5 Tips to Surviving a Start-up
Before HAPPYFAMILY began in 2006 I’d seen the difficulties women experienced finding healthful food for their babies. I knew this was a marketplace where I could make a meaningful impact. A great idea at the right time would rocket us to success, right?
The path of entrepreneurship isn’t smooth. Even as our business started to boom, there was an evening when I got to the subway with nothing in my wallet but maxed out credit cards and no way to pay for my ride home. There were days I was so exhausted I napped in my office on a yoga mat. Starting a company is a rollercoaster and if you aren’t prepared for it you can get sick. Here are some ways to enjoy the ride.
1. Raising capital is a sales process
When HAPPYFAMILY landed a large retail contract we needed to raise money for raw materials and production right away. We were open and frank with our investors but not desperate. Securing money is a sales process and the key to sales is to present benefit. We positioned this as good news—HAPPYFAMILY was growing faster than its projections. We also let our investors see, and share, our passion. Your enthusiasm for your brand is infectious.
2. Find creative solutions
HAPPYFAMILY had almost raised several million dollars of expansion cash when the recession hit. All our money walked and we got creative to survive. HAPPYFAMILY relies heavily on HAPPYMAMAS, our network of real moms who conduct grassroots marketing. With capitol in short supply, HAPPYMAMAS, the mainstay of our branding, was on the chopping block. Instead, we joined with Stonyfield Farm’s YoBaby brand, allowing them access to our HAPPYMAMAS in exchange for their help subsidizing the program. Finding a creative solution not only preserved our community-based marketing, it brought us new customers through YoBaby and a corporate partner with whom we share a common mission.
3. Stop worrying
Worry is praying for what you don’t want. As a leader, it’s important to focus on what you can control. At one point, I felt the world was on my shoulders—literally. I ended up with debilitating neck pain, a physical manifestation of my stress. I’ve found that to be an effective CEO, not to mention a useful role model to my employees, I must manage stress. No matter how horrible the worst case scenario may be, don’t dwell on it if you can’t change it.
4. Manage expectations
A lot of stress is wasted energy when you realize mistakes and setbacks are normal. What’s important isn’t being perfect in business but being adaptable. When HAPPYFAMILY lost its funding in the recession, we saw other organic food companies holding valuation fire sales. We too had a down round. This was not in the business plan, but we had to bend to the market. When we blew all our sales projections out of the water we learned that parents will cutback on just about anything before they’ll sacrifice their child’s nutrition. Being flexible with the business plan not only helped us survive, it brought us valuable intelligence about our consumer and our product’s viability.
5. Enjoy the process
Selling yourself to investors, developing creative solutions that strengthen your business, finding appropriate partners—these are the building blocks required to grow a business. Too often, we look at these as obstacles to conquer and exhaust vital energy being overwhelmed. By embracing the process of building HAPPYFAMILY and learning from it I’ve begun to enjoy the thrill of the rollercoaster.
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