How to Start a Small Business and See It Thrive, According to BootayBag

November 1, 2019
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This post is in paid partnership with Bootaybag.

We know how daunting it can be to start a new business, especially if you’re disrupting an industry or creating an entirely new one. When there is no path to follow, the biggest question is, where do I start? There is so much to do but before you get ahead of yourself, let’s start at the beginning. To kickstart the process (and ease some of those first-time founder nerves) we’re asking successful entrepreneurs to share their story in our new series, From Scratch. But this isn’t your typical day in the life. We’re getting down to the nitty gritty from writing a business plan (or not) to sourcing manufacturers and how much they pay themselves, we’re not holding back. If you want to know how to start a business, you’ve come to the right place.

When you’re looking to start your own business, most of us have a five to 10 year timeline in mind before we start making money. Of course, the end goal could be to build an empire but no-one expects for that to happen quickly. But it seems like Ellyette Gheno’s company, BootayBag was an overnight success.

Having grown up with entrepreneurial parents, Gheno was practically born with founder genes in her DNA. So it comes as no surprise that within a day of thinking up BootayBag—a monthly underwear subscription that delivers right to your door—Gheno created a website and launched a side hustle. What started as a way to “earn a few extra bucks” has successfully disrupted the $52 million underwear market (which is expected to grow annually by 3.5%) in just five years and her little aha! moment is changing the game.

So, we tapped the CEO and founder to learn more about her incredible journey from lightbulb moment to starting an undie revolution.

Be sure to keep reading until the end for our exclusive discount code that gives Create & Cultivators 20% off their first month when signing to any monthly subscription.

Did you write a business plan? If yes, was it helpful? If no, what else did you use instead?

“I definitely could have used a business plan. I started BootayBag as a total side hustle to make a few extra bucks, there was no plan. However, if I could go back in time I would have started with a clear vision of what I wanted to create, and what the end goal was. At the very least I would have liked to set intentions, even if it wasn’t a business plan. This would have helped me to later understand my ‘why’.”

How did you come up with the name? What was the process like? How did you know it was the right name?

“So this is my story and I’m sticking to it—guaranteed a laugh. I grew up in the Bay Area obviously listening to rap music. I had seen and heard ‘booty’ spelled as ‘bootay’ and that is the creative genius behind the spelling of BootayBag. After the name was born I had a domain within 24 hours. Looking back I maybe should have run it by someone beforehand.”

What were the immediate things you had to take care of to set up the business?

“First came the website and then social channels shortly after. All of the legal stuff came later due to the limited funding I had for the business at the time.”

What research did you do for the brand beforehand?

“My research came at the extent of my self desires. I was solving my own issue of hating digging through sale bins and not wanting to shop for underwear (because what young woman does)? I had undies in my drawer that I am embarrassed to say were beyond their intended life span. I knew that if this was the case for me it had to also be the case for most of my girlfriends. Lucky for me, it ended up being the case for most young girls outside of my inner circle, and that helped me discover my ‘why’ behind the brand.”

How did you find the manufacturer/production facility that you use? Did you have any bad experiences? What did you learn?

“This is a hard one. I have learned what I know now about manufacturing because, unfortunately, of many bad experiences. I would advise to always ask questions, seek insight and advice from others, and basically trust no one. Ha, ha! Be sure to check references, run small tests and batches, and never give them all your money upfront.”

Did you self-fund the company? Did you raise seed money or initial investment money?

“BootayBag has been totally self-funded. Looking back, I am actually so thankful for this as I was able to make mistakes with my own money versus someone else. I had the advantage that I didn’t need funding to bring my vision to life in the beginning stages. However, it is definitely more of a step-by-step, slow-moving process when you’re bootstrapped.”

How much did you pay yourself? How did you know what to pay yourself?

“In the beginning when it was just a side hustle the whole point was to pay myself. But when I decided that this wasn’t going to just be a revenue stream for myself but that I wanted to make hires and build a brand, I came last on the payroll scale. It still always goes back to what I am trying to do—if I need to make a hire and I can’t afford to do it, I take a pay cut.”

How big is your team now? What has the hiring process been like for you?

“Hiring is hard because your team is seriously so important. I love the saying, ‘You can’t have an A team with B players.’ I’ve failed a lot in this department, especially in the beginning. I just felt lucky to have anyone work for me at the time which I later learned was the totally wrong approach. The best way to learn how to hire is to be prepared as if you’re the one being interviewed. Know who you are interviewing, ask all the hard questions, call the references, and give a training period for you to work alongside them.”

Did you hire an accountant? Who helped you with the financial decisions and set up? What do you recommend?

“No, I didn’t at first however, I quickly learned it is so critical to do so—that was a big ‘omg’ moment. Please, for the love of God, get an accountant. At the very least get someone who you pay as a consultant to help you set it all up. Cash is key, and how you set up terms, cash flow modeling, payroll, budgets, and tax compliance is so important. You have to have a professional in the field to guide you through it. We can’t be good at all the things—get help.”

What has been the biggest learning curve during the process of establishing a business?

“A big moment for me was learning to never let myself get too comfortable. I now enjoy being uncomfortable because I know this is how I grow and where positive change comes. Every moment that I think I have everything figured out, I don’t! Lol. Reality settles in and all of a sudden everything I thought I knew is wrong and it’s a whole new perspective. I almost fear the comfort level because I know something is around the corner. I can now thrive being uncomfortable because I know this how I grow and how good change comes.”

How did you get retailers to start stocking your product? Were you told no? How did you handle that rejection? What advice can you share?

“We are our own online retailer as of now, however, rejection comes more likely than not in other directions. Every time we drop a new style that not everyone likes and it feels like rejection. I know we can’t cater to everyone, but you still try to and think you just might one of these times. The only advice I have is that they aren’t rejecting you, it’s not personal and it happens to everyone.”

Do you have a business coach or mentor? How has this person helped? Would you recommend one?

“Mentors are key. My favorite (and most shocking) discovery with entrepreneurs is they will most likely help you if you ask for it. The key here is to be very direct with what you want from them and be respectful of their time. Utilize your network and continue to grow it with every opportunity you get.”

How did you promote your company? How did you get people to know who you are and create buzz?

“I knew what felt like absolutely nothing, about anything. In the beginning, I started with a concept that I knew I needed and felt like other girls might need too. I tested locally first with pop-ups and events, and put it out there on social media to see if the concept stuck before I put any money behind it. Being very open to everyone’s opinions, ideas, and feedback is what helped me grow the idea into a brand.”

What is one thing you didn’t do in the setup process, that ended up being crucial to the business and would advise others to do asap?

“I wrote myself off in the finance section right away—I don’t do excel, I am not good with numbers. Well, tough luck to me. No one should know your numbers better than you. So with that I learned how to manage and own that even though I didn’t want too.”

For those who haven’t started a business (or are about to) what advice do you have?

Do it! But do it the safe and smart way… where you can test the waters without putting your whole life savings into it from the get-go. If this all went away tomorrow, I’ve grown so much and learned more about myself, managing people, and business than any other course of life could have taught me. 

Anything else to add?

I would love to touch on how important it is to support one another in our individual journey’s, both professional and personal! This is why I love love love and am continuously inspired by Create + Cultivate so much. It can feel so lonely and scary, but you are not alone in it – someone has already paved the way for you. Ask for help, learn from other peoples failures who did it before you. Failure is part of the journey and the reward doesn’t come without a lot of dark, scary moments. We’ve all been there, and we’re in this together.

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If you’re interested in getting 20% off your first month, then use our exclusive discount code CC20 when you sign up to any monthly subscription at their website, bootaybag.com

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