When Create & Cultivate founder Jaclyn Johnson took to the Shopstyle Stage on Saturday for the Startup 101 panel the first question on everyone's mind was, "Who makes that amazing chair?" (Bend Goods for the goods FYI.) The second, of course, was "What can I glean from these founders?"
From Ariel Kaye CEO founder of Parachute telling Cultivators "Being a founder is the best and worst thing ever, all the time," to Carly de Castro co-founder of Pressed Juicery joking, "I didn't know any entrepreneurs. I didn't know anything about business. And I thought well if I can learn to make juice, how hard can it be? It was really hard," there was so much note taking, nodding, and knowledge dropping. So we're recapping the best of the best to encourage and aid you with your entrepreneurial dreams.
YOU HAVE TO BE OBSESSED WITH YOUR COMPANY, OR IT WILL BURN YOU OUT.
Josh Zad, founder of Alfred Coffee told the audience, "Coffee is a timeless beverage. I opened the cafe and I became obsessed with it. I'm focussed 100% on food and beverage."
Gabby Etrog Cohen SVP of Brand Strategy at SoulCycle echoed this sentiment. "I'm not a founder," she told the crowd, "but I am SoulCycle's 5th corporate employee and helped grow the brand from four to 60 studios. We deliver service, we don't sell. It's of utmost importance for our riders to feel like family and to feel like from the moment they walk through our doors to the moment they leave they have someone who cares about them. It's why after six years I'm still so committed to the company."
"My soul," said Carly de Castro, "is part of this brand."
KNOW YOUR BRAND AND STICK TO YOUR GUNS
If people aren't initially following or engaging, but you have a brand and a social strategy that you believe in, you can use that to carry you through until they do. Get your grid right but also stick to your vision.
"Coffee is infinitely sharable," said Josh Zad, "and the trending coffee shop phase took off at the same time as Instagram. But we had a strong social media strategy from day one. The same way we treated developing our menu and customer service strategy we had a focus on social media that we stuck to. When not that many people were following or engaging with us, we didn't get upset or change it all up. We stuck to the plan."
CONTINUE TO ASK YOURSELF WHAT PROBLEM AM I SOLVING?
One of the most important questions you can ask yourself is "What problem am I solving?" It's a very simple question, but it's something that goes a long way. And if it's a problem that someone has already solved, ask yourself, "How am I doing it differently?"
There can be many solutions to one problem.
"We are a commodity product at the core of our business," said Ariel Kaye, "but there is also this movement around investing in yourself. One of my biggest ah-ha moments was that I didn't know where to go to buy these products and none of my friends knew where to go either. I had a brand background and I couldn't believe there weren't brands people were loving. You spend a third of your life in bed and yet none of these companies were asking me how I was sleeping at night or suggesting that I could do something differently to enhance my sleep."
"As a brand," Kaye added, "you should keep circling back to that core question."
ACCELERATORS ARE AN AMAZING RESOURCE FOR ENTREPRENEURS
Ivka Adam, founder of Iconery whose company was part of Amplify, one of the top accelerators in Los Angeles, talked about the difference between incubators and accelerators.
"Incubators" explained Adam, "give space and a little bit of money to a company with an idea to get it off the ground. An accelerator is one step beyond that. It's for a company with fully formed idea and most often you get somewhere between $50,000-$250,000 to take your idea to launch. After a year of forming the idea, we had a working prototype and our manufacturing figured out, and we were starting to sell, which is when we got accepted into Amplify. Three months later we were able to raise our seed round."
Ariel Kaye chimed in on the importance of accelerators as well, telling the audience, "I was also in an accelerator and I have to say when you are are a sole founder and you feel like you are an island of one, being with other founders who are in that grind with you is a lifesaver."
THE RIGHT PEOPLE MATTER
Key hires are part of the founder struggle. (Along with "founder depression," something Ivka Adam told the audience "is very real.")
Creating the right team takes time, patience, and sacrifice, but it will also make all the difference in your business. Gabby Cohen shared "We like to say, if you have the right people on the bus, it doesn't matter where the bus is going. You change direction every 90 days." Ariel Kaye said something similar, "With hires you don't always need people to reinvent the wheel. You want people who've watched boats burned."
"Spend the money on talent," said Josh Zad. "Do not lose that person that's maybe a little more expensive. It will payoff in the long run."
More from our blog: