I have been a patron of Shobha threading salons since 2001. I have also been in awe of founder Shobha Tummala’s success as she has grown from one retail location to FOUR in Manhattan! Shobha Tummala, CEO and Founder of Shobha salons, in turn, has been a supporter of mine, when I was fundraising in 2010 for my social justice film “First Sight.”
June 24th, as Shobha readies to open her fifth salon in Washington, D.C., she shares, in her own words, via podcast and this blog, “10 Things No One Ever Told You About Starting Your Own Business.” I love point ten, because everyday, as I balance my part-time on-air work with my commitment to LadyDrinks, I think about making meaningful money, as opposed to just ‘make money.’
Shobha is also a featured panelist for our September 5th discussion on being a “MOMPRENEUR: Achieving that mythical work life balance.”
Next Ladydrinks is a workshop on the 9 tools women can use to change the way they think about power, led by Gloria Feldt @Pranna Restaurant. July 11th 6-9pm Buy your ticket here: http://www.eventbrite.com/event/7036948703
Being an entrepreneur is glamorous! Or at least everyone thinks that it is. We often hear rags-to-riches stories of businesses born in garages with no money and in just a few short years they go public or are sold for millions and in some cases billions of dollars. It has that David and Goliath appeal where the underdogs work 80 -100 hours a week and then cash in, which makes owning your own business sexy. Don’t get me wrong, I think those things can happen. In fact, a friend of mine started a business around the time that I did and he sold it for $250 million a few years ago and is already onto his next venture. But, for every glamorous idea or notion there is about being an entrepreneur (being your own boss, setting your own hours, quick money, complete autonomy over shaping the idea and taking it to fruition…), there are things that are not so easy that you have to remember.
1. Always on Call
You never stop working or never stop thinking about your work. It permeates your entire life. Work and play kind of merge together and can be really difficult on your kids, husband, family, and friends.
2. Ambiguity is your new best friend You have to be comfortable with less structure. You have no one that is prioritizing which issues you should be working on like in school, where a whole semester’s worth of work was mapped out for you. You are not only in the position to figure out what you need to work on first, second, third, but for everyone else in the company.
3. You have just become a Salesperson!
You have to learn how to toot your own horn, well and often. You have to put yourself out there which seems hard for a lot of us to do, especially for women. I think this fear can actually hold people back from doing their own thing. As a business owner, you will be selling your idea to everyone – landlords that are leasing you space when you have no revenues, potential employees you are recruiting based on a concept and how it is going to be a great company before there even is one, and vendors that you need to sell you just 50-100 units instead of their required 100,000 unit minimum order all the while still investing time and money in you and your idea.
4. Abandon the Validation Game You are used to being affiliated with big universities, big corporations, powerful institutions, so when you call on their behalf, you are used to people listening and taking the phone call. When you start your own business you have to be OK with finding validation for yourself with your own company even at its start. This is true even when you go to a dinner party. We are all so used to identifying ourselves with where we work, that when we start our own business, this can feel very hard.
5. Let Go of Your Ego
Take out the garbage, sweep the floors, fix the printer, fax your own stuff, be the receptionist, do the bookkeeping, order supplies…You have to be willing to do it – ALL. You can’t value your time the way you used to when you had abundant resources. You have to reset your value calculator – your time is now worth very little because it is free!
You have to learn to work around other people’s schedules. I had someone tell me about a writer who flew to Hollywood to meet with some producer and he was supposed to meet with him one day and the producer was not available so the assistant kept pushing him off and finally said his next opening is going to be next month. So, the writer flew home and flew back in a month and got the meeting. I am not sure if it worked out or not, but the point of the story is that that type of persistence is necessary without letting your ego get in the way. This can be difficult.
6. You have to be a ‘CCO’ before you are a ‘CEO’ (“Chief Cultural Officer” before you are a “Chief Executive Officer”)
You are the leader now and you have to set an example for your employees. You should embody the principles of what you are trying to be. If you want your team to work smart, be frugal, think of the company first, then you have to practice those same ideals otherwise they won’t believe in them.
7. You Better have Tough Skin Make sure you have thick skin from the start, so that you can be resilient to the naysayers that are not going to believe in the concept, the investors that turn you down and the family members that think you’re insane. After you have a proven concept and you are building the company, you still have to stick to your guns, especially when you begin creating structures, processes, roles, responsibilities and someone is not be happy with something. Trust yourself that you know it’s the right thing in the long run.
8. Street Smarts > IQ I think this is always a controversial topic, but it is one that my ex-Consultant friends (who are also now entrepreneurs) and I discuss all the time. We have been trained in environments where IQ does matter. The smarter you are at the banks and the consulting firms, the better you are going to do. In the entrepreneurial world, it requires a different type of smarts. The landlord wants to know that you are going to pay the bill because you have run a salon before not because you have worked at Bain for big multi-nationals. They are going to say, “Yeah, but do you have experience in doing this?”
Understand and acknowledge the difference between thinking skills and doing skills. First you have to think about what needs to be done – How do you set up the structure of the company? How do you set up a website from scratch? How do you set up a bookkeeping system that works? How do you find contractors to do the build out? How do you negotiate with vendors, landlords and employees? How do you set up an incentive mechanism for the employees when you are 5, 10 not when you are 500? Then after you’ve thought about them, you have to get them done – execute your thinking. These lessons aren’t taught in school, so you have to learn them on the “street.”
9. Connect with Amazing Mentors and Advisors You will utilize your mentors and advisors a lot, especially at the beginning. As I mentioned before, no classroom quite prepares you for the daily demands of starting a business, like negotiating a lease, so you need guidance. If you build a good network of folks that you can rely on, it can help you drastically in the hurdles you will face throughout the life cycle of your organization.
10. Money (or lack thereof) I didn’t take a salary for the first few years of the business. I found other sources of money so I could float the business and myself. Then, when we started becoming profitable, I ended up taking a small salary. There are always going to be other things in the business that you need to invest in so it is a constant balancing act.
So, if it’s so hard, why do it? I do it because at the end of the day, I LOVE it! I love the entire entrepreneurial process and figuring out how to navigate through all the challenges it provides. I have learned so much about myself and the world, and met some of the most amazing people in my life because of this business. It’s an avenue I have been able to use to change
things that I found in the beauty industry that I didn’t like. Everything from the working conditions and pay practices for my employees to customer service and quality standards for my clients. So, do it because you are passionate about your concept and you want to introduce a product or service that is going to make the world a better place. Don’t do it for the promise of quick, easy money, the journey won’t feel nearly as valuable!