Dear Future Founders

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Dear Future Founders
10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Own Company
Build Your Team
When I launched ABLE Cosmetics, I was 27 and eager to start my own company as soon as possible. I worked with a freelance designer on the art direction and a lab on the formula and packaging, but I was otherwise solo, working around the clock in my apartment. I didn’t have any real direction, I was just hustling to get everything done. I was making educated guesses, asking friends for their opinions, and Googling best business and sales practices. I remember telling myself, “just do everything by the books and it will all fall into place,” but it wasn’t easy to find order within the chaos. I wish I had surrounded myself with a few integral employees to streamline the process and make the most of my launch. If I had collected a core team earlier on, I would have been able to focus on the mission, the creative, and the management of my new company.
  1. Sales - Someone that will forge and maintain relationships with retailers.
  2. Numbers - This is SO not my thing. Getting someone who lives in the world of numbers who can track costs and allocate strict budgets is so important because because when it’s your baby, it’s easy to lose track and you’ll need a neutral party to check your spending.
  3. Creative - It’s 2018 and Instagram is often the first impression of your brand. A content developer who will manage and grow your social media presence is a top priority.
  4. Photographer - Someone with skills in still and video who you work with continually in order to keep the aesthetic consistent across campaigns and content. Content is king these days!

The most important quality of these individuals, apart from their respective skill sets, is their commitment to you and your brand. People work harder and longer when they believe in what you’re doing. Try to involve people that you can foresee working with for the long run. Brand loyalty is everything.

Sharpen Your Story

Everyone is going to ask you the same questions over and over again, so ask yourself first and hone your answers so that you’re prepared for all the whys and whats that are coming your way.

How did you get started?

Why did you choose to pursue this business/product?

How did you come up with the name?

Who/what inspired you?

What elements were essential in building your brand?

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

What has been your biggest obstacle?

What keeps you going when it feels overwhelming?

What is your point of difference?

What is your mission?

Every brand has a story, and the more authentic the better. People can sense sincerity and it’s human nature to be drawn toward individuals and companies that possess a down-to-earth transparency. An audience wants to relate and feel connected to the brand, the founder, and the mission. When I first launched, I was so not ready to lay it all on the line. I told people that I was a makeup artist who was determined to create products that helped the customer be ABLE to achieve looks through my designs. This was  100% true, but only a part of the big picture that drove me. Fast forward three years and I’ve learned that a little bit of the truth isn’t enough for people - they want more. I recently opened up about my firsthand experience with learning disabilities, growing up petrified of the spotlight and uncomfortable with traditional education. I discussed how my journey as a student forced me to discover non-traditional, creative ways to solve problems and how ABLE grew from my frustrating challenges and my undying commitment to enabling my user to achieve something that felt previously insurmountable. Ever since I launched ABLE’s (my) real story, people have connected with the brand in different way. It’s not just a cool product line anymore. It’s an empowering solution to a problem, a remedy to an insecurity. I’m so glad I mustered the courage to get real with people and just wish I had done it sooner. Do as much as you can to get comfortable communicating your story from the start. It’s one of the few constants - own it.

Launch With A Look

Launching your brand with a look takes some homework, but research is a big part of starting any business. Whether you’re starting a beauty brand or building a company in another creative industry, it’s invaluable to dig into the demographics of your target consumer. Once you nail down your desired audience, you will have to do some market analytics on their behavior. More and more, businesses are leaning toward consumer-first marketing. It’s no longer solely focused on the strength product itself, but more so about how the product fits into the individual’s lifestyle and how that dictates what will work in the marketplace. Ask yourself questions like:

Where do they shop?

What do they wear?

What music do they like?

What kind of packaging are they drawn to?

How much expendable income do they have?

What other brands are they buying?

Who are they following on social media?

What does their day look like?

What do they believe in?  

Once you have these answers, you can begin to narrow in on your target consumer. My research led me to create products that solve application issues. I felt that the market I was seeking to tap would appreciate a cool, lasting, timeless, adjustable, day to night, office to party, sleek, chic, black, metropolitan, conscious eyeliner. So I made one.

Know Thy Customer

This is a continuation of #3 and once you know your people, it will be easier to identify the product (or in my case the look) that you want to launch with. It will also help value your customer and their spending power, ultimately leading you to your price point. Everyone has a different reality and the way individuals choose to allocate their money varies across ages, locations, priorities, etc. Identify the space you want to be in and take it from there. Research these questions about your consumer:

Where are they shopping?

What are their favorite brands?

How do those brands relate to yours?

Why do they patronize these brands?

What are the selling points that attract them?

Where do they spend their free time?

What do they do for work?

What are they NOT buying?

Once you tackle these questions, you can start exploring the marketplace more specifically by beginning to take cues from successful businesses in a similar space. It’s important to decide who your audience is and how they are going to evolve as time goes on and your business grows. Regardless of how classic a product, a brand needs to stay relevant by maintaining marketplace and consumer awareness. You have to be flexible. It doesn’t matter how much something makes sense. If it’s not resonating with your audience and converting to sales, then you have to tweak until it does. It’s about resisting the fads and finding your unique niche, asking yourself over and over as a founder, “What makes my brand/product better and how do I get them to appreciate that difference?” Having a deep and wide understanding of your people is the surest way to create fans and become profitable. If you are in a position to run demographically targeted ads online, it can be a great way to gain the attention of the consumers you’re seeking to convert.

