It's no secret that if you want to start a business and get through the first year, you better like to learn. "Starting a business is about rolling up your sleeves and getting scrappy," said Michele Romanow, Co-founder of Clearbanc in a recent talk. Though, once you start gaining knowledge and building routines, how do you keep learning?
YouInc recently sat down with three founders working with District Ventures and District Ventures Capital to ask what they learned in their first year of business and how they keep a beginner mindset:
Jamie Parker, co-founder, Calgary Heritage Roasting Co.
Location: Calgary, Alberta
Business milestone: Expanded outside of Alberta to distribute product across Canada
What didn't I learn about in my first year of business, would be an easier question to answer. I learned that when I dive into something, I dive in headfirst. I realized I was quite naive in opening a new business without any previous experience. Although, without being naive I'm not certain we would have started our company.
I learned what it feels like to want to go to work every day; how rewarding it was to work 14-hour days and close out my days feeling fulfilled. I learned how important it was for my personal growth to tackle impossible and scary tasks like importing and exporting, loans, procurement, trademarking, human resources, bookkeeping, and website design. I learned how frugal I am and how effective I am at managing cash flow. I learned how to trust in others to accomplish tasks I wasn't capable to complete.
We've realized that when we surround ourselves with people who are positive and support our company, vision, and dream, then that's what makes us go back to work every day and continue to grind.
I learned how difficult and important it is to have work-life balance. I learned how fulfilling it can be to create a product and an experience that others want and gravitate towards. I learned that I'm responsible for my future and destiny. I learned how to ask for help, and the importance of humility.
People have a tendency to be negative. Sometimes people don't want you to succeed because of insecurities in themselves - we experienced that from the get go. We've realized that when we surround ourselves with people who are positive and support our company, vision, and dream, then that's what makes us go back to work every day and continue to grind. When you're surrounded by pessimistic people, who pull your business apart, that can be detrimental in an emotional and physical manner. Some of my closest friends, who I thought would support me, didn't; that was a big shocker. I reached out to family members for their expertise and they didn't extend their arms.
When we first started, Mike [co-founder] and I were the first to admit that we don't know everything. We found that to be beneficial to the growth of our company, because instead of saying, "what should I do? I know this, so I'm looking for a bit of advice." Instead say "I need help." That changes the entire conversation. People are willing to help if you're willing to ask. It shows a lot about character.
Quit waiting for the perfect moment to start your business.
I think everyone has this innate urge to want to provide advice. They want to feel important, wanted, and as soon as you ask for help, you give someone that opportunity. You're reciprocating in an emotional way, versus saying, "I'll exchange this coffee for this mentorship." People don't care about those material goods; they care that when they lay their head on the pillow at night that they helped someone.
I believe a way to become a beginner again is to always be a life learner and bite off more than I can chew. Discomfort typically leads to growth moments in a company. I always tend to question why things are done a certain way or why I'm paying for a service and if it's possible to teach myself how to tackle that same task - it's shocking what you can teach yourself. Once Mike or I have perfected skills, we tend to pass off these skills to our employees and see how they perform. This frees up our time and empowers our employees. I'm a firm believer that you need to get started as soon as possible. Quit waiting for the perfect moment to start your business because you're losing potential sales.
Emma Harris, founder and CEO, Healthy Pets
Founded: March 2018
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Business milestone: Launched in March 2018 after Dragons' Den pitch
In two months of business, I learned I'm capable of a higher workload than I thought possible. That's not to say breaks aren't important, because they are, but I'm becoming more productive in my day-to-day operations. Holding a job is different than running a business. With a job, you're filling the role and responsibilities associated with your title. As a business owner, you wear a dozen or more hats, and you have to juggle them all simultaneously. You're learning as you go. It takes time, but eventually you learn how to handle it all, until your business throws you a curveball.
I've also learned I have a thicker skin; I've received a ton of rejection but I'm still standing.
For example, The College of Veterinarians of Ontario is the regulatory body responsible for governing the activity of veterinarians in the province. Their draft position statement on telemedicine would have killed my business. After a momentary panic, I spent 12 weeks working with one of their members to overcome a requirement that would have not only been unfavourable to Healthy Pets but the industry as a whole - it worked. We were fortunate to witness a forward-thinking policy and position statement on veterinary telemedicine pass for the first time in Canada.
I've also learned I have a thicker skin; I've received a ton of rejection but I'm still standing. This definitely applies to raising our pre-seed round of funding from District Ventures Capital.
I challenge my thinking about what's right for my business by surrounding myself with a variety of mentors, advisors, and founders. Hearing their opinions on a variety of issues helps me make the best business decisions. Recently I needed guidance on how to grow my team. We could likely use a dozen new sets of hands, but obviously my budget doesn't allow that. I put forth a list of five key roles, and working with Arlene and Jason Berenstein, the CFO of District Ventures Capital, we were able to prioritize the roles we most need today and those that can wait.
Kathy Leskow, owner, Confetti Sweets
First store opened: 2014
Location: Edmonton and Sherwood Park, Alberta
Business milestone: In 2015 and 2016, Confetti Sweets served cookies at a pre-Oscar party for nominees, press, and Hollywood
My first year of business was insane. It was the biggest learning curve of my life. I was working 80 hours a week, not paying myself, and still loving it. I realized that I was able to overcome any challenge that came my way, and that I was ambitious and hard working enough to be an entrepreneur. Until you get into it, you don't know how awesome you actually are. When you consistently solve problems and make decisions all day long - not always the right ones - it's rewarding. At the beginning, staff turn to you to decide every little detail, so you become a leader fast. I think a person either thrives on that responsibility or hates it. I loved it; it pushed me. I've always been ambitious, but when you have that responsibility on your shoulders, you become even more ambitious and unwilling to let anyone down.
The worst that can happen is we try something new and it fails, in which case we go back to plan A. I really believe in learning from mistakes.
Once I figured out the processes we needed to get the cookies out the door, I was able to train others and pass on some of my responsibilities of the day-to-day operations - I learned delegation is key. Six months in, when the overwhelming feeling ended, I was able to spend time reviewing financials, pricing, and sales opportunities. I was able to see that although the business appeared to be running smoothly, there were a lot of changes to be made if we were to survive - I had to change the mentality from being home-based with little overhead to covering all of my costs. When I opened the storefront, I didn't account for new costs and raise my prices. Also, before opening the storefront, I didn't have to actually seek out business, as I had as much as I needed. Now with staffing a location, we had to focus on getting our brand out there and drawing people in. We ended up doubling our sales the first year we opened.
Another steep learning curve I've entered is the process of launching into the grocery chains, which is a completely different business model. I've been getting advice from every business I can think of that has taken this path, and I'm utilizing every business mentor. I attend as many trade shows as I can to check out new ideas. This winter I attended the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco to ensure we stay current in the marketplace. I find a lot of inspiration from like-minded business owners - they really keep me going.
I love learning and I embrace learning from others. I want to know what my team members think and what they've heard from customers. They've also become more familiar with production processes, which I'm not as involved in, so if they have any ideas to make that more efficient, I trust they know better. The worst that can happen is we try something new and it fails, in which case we go back to plan A. I really believe in learning from mistakes.
TELL US, HOW DO YOU CHALLENGE YOURSELF TO BEGIN AGAIN?