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Startup Reflections and Lessons Learned (2010 – 2014)

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This article is a little bit longer than usual, but it’s a special occasion. On April 16, I said “Hats Way Off…” and celebrated 4 years of being in business. Hi, I’m Kathy Bass and I’ve been writing since 2010. Yes, I am one of the rare 10% who writes on a regular basis. I’m not telling you this to brag, I’m telling you in hopes that the reasons why I love writing after a very rough, bumpy start may inspire you to write more. I am happy where writing has taken me as well as the doors of opportunity (speaking events, free admission to cover events, exclusive interviews, etc.) that regular writing has opened. It keeps my perspective in check and my progress on track. It also keeps me motivated to continually stay on top of industry changes and trends while being accountable to reflect and download my thoughts at least once a week.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Writing was a painful process and extremely hard for me to stay disciplined. You see I could only write 2-3 sentences and “volunteered” my husband to be my editor and, yes, my ghost writer. I started with my husband’s help and other people’s content (on an approved basis) as my crutch because I was afraid to share my brand voice. I wasn’t brought up that way, and yet was living in the dawn of the social media revolution which created a conflict. At this time, I was attending Toastmasters International to conquer my fear of public speaking because I had a deep desire to educate others on how to harness the power of branding and social media. Wanting to share my voice and reach as many people as possible drove me to push through the fears to improve and hone this important communication skill and branding tool. I was working hard and it was paying off. Every month I held seminars at a variety of locations with diverse audiences and speakers. After my first seminar, I was so excited to be able to share my voice, I was ready to go on a world tour – HA!

Lesson 1: Don’t get in your own way.
Solution: Ask yourself “Why?” you want to do something to discover the main motivators and save yourself from wasted time, energy and money.
Reflection: If someone asked me why I wanted to go on a world tour, I would have let them know that I wanted a business that would allow me to travel while working and visiting with family and friends. At that point, they would have asked me if I knew how much work it was to promote seminars in various cities and did I want to spend my time that way. To which I would have replied, “No way. Not for me.” At that point, I would have realized there were other ways to accomplish my “Why?”.

Fast forward to the second year where I still had not learned lesson 1 … Now I wanted to pursue Venture Capital (VC) money, become an author, then ride off into the sunset with all the millions I would earn – HA! I talked the game, had many meetings, attended pitch events, and kept drinking the Kool-Aid. As this ate up six months of my life, let’s get right into the second lesson (If anyone from those meetings or events is reading this – I’m sorry!).

Lesson 2: Don’t get in your own way (not learned yet) and don’t think that money is the only answer to your problems.
Solution: Stop trying to be something BIGger than you are. Stop trying to convince others of your idea potential. Go find people to test your idea on, so you will have a minimum viable product and proof of concept … something worth talking about, if you still decide to take the VC route. Also, you must build your audience while testing, retesting and testing some more.
Reflection: If someone asked me why I wanted VC money, I would have let them know it would mean I finally had a “real” business, so I could feel successful and validated. (Be nice now, I wasn’t aware of what I was doing.)

Ready for year three? I finished my book (120+ pages) and decided that the market wasn’t ready for it. HA! Wow, that ego sure is convincing. At this point, I decide to start pitching to publishers. This was at the same time self-publishing was becoming more popular. Randomly, I went hiking with a new industry friend via her invite on LinkedIn. She had just written a book and was getting ready to publish it. Along the climb up the mountain, my “AHA!” moment hit. I made the typical female mistake that I warned clients of … trying to do too much and trying to please everyone. Two days later, the book came back to life and after many revisions, at 42 pages, I hit print and was an author. I felt successful since I’d spent so many hours (thank you to my diligent, encouraging editor and insightful beta book group!) researching, testing, writing, and rewriting.

Lesson 3: Don’t get in your own way (not completely learned yet) and don’t think you need to be validated by others to feel successful.
Solution: Validate yourself and run a couple of small test groups to help you determine a fair price for your book and self-publish it sooner than later. You can always find a publisher later … if you still decide to take the publisher route.
Reflection: If someone asked me why I wanted a publisher, I would have let them know it would mean I was worthy of the author designation because someone else said so and then others would know I was successful.

Focus on doing what you can with what you have today, so you can be aware of opportunities and be resourceful in order to survive and evolve into a successful, sustainable, thriving business; one by yourself, one with various business partners or one with employees. Your choice. Just make sure to stay out of your own way and perform periodic self-checks using that powerful question: “Why?”. Who knows, maybe you’ll even start blogging again!

Four years later I have figured out how to get out of my own way (better late then never!) and reflecting back it feels like dog years. I have so much more to share, but wanting to respect your time, these top 3 lessons learned are what I see the majority of entrepreneurs struggling with … whether looking for speaking events, investors, publishers, sponsors or clients. Bottom line: Be yourself. Stop seeking outside validation or approval to feel successful. Celebrate your startup size, no matter how big or small, number of employees or number of ‘Likes.’ Keep learning, ask for help when you need it and enjoy the journey.

Let me know if you have any reflections or lessons you’d like to share, no matter how many months or years you’ve been in business. We’re all in this entrepreneurship marathon together — let’s continue learning from each other and growing.

In case you are wondering about how I survived, where I am today and where I am going with all these reflections and lessons (finally!) learned:
For the last four years, my business has been bootstrapped with minimal overhead, I’ve been extremely resourceful and have done a LOT of trade.

I’m happy to report my book at 42 pages, has received a variety of positive reviews that it comprehensively communicates the topic in a concise, effective, inspirational and actionable manner. Like Goldilocks said “Ahhh, this … is just right.” As far as the seminar, it is now a workshop, since I discovered that I, along with the active participants, enjoy and prefer interactive learning in order to achieve excellent results. The workshop is local in Phoenix until the end of May, then it will go virtual and pop-up in various cities (Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe, San Jose, Houston, etc). Feel free to contact me if you’d like me to come to your city or to be notified of future cities!

For the next two months, I have an intern (a future entrepreneur graduating from ASU this May!) helping me with a digital marketing campaign and video project. And as of April 15, I am an active business partner with a new team of mindful, savvy entrepreneurs who are building something that I dreamed about three years ago, so the future is looking bright!

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