over a billion dollars.
Payal Kadakia was completely frustrated when she wasted hours trying to find a fitness class in her New York neighborhood. That frustration sparked the idea for ClassPass, which has raised over 14 million dollars in investment funding to-date and is giving athletes and fitness enthusiasts access to a myriad of boutique gym classes across the U.S.
Jennifer Hyman came up with the concept for Rent the Runway when her sister was frantically trying to find a dress to wear to a wedding. Her solution to the “nothing in my closet drama” was to create a website where women could rent designer dresses for all of the special occasions in their lives for a fraction of the cost of purchasing a single designer dress.
You are no different than any famous entrepreneur at his or her beginning. Decide to rise. You have a problem and a possible solution, so take the next step in the entrepreneurial process. Determine if the problem that you are experiencing is unique to you and your situation. If that is the case, it is probably not business-worthy. However, if a large percentage of the population encounters your problem, it is worthy of further research.
Now that you have an idea, it is time to understand how it relates to innovation. Innovation is the process of bringing together old and new ideas in a new way to provide a better solution that impacts the world. Another way to look at this concept is that an idea is not an innovation unless it creates new levels of consumer satisfaction or demand*.
You had your ah-ha moment, did your market research and found your cofounder or cofounders that compliment your skill set and agree that your idea is revolutionary. You completed your business planning, outlining steps to make your idea a successful reality in the market. You now have the blueprint. It is tempting, in the excitement of early entrepreneurship, to immediately quit your day job and dedicate yourself to making your dreams a reality. Don’t do it!
A reality check is very important when timing your leap into the startup world. It is crucial to assess your current situation and take an honest look at yourself and your circumstances. How much money do you have in the bank? How much is your current lease or mortgage? Are you in the midst of a marriage, divorce or beginning a family? Are you locked into an employment agreement? While conditions will never be “perfect” for your startup, all of these factors should be weighed in your launch timing.
From the personal perspective, if you are in a relationship, you need your partner’s full support. Entrepreneurship has many perks, but the majority (such as flexible work hours) usually happen later in the growth of your company. It is important to be with someone who has complete faith in you and your idea. This will be the person who will support you in times of struggle. When you question yourself, your partner should be the one pushing you to make it work.
If your significant other scoffs at your idea and calls it “cute,” it is time to decide which is more important to you — your relationship or your business. While some partners may “come around” and support you and your idea as it begins to take hold and become successful, many will not. Startups are incredibly hard on relationships; romantic, platonic and familial. Be aware of the potential sacrifice in relationships before you decide to focus and “start up”. If the thought of distancing a few important people in your life paralyzes you, entrepreneurship may not be the best choice for you right now.
Building your idea into a minimal viable product is wrought with challenges. Whether you are creating a tangible product or an online service or an app, one of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face is how to communicate their ideas to the outside world. It can be frustrating when others do not understand what you are communicating or how to answer your questions to help improve your idea.
Many entrepreneurs struggle with getting their idea out of their brain and onto paper, a prototype or code. Despite the difficulty; create something tangible to communicate your idea with others. If it is a product idea, fashion it out of wood or plastic. If it is a web or service based idea, build a basic website with SquareSpace or Wix. Once you have a prototype of your idea collaborators have something to relate to, and expand upon or improve. Prove you are committed to making your idea a reality; most people simply wish their idea would work without applying effort.
A great example of achieving success from creating a prototype from a product idea, is the story of the PDA (personal digital assistant). Jeff Hawkins was one of the creators of the Palm Pilot in the late 1990s. He was faced with the daunting task of creating a handheld electronic device that synced with a computer and helped users access their calendars and personal contacts. With none of the technology for the project available, Hawkins whittled a prototype PDA out of wood and walked around with it in his shirt pocket. Having a tangible object to represent his idea allowed him to interact with his “PDA.” It eventually helped him narrow the options of what size batteries and screens could be used in the creation of the electronic version of the PDA. These decisions propelled his idea forward to the working electronic PDA, which created a billion dollar industry.
