I've always been a mission-driven entrepreneur. When I was 12 years old I started a business called "Addie's Apple Pies" to raise money for a class trip to Spain. It lasted until my father, who was tired of flour everywhere, declared the business "CLOSED!" (That was my first experience with both success and downsizing.)
I've since started three companies, all focused on helping people unlock their potential and start doing so via a clear pathway for success. First was BrightIdeas, an educational software company designed to target individualized learning among 3-12 year olds and help Moms share and sell the technology to the home market; then The Beacon Street Girls - a book series and interactive platform aimed at improving self-esteem, and now reacHIRE, an integrated training and job placement program that not only helps professional women re-fresh their skills, but also places them back into the workforce.
Being an entrepreneur is often an emotional roller coaster; equal parts exhaustion and exhilaration. But, it's a rush I'll do again and again. Here are the five most important lessons I've learned through my experience launching and growing mission-driven businesses:
1. Love your mission.
Whatever you choose to create, make it something you are passionate about; something that touches you personally. Yes, this is about you. There are many different paths to success. Figure out your personal passion and let it drive you to impact the world.
2. Find your believers.
People are willing to help when you have a clear mission they can get behind. They help because the message resonates with them, they want to make a difference, or they know what it's like to work hard for what you believe in. Sheryl Leach, the creator of Barney the Purple Dinosaur, remembered what it was like in the early days. Her support of BrightIdeas opened many doors. Likewise, The Beacon Street Girls made it into every major bookstore and library nationwide because people, across many fronts, reached out to help us along the way. ReacHIRE is succeeding because everyone has a sister, wife, mother, or friend who has taken a career break and needs refreshed tech skills, confidence and a clear path to re-engage their career.
While it may seem obvious, a friendly smile, a coffee, or returning a favor goes a long way. You never know who has the capacity to help. Be approachable, kind and specific about what you need from your "missionaries."
3. Reconstruct the hiring highway.
Recognize your strengths and weaknesses - yours and your company's - and hire those who have skills you don't, who share your vision and can help you extend it. When starting a company, I always invite people from different backgrounds and stages of life to join me in informal focus groups. What most of these people may not realize is that I am also recruiting, screening and teeing up potential employees and advisors who will be passionate believers along with me.
4. Be resilient.
When you hear "no", when things don't go according to plan, or if you make a potentially costly decision -- and you know you will -- see it as a learning moment. Always try to find a solution, even if it means rethinking your original approach to the problem. I've had investors turn me down, people not show up for meetings, naysayers tell me it's a crowded space or too risky. Stay the course; take in all the feedback; filter out the noise; learn from your mistakes and try not to make them again. And, whatever you do, do not give up.
5. You can do good and do well.
You don't have to work for a non-profit to reap psychological rewards for doing good. As Conscious Capitalism and others show us, we are now working in a truly blended arena. You can do good and do well at the same time. Find other companies that share your passion for giving back and partner with them to create a more powerful force.
Founder and CEO of reacHIRE, Addie Swartz is a serial entrepreneur who has dedicated her career to developing products and services that empower women at all stages of life. Addie created reacHIRE to build a systematic training and placement pathway for exceptional professional women to get back into the workforce after a career break. Addie is a frequent speaker at leadership and entrepreneurial events across the country. She is a graduate of Stanford University and received her MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. She lives in Massachusetts and is the proud mother of two girls.