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"In today's complex and fast moving world, what we need more than foresight or hindsight is insight."

BrandView Communications is a consultancy founded by Laura McGowan Fry.  Laura is a customer insights professional who specializes in digital strategy, ux testing, and market research.
 

Top Ten Key Learnings from Project Entrepreneur - Washington D.C.

I spent last Saturday, a beautiful fall day, in Georgetown. The morning was spent walking the beautiful cobblestone streets, exploring the business school at Georgetown University and walking the quaint-historic neighborhoods with my husband, Stephen.

The afternoon was spent networking with a host of nationally acclaimed female entrepreneurs + a host of aspiring business owners in Halcyon House, an incubator for social change. 

The event, targeted at female entrepreneurs was sponsored by UBS.  I learned a great deal from those two steps ahead of me and am pleased to share some of my learnings from the afternoon.

Fifteen factoids from my afternoon attending “Project Entrepreneur” …

1.     According to The 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses by Womenable, “Women start companies at a rate 1.5 times the national average but account for less than 10 percent of founders at high-growth firms.”  The full report can be found here

2.     Jenn Hyman, Co-founder of Rent the Runway advises women entrepreneurs to “Run as quickly as possible at your idea.”

3.     There is money out there for female entrepreneurs. A fear of funding should not keep you from launching. Get creative. Options include: angel investors, crowd funding, venture capital, marketing contests, self-funding/bootstrapping, and the list goes on. (Angela Lee So, CEO/Founder of 37 Angels)

4.     Women are far less likely to seek and obtain business loans in this country. (Angela Lee So, CEO/Founder of 37 Angels)

5.     Chief Communications officer for UBS Group Americas, Marsha Askins, stressed the very real commitment UBS has made to support female entrepreneurs. UBS’s sponsorship of Project Entrepreneur is proof positive.

6.     Ask for money from business lenders you have no intention of accepting money from for your business. Make note of their questions and concerns. Prepare a well-developed funding pitch presentation that proactively addresses all recorded questions and concerns. Then, and only then, do you request funding from your preferred lenders. (Jenn Hyman, Co-founder of Rent the Runway)

7.     Test your ideas early and regularly. Make sure your idea is a viable one and that people are willing to pay for your idea/product/service. Do not assume that because you find your business idea compelling, others will too.

Build a personal advisory board made up of friends who are at the same stage in their entrepreneurial journey. Your board should be made up of people who are willing to tell you the truth.  Parents, BFFs, etc. do not make good board members. They want to tell you what you want to hear not what you need to hear. (Jenn Hyman, Co-founder of Rent the Runway)

8.     If possible, partner. Investors tend to prefer investing with teams rather than solo entrepreneurs.  Many believe it is difficult for one person to be good at everything. (Angela Lee So, CEO/Founder of 37 Angels). Jenn Hyman recommends you select someone that compliments, not duplicates, your greatest skills.

9.     Learn to accept the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne, Co-founder of Georgetown Cupcake and co-star of TLC’s DC Cupcakes, admits that the early days of launching a business can be unsettling. “You are always wondering if people are going to walk through your doors,” she admits. The key to happiness as an entrepreneur is to become comfortable with the uncertainty of your new journey.

10.   Sophie’s sister and business partner Katherine Kallinis Berman elaborates explaining one of her greatest lessons was learning to trust herself and her personal marketability, knowing that if the cupcake business failed, she and her sister could always find work elsewhere.

11.   Let data drive much of your decision making – know who is buying your product, what they are buying (flavors, etc.), when they are buying it (time of day, day of the week, month of the year, etc.), how they are buying it (brick & mortar vs. online sales), where they are placing their orders, where the items are being delivered. These statistics will inform future product offerings, purchasing decisions, product promotions, etc. (Sophie LaMontagne Kallinis, Co-founder of Georgetown Cupcake and co-star of TLC’s DC Cupcakes)

12.   Connect with your customers. Utilize social media to foster dialog. Be charitable by giving back to those in your target audience – in person events where you interact with your community are best.  Be seen working hard in your retail space. Sophie LaMontagne Kallinis shares how she dons an apron and is seen boxing cupcakes in each of she and Katherine’s stores. Customers are always pleasantly surprised to see her completing day-to-day tasks.

13.   Be careful of becoming too loyal to your suppliers. Evaluate your suppliers’ pricing, services and product offerings regularly. Georgetown Cupcake admits that they have stuck with some suppliers longer than they should have – purely out of a sense of loyalty. (Sophie LaMontagne Kallinis, Co-founder of Georgetown Cupcake and co-star of TLC’s DC Cupcakes)

14.   The ten slides you need to include in your funding pitch presentation:

a.     Elevator pitch: Be able to explain exactly what your business offers – avoid scope creep

b.     Problem: Know your prospective customers’ main pain points

c.     Solution: Your product/service must be the solution to your customers’ problem

d.     Team: Include an overview of you and your current team.  Include timing of bringing on additional team members and the roles these team members will play.

e.     Market size: Your product is not for everyone. Know your target audience, how big the target it, what differentiates this target from the masses

f.       Business model: have a clearly developed business plan

g.     Customer acquisition – know how much money it takes to acquire a new customer and how much each customer is worth

h.     Traction – show investors that you have a viable business with paying clients – clear – quick – timeline to profitability. Now your number inside and out!

i.       Competition: Know your competition. Know what differentiates you and your product/services from the competitive set.

j.       Deal terms: How the worth of your product/service and the terms you are offering and willing to agree upon.

                (Angela Lee So, CEO/Founder of 37 Angels)

 

15.   Speakers stressed the importance of staying abreast of trends and gaining tips for further success by reading.

a.     Angela Lee So’s reading recommendations focus on productivity. Books and articles that share Cal Newport’s productivity advice are at the top of her list.

·      So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love and

·      Eric Barker’s article featuring Cal, How to be the most productive person in the office and still get home by 5:30

 

b.     Sophie LaMontagne Kallinis recommends you stay abreast of trends by reading books designed for educating entrepreneurs - Fast Company, Entrepreneur and Inc. are on she and her sister Katherine’s “must read” list.

 

And, my favorite quotation of the day …

“Nothing grows straight to heaven without troubles," Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne, Co-founder of Georgetown Cupcake