This book is an example of how putting an intangible idea on paper helped transform it into a reality. For over a year, the concept for a female founders guide to startups was in the back of my mind. Finally, I created a Google document and began writing down my ideas for dots and chapters. When the document grew from 2,000 words to 20,000 words, I felt confident enough to write a book pitch and ask my graphic designer to create a sample book cover. Suddenly the idea was tangible! At that point, I was able to approach and solicit interviews from prominent entrepreneurs to add their wisdom to this guide to enable and help others to succeed.
As I shared earlier in the introduction of this book, the wealth of knowledge shared, as well as the generosity of insights and time contributed by others in the entrepreneurial community for this guide is staggering. Moguls moved their schedules to add advice to make the path easier for future female entrepreneurs (you). The community of women within the entrepreneurial world are eagerly waiting to see you scale your ideas into full blown companies and succeed against the odds. Use their advice, insights and experiences to map your way to success. Do not hesitate to ask for help along the way, we are all cheering for you!
Setbacks are a part of startup life. No one wants their project delayed or derailed, but it happens to the best and most prepared entrepreneur. How you choose to view and respond to your problems will be integral to your success or failure. Setbacks, peered through the right lens, can be seen as opportunities in hiding. You are absolutely allowed to be upset by a misfortune. Indulge in your emotions for a short period, and then use them to fuel creative thoughts and solutions for growing beyond the issue.
The ideas you generate for problem-solving may be more brilliant than your original idea, or open up an entirely new aspect of your business. Virtually none of the successful entrepreneurs gracing the pages of Forbes, Inc. or Fast Company, made it to their lofty status on a single idea that never had a problem or setback. In reality, most of them overcame multitudes of setbacks and failures before their success became a reality.
Sari Azout, founder and CEO of Bib + Tuck, overcame many challenges building her company – a website that allows women to sell seldom worn garments from their closets and purchase other women’s seldom worn garments (shopping without spending). After three years of continuous hustling to reach approximately 200,000 users, she successfully sold Bib + Tuck to CrossRoads. Azout shared her wisdom, “Obstacles, challenges and fears constantly evolve and change in the life of an entrepreneur. You never get to an obstacle-free zone. Accept these things as part of entrepreneurial life.”
Azout cautions that fears, obstacles and challenges get bigger as your company grows. For example, her original fear of not getting media attention for her company changed into the fear of not overcoming technology challenges to meet their launch date after a Vogue editor discovered and featured Bib + Tuck. At the time of the feature, Bib + Tuck was a minimal viable product of a landing page and short video. Her takeaway: “It becomes easier to handle obstacles as you realize they are a natural state of entrepreneurship.”
Facing a setback is when grit and sheer determination come into play. The choice is yours: choose to give up and go back to your mundane 9:00 to 5:00 job, or choose to engage every ounce of intellect, guts and determination to find a way to make your idea work and keep your company alive.
Now that you have founded a business and are beginning to profit from your idea or solution, timing is ripe for the setback of competitors to react or new competitors to pop up. It is important to know who your competitors are, and what new products they offer the instant that they appear. Setting up Google alerts for keywords around your startup (ex: married name change service) is an easy way to stay aware. Copyscape, a free plagiarism checker, is another way to keep abreast of competitors and copycats. Their software scans the internet for duplicate content and will alert you if another company is using your content on their website.
“Elegant Entrepreneur couldn’t have come at a better time given the economy and the number of women start-ups. Finally!!! We have a woman who has walked the walk and can now talk the talk. We need the talk. We need to know how to get it done. I really enjoyed the Chapter Takeaways. We are busy at creating great things, so the takeaways are direct and to the point. Also, the examples from real world businesses – both men and women-owned alike – really put things into perspective. I may be the expert in my field, but I wasn’t the expert in how to be an entrepreneur. Now I can be!”
“One of the biggest strengths of this book is what you are bringing to the “women in the workplace” discussion. Right now we are bombarded with arguments about how women should do this or that in the workplace and organizations should change their policies and culture in this or that way to help women. Let Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter have that argument and point those fingers. Here is Danielle Tate to tell you how she created her own workplace and success and in plain English (not business jargon) the concrete steps that you need to create yours.”
Ask the Right Questions of the Right People
Own Your Entrepreneur Status
Have a Good Idea & Act Upon It Daily
Build a Business Support Team Before You Need One