Women are starting companies at the rate of about 1,821 per day, according to the latest annual State of Women-Owned Businesses report, commissioned by American Express, and they now own four out of every 10 businesses in the U.S., according to recent data from Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. But that same report found that most female-owned businesses are actually one-woman ventures, and make up just eight percent of all employment and account for only 4.3 percent of total revenues––not quite the strides one would hope for.
So how can women grow their genius ideas into profitable companies with a team of people working for them? At a recent panel at WeWork Now in New York, Eden Grinshpan, cofounder and executive chef of DEZ, a Middle Eastern fast-casual restaurant; Katia Beauchamp, CEO and founder of beauty and grooming retailer Birchbox; and Maureen Sullivan, COO of Rent the Runway, the subscription clothing rental service, shared their best tips for getting your business off the ground and making it into something bigger than you could have imagined.
Just start already. For most people with a great business idea, the hardest thing to do is start, says Beauchamp. “One of the things we did well at Birchbox was to start immediately,” she explains. “We had the idea one day, and we were pitching it as if it existed within a couple weeks.”
Don’t worry about perfecting the product or polishing your business plan, says Sullivan, the former president of AOL.com and Lifestyle Brands. “Perfectionism is the enemy of an entrepreneur,” she says. Instead, “get your product to market as fast as possible,” says Beauchamp. “It’s like pulling off the Band-Aid.” And accept that this is just stage one. “It’s not going to look like what’s in your head—yet,” Beauchamp warns. Think of your initial product as the beta stage, and improve on it from there.
Don’t be afraid to fail. Succeeding in the business world takes a great deal of passion, and maybe a little craziness, says Grinshpan, who opened DEZ last year. “Any time you take on a new project, especially with food or the restaurant industry, you take a huge risk,” she says. “Sometimes you’re going to succeed, and sometimes you’re not. But I do believe in failure being a good thing. Failure is a huge motivator to build yourself back up.”
And, FYI, it’s really hard to have exponential growth when things are going great. It can take something truly awful to leap into that next phase. “A big failure is the universe telling you that you wouldn’t be able to take that next step without the tools this situation will give you,” says Beauchamp. Look at your failures—big and small—as a gift that will help you get better.
Trust in your experience (or lack thereof). Another major hang-up women have when it comes to taking their business to the next level? Thinking they don’t have enough experience. But “there is no playbook,” says Sullivan. Any experience you’ve had that’s pushed you beyond your boundaries of what is normal or safe is exactly want you want to pull from to succeed in business. “If you can refine that skill set, then you can be really successful no matter the size and scale of your company,” she says. Companies (and investors!) are looking for people who can excel within complexity.
And remember, titles—CEO, inventor, founder, whatever—are just words, and nothing to be intimidated by. “Titles are given to you before you’re ready for them, and you have to rise up to them,” says Grinshpan. “A title just pushes you to work harder.”
Find the magic—and make it convenient. “At Rent the Runway, we’re basically trying to reinvent a daily behavior that we’ve all done and will continue doing, by putting magic and joy and fun and all of the sexy words in it,” says Sullivan. But even that’s not enough; today’s customers expect magic and overwhelming value and convenience, she says.
“You want to be at the intersection of delight and efficacy,” says Beauchamp. “Even dentists are doing this!” If you have an idea that could have a massive role in someone’s life (go, you!), you need to deliver on two fronts: “This is so fun,” and “this is saving me time.” “It’s your customer’s time and money,” says Beauchamp. “It should be delightful for them to spend it with you.”
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