"Necessity is the mother of invention." My mother, in her thick Japanese accent, and my father, in his thick Indian accent, would repeat this on the daily. "After all, this is how the light bulb, reading glasses and libraries came to exist, right?"
They were responses to important problems that were going unresolved. And because I was constantly trying new things, I learned a lot along the way. As much as I've grown from all of those difficult moments, there are a few things I wish I had known from the outset.
Here are the five most important lessons for those of you thinking of striking out on your own:
1. You are as good as the 5 closest friends you keep.
Before you can start getting shit done, you need to clear the energy around you and make sure you have the right support system. So, first, take a hard look at your friendships and ask yourself these questions:
- Do they only want to drink, watch sports or talk shit about others? (AKA are they wasting my precious time?)
- Are they encouraging me to stay safe in my career and not take risks? (This could be family pressure too. Remember you're living your life not theirs.)
- OR Do they inspire and support me to elevate to my highest self?
If the answer is yes to this last question then nurture those friendships. If they don't inspire you and support you, then it's time for you to find new friends who will. Try going to meet ups about things you care about to find like-minded people.
2. Master a skill.
Right now, your job may not be exactly what you want it to be. But while you are there for 40 hours anyway, you may as well master a skill. Are you working in sales? Master the art of sales. Are you working in marketing? Master that skill set. Whatever you do, don't half-ass it. Become really good at it so you can take that skill with you wherever you go next.
3. Solve a real problem (AKA please don't start another T-shirt company).
To figure out how to solve a real problem and start a viable business, ask yourself these 3 questions:
1) What communities/causes/issues suck in my world? (What am I always complaining about?)
2) Does it suck for a lot of other people too? (Are a LOT of people bitching about this too?)
3) Can I be passionate about this for a really long time?
Answering these questions will provide you with a strong framework for the kind of problems you can and should work to solve.
For me, it began as stomach aches from all of the processed foods I was eating. They also weren't just happening to me and I knew I could be passionate about food (the first word I ever uttered wasn't "mama" or "daddy" but "cookie"). So I created Wild, a farm-to-table gluten-free pizza place.
Later, I realized I kept having period mishaps (leaks/stains/embarrassment) as I ran around the town, and every month I was reminded of how much it SUCKED. I knew that this sucks for pretty much ALL girls and women... and I could definitely be passionate about solving this annoyance for a long time. So I co-founded THINX, a feminine hygiene solutions company. Our first product is a gorgeous, sexy pair of underwear that has hidden technology to make the undies NOT leak or stain. Check out our collection that we spent 4 years creating and patenting, they're pretty dope.
Throughout all of this, I couldn't find accessible resources to teach me what I needed to know about starting and growing a business FAST. So I wrote a book and started a bootcamp to rocket ship others' ideas into real tangible action.
The takeaway is to look around you and find problems that need to be solved--and not necessarily things that you already know everything about. That part comes next. For all of my companies I had no f-ing clue about anything before I started!
4. Purpose is your best motivation.
This is such an important one to me. If you start a company that has social relevance, two amazing things happen:
- As an entrepreneur, you go through many cycles of ups and downs because it's TOUGH to build a bidness. But what keeps me excited about my business is the purpose or mission that is threaded through. (For every pair of THINX underwear sold, we fund 7 washable, re-usable cloth pads to a girl in the developing world so she can go back to school--did you know that more than 100 million girls are still missing a week of school when they have their periods? Insane!!).
- As a consumer, wouldn't you care more about supporting a product with a mission? Do you feel a bit more proud to wear Warby Parkers or Toms? It feels good to know that your purchase (which should be cool on its own) also helps someone in need. In the noisy world that we live in, it's hugely important to separate yourself from the crowd.
5. ALWAYS Lead with "How can I help you?" vs "How can you help me?"
When you are starting out, you want to pick people's brains, right? People ask to "pick my brain all the time. And after a while it's become ANNOYING. Instead, lead with "hey I have 2500 Facebook friends and would love to share your story with them" or "I know the writer at X publication and would love to put you in touch" or "I love what you're doing, I'd love to intern for you for 3 months for free".
Whatever you can offer, offer it. Give first. Watch and see how the responses change from NO to getting a quick response back. As soon as you ask people how you can help them, doors will open wide. Try it, you'll see.
Now that you know the 5 things I wished I had known you have a much bigger advantage than I did 10 years ago. It's action time!