I am not an expert. I am simply an entrepreneur, a dreamer who didn’t grow up and doesn’t give up. This is just one start-up story — my story and my 5 tips for building a company when a lot of the time you won’t know what you’re doing. Take what you like from it, leave the rest and remember time spent pursuing your passion is never wasted.
#1 Get out of your own way. Don’t let your own fear or the fears of others stop you.
Let me start this story with a lie you have to stop believing in order to build a company. It’s a big one. It’s one in the back of our heads that we tell ourselves A LOT (that I have told myself) which can stop a lot of us from ever even starting a company or really doing any # of things we want to do: That we can’t do it. Before we even start we often have already told ourselves we can’t do it because (1) we don’t know what we’re doing, (2) we’ve never done it before, (3) we’re not smart enough, (4) we don’t have the money, or (5) ___________ insert any other reason to quit anything before you even start here.
It’s just fear. Fear of failure, a bruised ego, self-judgment and fear of judgment from others. When we’re kids our parents say “you can be anything/do anything you want to do when you grow up” but somewhere along the way that message changes (they get scared too) and we stop believing it. We start coming up with a million reasons why we can’t do things.
The truth is no one, not even the most successful CEO of the most successful Fortune 500 company, really knows what they are doing. The more rooms I have been in with successful people doing “big things” the more I have seen this to be true. Most of them certainly know more than I do. But they have all failed. They have all fumbled their way through things, faced hurdles where they’ve thought “this is it, this is the end, I have no idea what to do.”
There is one constant in business (in relationships, in life) — that there will be problems, there will be hurdles, there will be struggles. You have to be a problem solver. The difference between successful and unsuccessful CEO’s and teams is the willingness and ability to adapt and preserver. Take your fears and your egos out of it and be willing to change.
#2 DO SOMETHING YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT.
I’m married with kids, but I came up with the idea of creating a dating-like app for couples one day when I was playing around on my sister’s Tinder account. It was fun and I said out loud to my sister in a disgusted tone,
Why isn’t there anything fun like this for us couples? You get in a relationship and all you get is shared calendars and to-do lists. ugh. I want a hookup app!
My sister, even though she was happily coupled-up, agreed and said she “missed swiping and playing around on Tinder.” (And before you send me hate mail and DMs, I know what you’re going to say and I get it. I’m sure it’s not that fun and that it gets really old! But my sister was pretty lucky and wasn’t on dating apps that long and I never got to try it. Total grass is greener on the other side syndrome.)
The next night I was wondering if my husband was in the mood and it dawned on me that he’s probably tried to read my mood so many times and about how we really do need our own fun hookup app. A few weeks later, after this misread “sext” resulted in a missed date and talking to my girlfriends about the idea of a dating-like app for couples and hearing their stories, I decided to build it.
YES we were arguing in the beginning of the text because it was two days before Christmas and Santa was supposed to be bringing bikes but he hadn’t gotten to the work shop. YES I am a terrible sexter and an exhausted mom who needed a better way!
I am passionate about relationships. About how real relationships have ups-and-downs and take work. About how you have to keep growing together if you want to happily coupled. I love creating tools to help couples have fun and stay connected. I love what I do, and in a start-up you have to LOVE it because you are going to be doing it A LOT. And you can’t lose when you are pursuing your passion. If you “build it” and they “don’t come” you haven’t failed! The journey is sometimes the accomplishment. And every day you spend pursuing what you are passionate about is a day fulfilled, a day lived. So just build it.
#3 JUST Decide To Do It. AND ACCEPT THAT THERE WILL BE A LOT OF TIMES YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING but trust yourself and your ability to figure it out.
Now you’re wondering, how did you do it? What’s your background? Are you a software engineer, one of the few amazing women who code #GirlsWhoCode, no unfortunately not. Are you super wealthy? Sadly another no.
