Two years ago, when I realized the women of my fight community were griping about the lack of quality gear for women that wasn't pink and was equally on par with men's gear, I wanted to see if the sentiment was the same in other communities. That curiosity led to developing a focus group of 100 women, who galvanized under the same sentiment - that we deserved training gear that respected our athleticism. No one could've told me that this position is where I'd (and eventually, WE, with my badass team) end up...
...and even more opportunities in the works that I hope we lock down by the end of 2016 and share with you!
With wins comes challenges, losses and in some cases "this can't be happening to us moments" (for all of our Kickstarter backers, you got an exclusive look into all of that the past year!) Starting a company is absolutely the hardest thing anyone could ever possibly do.
If there's anything I can tell you though, it would be that I wouldn't change a single thing. It's opened up opportunities and relationships that would've never been possible if I hadn't made the leap and more importantly, asked for help along the way.
I've had the honor and pleasure of working with students at the high school, undergrad and MBA levels, as well as speaking on different panels and events. The more I do it, the more I realize I get asked very similar questions around my experiences crowdfunding, starting a company, etc...so, with this post I'd like to condense and share some of those learnings for all of you, and hopefully it well help you on your own journeys as well.
1. Don't expect to put up a Kickstarter campaign, and have it raise itself.
My team - which included not just the designers on my team, but photographer, film directors (they did our commercial + Kickstarter video), PR rep to help us craft our story - worked for a solid 3-4 months brainstorming, planning, scheduling and drafting EVERYTHING. Everything from our story, our message, how we communicate, how we reach out, when we reach out, WHO we reach out to...you name it, we had a plan of attack.
2. During the campaign, connect with as MANY people as possible.
We identified the communities that we felt our brand and story would resonate with the most and began a pre-campaign outreach effort, reaching out to them via email and Twitter. While not everyone responded immediately, it took some initial traction to get others excited, involved and willing to support us in our campaign efforts.
3. Be patient, resilient and genuine.
Sounds novel, right? But I think when I stayed real with EVERYONE around me - team, friends/fam, others who were eyeing our campaign - and spoke from the heart about my passion, excitement, but also my fear about failing and letting people down, a lot of people rallied. It takes a village.
4. Be intentional with your time - BE PRESENT.
During the Kickstarter campaign, I intentionally set 2-3 hour black out periods to just BE. Eat lunch, or dinner; exercise, interact with people...I shut off my phone, and didn't look at my computer. I had to in order to stay sane, and keep up the energy and pace because as soon as I DID get connected online again, it was on. I still continue that habit to this day - if you have a startup, you KNOW you will be working mornings, days, nights. So take the time to be present - have blackout periods on the regular. It's a habit that I've adopted permanently and it has changed my life and allows me to be even MORE effective when I'm "on" - for myself, my team and anyone else who interacts with me.
5. Post campaign, if your project involves product, don't ever underestimate how unexpected and crazy certain challenges can be.
We dealt with issues with our apparel factory (unrelated to something we caused, it was internal issues on their end) that we could've never foreseen and are only JUST finishing the last pieces of our production run now. That whole experience was enough to age me five years. Having said that, you just have to keep doing the best you can - my biggest focus was being transparent with Kickstarter backers. It has had a great impact on our ability to connect with them. BE REAL with them - don't even try to pretend. It isn't worth the energy, and more importantly it's not worth the risk losing all of your relationships with your backers. They pay attention, they remember, and they will know. They are also insanely forgiving when you remind them that you are human and doing everything you possibly can to get it done - and the way you remind them is through transparency.
Remember - your brand + products would not get an initial jump off point without them. They are your early adopters - and they are a critical group. Don't ever forget that.
6. Celebrate wins.
I have a running Google doc called "Society Nine Wins" that I use to track every milestone...internal and external; so maybe it's landing that one investor meeting I've been trying to get, or notable press, or product successes. I'm a very competitive person, and so by nature I am CONSTANTLY telling myself how much things could be better. I'm also hard on myself - surprised, anyone? But I've developed a habit now of making sure I am intentional, with reflection. It's easy to talk all about what is wrong, and in that you lose sight of all that has been accomplished. So PARTY ON! Within reason.
7. Ask for help.
You can't expect to receive help if you don't ask for it - but I've realized that most people are really scared to ask for it for fear of shame, weakness or troubling the person on the other side. Well, QUIT IT! You'd be amazed at the power of community and how quickly that will accelerate your company's progress. It's all about grace in the ask, and the gratitude shown afterward. I still write thank you emails, hand written cards and in some cases send small gifts as tokens of appreciation. I'm not 100% perfect at it, but I make a habit of remembering as best I can because those actions make an impression on people, and the universe.
If the person you are asking can't help, or isn't willing to help, then at the ABSOLUTE worst case they say no. However, the best case is they say "yes I can help," or "no, BUT I know a handful of people or someone who could." Social capital is a powerful thing - use it! Just remember to pay it forward next time someone asks you for help, as well as give gratitude as best you can. We are all humans, with dreams - most people will empathize and rally around that. It's all about humility.
So, what are you waiting for? Go out and launch something!