Seek Out Mentors

I never knew how important mentors would be but when I finally found a number of different mentors along my journey as a business owner, everything changed for the better. They have more experience in their field and they can be excellent sounding boards, guiding you and offering sound advice. I have found that it’s helpful to find a few mentors, so you can speak with multiple people and learn from their different experiences and wisdom. It is important to realize that it’s not a one-way relationship and your fresh approach brings a new perspective and energy into their lives and businesses. You can find mentors through internships, business workshops, industry events, or even cold calling/emailing a brand creator you admire and ask them for a coffee/conversation. Just like I did as an eager high school student hungry to find a beauty mentor. I simply wrote a letter to Bobbi Brown and BAM! Before I knew it - I was in her office chatting about beauty and my future internship. You’d be surprised how many founders are eager to connect with like-minded leaders.

Go With Your Gut

Everyone has something to offer and everyone is going to help you get to the top. NOT. It’s important to not drink the Kool-Aid. As your business comes to fruition, people will often approach you to convince you of how badly you need them or their services. As a new business owner, it can be blindingly exciting to hear someone promise results or guarantee growth, but it’s important not to buy into all the hype. When you determine what positions you absolutely need to fill and what you are willing to let go of, make sure to do your research. Request recommendations, read reviews, and ask yourself if this is something you really need help with or is it something you could/should do yourself (even though you might not want to). Do the work if you can, and if you can’t, take your time to find someone that’s qualified, in it for the long haul and can really produce.

Know Your Numbers

Everyone starts with a certain amount of money.  How you are going to spend that money to get your business off the ground is what you need to figure out as soon as possible. What are your priorities? Do you want to budget for social media ads, influencer seeding, top quality ingredients, an interactive website, an employee with major experience? If so, in what order? What else? What is your fixed monthly overhead? What is your cost of goods, wholesale price, and retail price? Business plans are basic educated guesses. However, there is really no other way to think about your business if you don’t make an attempt to figure out your projections. It’s important to sit down and review everything, always remaining aware of the amount you have, what you need to spend to make your business happen, and what you need to earn to keep your boat afloat.

Be Ready To Fail

“Failure is another stepping stone to greatness” - Oprah Winfrey

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently” - Henry Ford

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”  - Winston Churchill

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over” - Richard Branson

There’s going to be failure. But take it from the greats, it’s simply part of of the process and it makes the successes even sweeter. Over the last few years, I’ve encountered many fellow founders across different industries and the common thread is that we all have our startup horror stories. It’s inevitable, so don’t take it personally when shit hits the fan. Try to take a breath and work with your people to understand the issue so that it doesn’t happen again. Whether it’s your own “fault” or someone else’s error, try not to be reactive and focus on dissecting the roadblock to make sure you understand exactly what went wrong.  It’s not really a mistake if you learn from it - or at least that’s what I tell myself! Remaining calm and moving forward with clarity is a keystone of being a successful and respected entrepreneur.

Take Your Time

Rushing is never the answer. Trust me, I know … because I rushed it. I was hustling so hard to check boxes and stay on a prescribed timeline, I rushed - which affected my first batch of products (see #8). I had to pause my business, start from scratch, and relaunch. Looking back, I really wish I had taken my time and told the external influences to take a hike. I let someone else determine the launch of my brand and my products that I had worked so hard on. I let their stresses about their part in the process hurry me. I should have taken a stand. I should have been the leader. I was young, inexperienced and nervous - and I got pushed around. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that things happen when they’re supposed to. This goes for everything in life: if something doesn’t feel totally right to you, wait until it is and trust your instincts. With 20/20 hindsight, doing things the right way and not the quick way is the most successful and fulfilling path. It’s going to cost more time and more money, but it’s worth the investment.  If I had just taken the moment to perfect my product and be thorough, I’d be further along. Lesson learned: launch with your best possible foot forward when the time is right.

Balance Is Everything

When I started ABLE it felt like I was in a never-ending cycle of stress - my sleepless nights and questionable eating habits had me feeling like I was on a totally different planet. I learned that finding that goop-level “balance” wasn’t going to happen as a new founder, but that I did need to strive to keep everything in as much order as possible, including myself. Since I was now officially my own boss, no one was telling me when or how to do things, so I had to create structure on my own. The thing that worked for me was this:

Getting a planner (old school, iCal, whatever works for you) and setting a time/day for even the little, everyday things. For example:

    • 6am - 9am: Me Time (workout, shower, breakfast, read something interesting)
    • 9am - 11am: Work Catch-Up (fulfil all new orders and answer unread customer emails)
    • 11am - 12pm: Film video

This way, nothing will feel out of whack and you’ll be able to see in writing that everything has a time and it’s all going to get done. Another great rule I recommend is a no phone policy. It’s very challenging, but if you can try to stay off your phone from 10pm - 6am during the week you’ll find you are a lot more focused and a lot less stressed. Use that time to connect with your loved ones, get some rest, and turn off your brain (good luck with that)! You might be thinking yeah right - that won’t work for me. Give it a shot, because even if it works just some of the time, you’ll feel a little more balanced.

I truly feel that launching my company in 2015 with no business background forced me to learn by diving in blind and headfirst. Starting a business is tough. It requires a lot of moving parts and a ton of energy. The reality is that launching a company means so much more than kissing goodbye that nine to five schedule. I really believe in ABLE, which doesn’t make the three AM emails or shipping headaches or missing out on a beach weekend with my friends easier, but it does make the successes feel completely worth it.

“Starting your own business isn’t just a job - it’s a way of life” - Richard Branson


Dana Rae, Founder of ABLE Cosmetics 

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