In 2013 I co-founded an e-commerce website offering women’s work wear clothing rentals and advice on how to succeed in a professional setting. Unfortunately it never really picked up and we eventually decided to shut it down. However, it was an amazing experience and I wanted to share some of my key learnings.
1. “Ideas are shit, execution is the game.” - Gary Vaynerchuk
If I were to pick one thing to sum up what I learned from my experience it would be this quote. It’s so important to think about how you are going to execute your idea from the user experience, to the branding, to the sales strategy. Anyone can come up with an idea but execution can determine if that idea succeeds.
2. Most people won’t be helpful.
In the beginning of our journey we emailed as many people as we could who we thought would be helpful. Unfortunately we only heard back from a fraction of them. We definitely wasted a lot of time and energy feeling personally offended that they didn’t want to help us. We would have been much better off brushing it off and focusing on the people that actually wanted to help.
3. Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.
This is pretty much true in life but especially when you are getting advice on starting a company. Everyone will have a different idea of how you should grow and run your business based on their own experience (particularly those who were involved with a successful company). Though it’s great to get people’s opinions it’s also important to take what they say with a grain of salt and stay true to your vision.
4. Market. Market. Market.
If there’s one tangible thing we could’ve improved upon in the beginning of the process, it would be around marketing. We thought we could just post our company’s launch on our Facebook, our friends would share it around, and the customers would just come flooding in. That definitely did not happen. There was much more we could’ve done such as a paid social campaigns, physically going to universities and colleges to speak with students or some promotional campaigns (ex. “Receive 20% off your first order”). I can’t stress enough how important marketing is in the early stages of your company.
5. There is a tricky dance between money and growth.
When you’re bootstrapping your startup, money is always a huge issue. This is a bit of a chicken or the egg situation. You definitely need to grow your company to a certain stage to be able to even get in the door with certain investors. However, sometimes you need money to be able to grow! There is no secret or right answer to this problem - it’s definitely something each founder will have to figure out on their own but just know that it’s something you’ll constantly have to deal with.
6. Things take time. (But really).
Looking back we only had the website up and running for about 10 months, which is not a long time at all. You definitely have to cut yourself some slack and realize it takes a lot of time to build up a name for yourself and get customers. We all read the stories about J.K. Rowling receiving numerous “no’s” before she finally found a publisher for Harry Potter or how the founder of Airbnb couch surfed for a year to prove his idea. You have to do the best you can to persevere through the tough times and keep fighting on!
7. You don’t have to be the next 25-year-old billionaire.
There’s definitely a lot of pressure these days to start the next big tech company by your mid-twenties or make the Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list. Unfortunately I think a lot of people feel like if they don’t accomplish these things, they’ve somehow failed. I don’t believe this is true at all and starting a company with virtually no work experience made me realize the benefits of starting one when you are a bit older, wiser, experienced, and have more money to put behind it.
8. Focus on building a community rather than the product offering.
This kind of goes along with the execution point. The main mission of our company was to empower young female professionals to feel confident in the workplace. I think that’s an amazing message. Unfortunately we lost sight of that and were too focused on the actual business model of renting clothes. If we had just kept focusing on our mission maybe we would’ve been more willing to pivot the company, had an easier time getting customers, or discovered something completely new along the way.
Starting a company will teach you things you can never learn in a normal day job. Though we dealt with a lot of trials and tribulations, I don’t regret any of it. The experience made me realize my passion for digital marketing and strategy. After we shut down I had just started a position as a digital marketing manager and today I work at a digital design agency were I focus on data analytics. Maybe I’ll take the startup leap at some point again in the future!
Hannah Levenkron works as a digital analyst at Huge where she works with multiple clients and business verticals to define and executive measurement and optimization strategies. In her spare time she loves to bake, hike, play with her dog and watch trashy realty tv.