Want to know who knows a lot about what it takes to be successful? Your mom.
My company runs Scary Mommy, one of the most successful and popular digital properties for American moms. I've worked with some truly incredible mom entrepreneurs as a result. Among them: Galyn Bernard and Christina Carbonell, cofounders of startup kids clothing company Primary.
Since launching last year, Bernard and Carbonell (former execs at Quidsi (parent of Diapers.com), Harvard MBAs, and mothers-of-two) have built a direct-to-consumer brand offering over 50 styles for babies and kids. They've got thousands of happy customers, and 45,000 Facebook fans following their story. Not bad for a startup trying to get a foothold in a $30 billion industry.
We've worked together mainly because my company runs a marketing promotion with Primary offering discounts on kids clothing, and we've talked about what it takes to build a company while raising a family.
It often sounds like the smart things moms say to their kids all the time. Here are 9 key examples:
Entrepreneurs see the world differently from other people. Bernard and Carbonell understood that. But they said they learned in their first six months "about going all in on who we are, even if it meant being a bit polarizing."
Carbonell told me: "Our initial instinct was to play it a bit safe and not alienate anyone, so we avoided provocative statements about what we believe in and why we started the business. We quickly learned that the opposite was much more effective at attracting like-minded people who really dug our concept."
2."Don't let it bother you."
If you try to start a business (never mind change the world), be prepared to hear the word "no" a lot of the time. You face a ton of rejection and naysayers.
"Is it hard to be a woman starting a company? What's it like to be a mom entrepreneur? It's hard to be an entrepreneur, period," Bernard said. "You have to have a thick skin. We laugh at the occasional misguided question we get -- things like, "Are you sure you want to start a company when you have little kids?" or, "Are your husbands funding you?" (For the record, no.)
Don't confuse this with being a pushover--it's just that it's often more effective to build relationships than it is to steamroll people to get things done.
"It's so interesting to us that some people think you have to be an ass to be effective," Carbonell said. "It's just about having empathy--being able to read the nuances of a situation or a person's feelings, and finding the best way to communicate. You can disagree. You can be direct. You just don't have to be a jerk about it."
4."Don't be afraid to depend on people."
There is virtually no such thing as a successful one-person show--especially in business.
"Succeeding in business is about building an awesome team more than it is about having a good idea. We've hired people who have turned out to be amazing superstars well beyond their experience," Bernard said. "We also feel strongly about having a partner you've worked with before. We worked together at Quidsi for years and knew we could trust and rely on each other through all the ups and downs - and still want to have a beer together at the end of the day."
5."Choose your friends carefully."
At the same time, don't depend on people who aren't dependable. Sometimes, that means making do with a smaller team until you find the right people.
"It takes patience. For instance, growing our tech team didn't happen as quickly as planned" during 2015, Carbonell said. "But from past experience, we know it's worth it to be patient and hold out for the right people--the right talent, but even more importantly the right culture fit. Passion and optimism are critical things for us."
6."Don't give up!"
Just before their first major photo shoot last year, highlighting their products for their website, the New York City area was hit by a major snowstorm. They were relying on friends and family to help them, but traveling was almost impossible--and their photographer, who was from Los Angeles, was running out of time.
"We had to drive in the snow to the UPS center to pick up the last 10 styles, and then beg the photographer to jam through what felt like one million photos on the last day. And thanks to Taylor Swift on repeat and a LOT of Sour Patch Kids, we managed to keep the kids smiling until the end of the day!" Bernard told me.
There's no such thing as "not my job" in a startup. Whether you need someone to learn digital marketing, hook up a phone system, or clean up the glasses from last night's office happy hour, if it needs to be done, the founders have to do it.
"We're a small team, and our day-to-day is filled with roll-up-your-sleeves work, down to the smallest details like setting up the furniture, managing our inventory, and executing our marketing," Carbonell said. "We joke about our 'departments' as in "My marketing department thinks X" which just means I think that. If you're not scrappy, or think you're above certain work, a startup probably isn't for you."
8."Nobody's perfect. Do your best."
There's no such thing as perfect--but that's okay, because in a startup things don't actually have to be perfect. The important thing is to focus on constantly improving.
"A disappointed customer is the hardest thing. We put a huge emphasis on great customer service, and we keep working hard to improve all the time. We listen very carefully to feedback from our customers. We have about 642 happiest moments though--and every one of them is a note we got from a customer who had a great experience with us," Bernard said.
Kicking ass means focusing on what you do and doing that thing very well--not letting up, and not veering off into a million other interesting things that might also be really cool. This might be the most important lesson for succeeding in business, Carbonell told me.
"Primary offers a line of basic clothing for babies and kids in the U.S.," she said. That's a big enough challenge. "At least for the moment, we're not going international. We're not going into other categories. We're not publishing a book we have a really good concept for. ... For the moment, we are just going to try to be the very best place for busy parents to shop for awesome basic clothing for babies and kids."