“You’re a character in your story
and you need to develop that character.
If you never begin, the end isn’t up to you.”
~ Hello Holiday
When you’re a solopreneur, it is important to build community and also continue to learn from others. Faced with a sense of loneliness, serial entrepreneur Stefanie Monge decided to create her own community, and launched the ThinkStartDo conference this year. Inaugural events are hard to gauge, but I knew one of my favorite serial entrepreneurs would be speaking, and I was looking to mingle with people from other states, so I signed up the moment I heard this conference would be in Chicago. I am so glad I made the monetary and time investment.
On Thursday evening we gathered at Emporium in Wicker Park to mix and mingle. Since I was upgraded to the VIP package I got to meet the guest speakers early, and enjoyed chatting with Nebraska and Iowa-based business owners over a pint of Magnetron (one has to support women-owned breweries, ya know!). We feasted on Nori Sushi.
On the way home I scoped out the Jackson Junge Gallery which hosted our event.
On Friday I took the Metra in to Wicker Park, Angel’s first ride.
I walked the chilly 20 minutes through the neighborhood and admired remnants of Chicago History.
We were treated to a wonderful breakfast and I chatted with some early bird attendees before the program began.
Many people had traveled from out of state, only to be greeted by snow in April.
Co-Founders Megan Hunt and Sarah Lorsung Tvrdik spoke about their journey to launching Hello Holiday, from being rejected by various venture capitalists to raising their initial $3,000 startup fund from garage sales. Three and a half years later, they have upgraded their web site and inventory on various occasions, and also opened a brick & mortar store in Omaha.
Sarah stressed how she needed a partner to push her to become an entrepreneur after years of being interested but not feeling like she could be an entrepreneur herself. Megan was exploring a new venture after various business launches didn’t challenge her anymore, and wholeheartedly bought into Sarah’s idea of an online fashion boutique.
“I was always doubting myself and
thinking I couldn’t work as hard as other entrepreneurs.
I was talking myself out of things.
Then I realized there is no special set of rules
that defines you as an entrepreneur compared to other people.”
~ Sarah Lorsung Tvrdik
By actively documenting the business launch on social media, Sarah and Megan created a connection with customers, emphasizing transparency in the behind-the-scenes aspects of their business. “As soon as you have a product ready to launch, launch it. Your first product won’t be the best,” Megan said. The duo also quickly invested in hiring a part-time employee to ensure they still had time for strategy and business growth rather than getting too much into the weeds of the business.
The Brick & Mortar store also launched quickly a year and a half ago when an opportunity arose, rather than when Megan and Sarah truly felt ready for it. They now have several employees and moved into larger space to scale for further growth.
“We want to help women feel their best.”
~ Megan Hunt
Actively engaged in the Omaha community, Megan and Sarah strive to be as inclusive as possible to be accessible to women of all sizes, all races, and all walks of life. So was this conference. I expected the attendees to skew toward the late 20’s age group, but we had women and men of a variety of ages and in various stages of life in attendance. Some founders still worked full time at other jobs while developing ventures, others launched businesses after layoffs, and many had a blend of part-time gigs and business ownership or multiple enterprises.
Author and Consultant Stacey Flowers actively decided to fight statistics when she became a teen mom. During her pregnancy, people not only told her that she wouldn’t graduate, but also spouted statistics about her child ending up on welfare, not graduating high school, and ending in jail. She started college with her 3-week old baby strapped to her at the College of St. Mary, and strove to become the best version of herself. Through her network of helpers in raising her child, she was able to pursue her masters and launch an HR consulting firm.
Stacey said the Greek root of passion is to suffer, and said the key to finding your passion is asking yourself: “What are you willing to suffer for?” Her passion is to help people in their education and growth and development, not only by supporting her family through college but also with helping others pursue their happiness.
“Happiness is not uninterrupted moments of bliss.
Happiness is unleashing your god-given talent
and positively influencing this world.”
~ Stacey Flowers
Once you have defined your passion, it is important to know your purpose, which can be developed with the following three questions:
1. What is the thing I got into trouble for most as a child?
2. What irritates me the most?
3. What completely delights me?
Stacey got in trouble for talking too much, indicating her calling for being a speaker. The thing that irritates you will ensure you don’t do that thing, and likely complements a need someone else has. Where you find your joy is where you find your purpose.
