6 Women Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Advice
“Ask. Listen. Ask more. And just when you think you are out of questions, keep asking and keep listening.”
Someone gave me that advice 11 years ago when I was starting my company, Goodshop. His point was: With so many people ahead of me who have traveled the entrepreneurship road themselves, I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. By simply asking questions, having an open mind, and being an engaged listener, I could cut my learning process short by at least half.
I am still learning 11 years later, and I continue to get advice from other entrepreneurs—not just from those much further along than I, but also from entrepreneurs just embarking on their small business journey. I asked seven entrepreneurial women, all of whom I admire immensely, to share insights from their toolbox of startup wisdom. Here is what they had to say.
Be intense with outcomes, but chill with people. When starting a business you strive for excellence, but if you can’t deprogram the expectation of perfection for yourself and others, you risk burning yourself out and driving away everyone else.
Coming out of the consulting world, where I was paid for my ideas, I used to see things in black and white. I thought there was one way of doing things—my way. This made me a terrible manager. I’m thankful for the mentors at my first startup who gave me some tough feedback: ‘chill out.’ It wasn’t easy to hear that at the time, but it helped me appreciate that people work and problem-solve differently. Through the years, I have learned to hold my team accountable on outcomes without micromanaging how they got to the result. This has enabled me to be more human as a manager and leader, because demonstrating this trust in my team is essential for building their trust in me.
Sheila Lirio Marcelo is the founder of Care.com, the world’s largest online destination for finding and managing family care. In 2014, she was named one of the "Top 10 Women Entrepreneurs" in Fortune Magazine.
Once you've found your focus, do your homework. For me, that meant writing a 75-page business plan before I even started LearnVest. Few people actually read it, but it wound up being an invaluable exercise for me. Having to articulate my strategy to other people whose opinions I respected forced me to be exhaustive in my research and helped prepare me for leaping into a position of leadership, where I had to be the one calling the shots and answering the questions by the minute. When it comes down to it, a good business plan is like any other effective plan: you need to create concrete goals for yourself so you can track your progress and re-evaluate along the way.
Once you get your business up and running, you feel like your hair is on fire! You're putting out fires left and right and you no longer have the luxury of being able to stop and say, ‘What’s my strategy?’ At this point, you simply don’t have time. So it’s really important to have a crystal clear strategy before you take the leap. That way, once you're in the business, you're well equipped for anything and everything that comes your way.
Alexa von Tobel launched LearnVest in 2009. She is the author of the New York Times best-selling book Financially Fearless.
My best piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to stalk people. When I was establishing my organization a decade ago, I spent some time trying to assemble a strong global advisory board. Six months into Endeavor, I learned that Peter Brooke, the legendary VC and private equity pioneer, was speaking at Harvard Business School, so I followed him—all the way to Cambridge, then the Aldrich Lecture Hall, then to the men's bathroom—where I successfully cornered him into becoming a chairman. Now I say that stalking is the most underrated startup strategy!
Linda Rottenberg co-founded Endeavor in 1997. She is the author of the New York Times best-selling book Crazy is a Compliment.
Don’t let fear be a factor in decision making. Too often I see entrepreneurs fail to launch because of fear. “What if we can’t do it?” “What if something goes wrong”? I understand that we need to consider the pros and cons of our decisions, but we need to be self-aware—are we identifying risks or are we just plain fearful? If fear is keeping you from taking your business to the next level or the next step, then you are allowing fear to dampen your company’s potential.
Jennifer Maanavi launched Physique 57, a fitness company that promotes physical health and personal empowerment, in 2006.
Know yourself, and know that whatever you don't know about yourself, you are going to learn the hard way. Startups, like children, are mirrors for all your flaws. They will be exposed, so you need to have a flexible perspective. You have to be accountable for your failings and relentless in learning how to address them so that they don't get in the way of your success. You are your company. If you lie to yourself about your weaknesses, you will kill your business in the process.
Courtney Nichols founded SmartyPants, a health & wellness company that produces gummy vitamins, in 2009.
View failure as a gift. When the business is in pain, it will force you into submission, and if you listen, it will give back to you. For the first two years I was a solo founder, and the business completely broke me. I had two babies under the age of two, a strained marriage, and I was trying to do it all. The business had taken off, but then it stopped.
I put one foot in front of the other and opened myself up to the idea of inviting another leader into my realm. Sathish Naadimuthu, who is now our CMO, joined in July 2015, and we worked hard to make a significant pivot—moving the business from a primarily wholesale model to direct to consumer. Within a month of re-launching [the site], our business had quadrupled.
Nicole Centeno founded Splendid Spoon in 2013.