Upon discovering your passion and purpose, learning your platform is key. Stacey distinguished between public and private gifts. While she is compelled to speak and be on YouTube and do consulting work, her son’s gift is more private. He supports his peers privately when they experience bullying, and is a justice advocate through private empowerment rather than public activism.
“No one asks: How is Bill Gates juggling his career and family?
We are no different from dad entrepreneurs.”
~ Jill Salzman
Jill Salzman started Founding Moms when she had a baby and needed a way to network in a kid-friendly space. Six years later, the Meetup has expanded to 50 cities around the world. She shared three top tips for parentpreneurship:
1. There is no such thing as balance. Jill stressed that she has kid days and she has work days, but she hardly manages to juggle quality time with both in a single day. Key is to choose a priority for that day, and then make up for the other things on another day.
2. Your schedule is your own. Jill fell into the trap of accepting meetings at all times, and over time learned to carve out days just for herself so she would not burn out. She said taking control of her schedule by not booking meetings one weekday helped her be more efficient the rest of the week.
3. Tools Jill listed 4 apps as her go-to tool: Slack, Evernote, Hurdler (an accounting app) and Colorfy.
“The balance thing
is like hiking in a desert and looking at an oasis.”
~ Jill Salzman
Sarah Baker was bullied in High School and strove to find a way of lifting others up with her business venture. Balanced Babe is a wellness and lifestyle brand built on numerous strategic partnerships.
Sarah emphasized that when looking for strategic partnership the key is to ensure the project is mutually beneficial. Strategic partnerships help support fellow entrepreneurs, offer increased promotion and awareness, and can give you an edge over your competition.
“There is enough success to go around for everyone.”
~ Sarah Baker
Marketing partnerships can be created via:
1. Email: Cross-promote a complementary business with a lead-generating call to action in an email blast
2. Social Media campaigns: Create a social media campaign together
3. Influencers: Offer products or features to influencers and bloggers who can promote your brand
4. Events: bring each other’s networks together through workshops and events
5. Articles: contribute your expertise to articles online and offline
“Expect to make friends.
You have a value that you can give another person.”
~ Sarah Baker
Sarah recommends writing down three partnerships that would benefit your brand. Then research the brand, reach out, negotiate and secure the partnership, execute the plan, and assess the results.
There are potential pitfalls to partnering. Sarah cautioned against not being a consultant to the other brand and to gauge if someone is mining for information vs. genuinely interested in a win-win situation. She said she reached out to 20 people a day to generate her first partnerships and followed up three times.
The panel Turning Passion Into Action helped us pick the brains of Crystal Shuller, Director of Customer Happiness at ReviewTrackers; Maggie Norris, Startup Weekend Organizer; Ari Krzyzek, Creative Entrepreneur, Designer, and Creative Director at Chykalophia; and Steve Daar, Founder of Conversion for Good and author of Profit Hacking. We discussed how to maintain momentum, asking for help, hiring help and overcoming fears.
Prior to lunch, we were introduced to the Hovalin, a 3-D printed Stradivarius violin replica. Kaitlyn and Matt Hova showed the numerous iterations they went through to develop this violin with a home-based 3-D printer.
It took a year and a half before v1.0 was launched. There were three failed prints for every good prototype and 20 pounds of plastic was wasted.
After creating the version Kaitlyn could play, the couple realized that this would help numerous families with children interested in violin lessons. Hovalin hopes to help save school music programs through STEM grants by letting schools print their own instruments. Hovalin is open source for people to print at home and can also be purchased fully printed for $65.
V2.0 has been launched and is inexpensive, not fragile and not shrill, defeating the barriers Kaitlyn’s family faced when she begged to play the violin. Kaitlyn’s rendition of wildest dreams brought many of us to tears.
There was ample time for mingling and networking during lunch. More wisdom was shared in the afternoon, which I’ll post in part II.
“You need to take responsibility
for your future and an idea you have.”
~ Megan Hunt