What I did have going for me when I started is I come from a long line of entrepreneurs who gave me the opportunity to be the first in my family to go to college and then law school. A grandfather who started a successful manufacturing company with only a third grade education and couldn’t read or write, a father who took it over after his father and brother died, a mother who opened her own restaurant after 20 years as a stay-at-home mom. Who all taught me what it means to work hard.
A little over five years ago we needed to sell our first house. We had just had the twins and had outgrown it. But the housing market was still down and we had overpaid and were going to lose $. I decided to get my real estate license to save on commissions. Two years later that license would come in handy. I used it to start this company. With a 5 year-old and 2-years old twins I took on a second job as a real estate agent to get the money I needed to start.
A year or so ago I was having a conversation with someone who wanted to start her own company. She asked me how I started my company and I said, “I just decided to do it.” She said she had no idea how to build the product she wanted to build. And I told her, “no one does until you do it the first time.” I believe with my whole heart that if you decide you are going to do something you really can do anything. If this is your passion, if this is your calling, you can and will figure it out.
I was listening to The School of Greatness with Lewis Holmes podcast today and he interviewed Scott Harrison the founder and CEO of the non-profit charity: water that provides clean and safe drinking water to developing nations. He was a former nightclub promoter! He sold everything he had and decided to change his life and now he is changing the world.
In my opinion, the first step is not retaining an expensive lawyer to draw up a fancy nondisclosure agreement (I actually recommend disclosing your idea to everyone — and don’t worry about them stealing it either because you are going to work harder than anyone if it’s your calling, your passion). The first step is to just decide to do it and to start working on it. For me that was finding a team, a designer, then a developer.
These were BIG start-up obstacles especially when you don’t have a technical background and you’re a thirty something year-old mom who doesn’t exactly run into Silicon Valley coders in her day. For you it might be finding out how to design and build a new product and where to manufacture it.
Again, once you decide to do it — and that you will figure it out no matter what — you will! I’ve had to teach myself so much. And remember we’ve got it so much easier than the entrepreneurs in the generations before us: we have Google, we have YouTube where you can watch videos and teach ourselves almost anything, we have Linkedin where you can reach out and ask an extended network of business connections for help and more!
#4 Don’t Quit. Don’t even let yourself think about quitting.
We are a young company but I have already had a lot of ups-and-downs. I was featured on the news a few times early on before I had even finished the app. I was also asked to apply for a national TV show featuring start-up entrepreneurs and made it very far in the process before I was ultimately not selected. But looking back who could blame them, I didn’t even have a product yet! I’ve been told “no” in basically every way you can be told no.
I could have quit so many times — after the millionth “no” or my son’s third heart surgery in a year — but I am still here working toward the dream I have for a community of couples who have the audacity to promise to be with each other FOR LIFE without even knowing what that really means and the courage to keep fighting for that promise and each other. A community of couples who are different. Who don’t believe in quitting. Who want to grow together and stay Coupled. A community of couples who are extraordinary.
“Perseverance” is the word of the year for my daughter’s kindergarten class (It really is true that everything we need to know we already learned in kindergarten!) I am grateful to my daughter’s teacher for choosing this word and teaching her that it’s not about how smart she is or what she knows now — it’s about making mistakes and not giving up. Everything in life is trial and error, everything is grit.
#5 LISTEN TO CRITICISM AND BE WILLING TO CHANGE EVERYTHING.
If you think about it anytime you set out to create something new, it often turns into something different than you initially expected it to (a new recipe, your kids diorama, a drawing, or a speech). And when you take feedback from others it evolves into more than you could have individually imagined.
On the first version of In the Mood you could only send a very basic invitation to your partner. But with feedback from experts and couples it has changed so much! Now it’s like Paperless Post/Evite meets Tinder for couples with fun & sexy pre-designed cards to choose from you can customize your invitations to create your perfect date!
One of the biggest criticisms we received from couples in the first version is that we didn’t have enough date ideas. Now, there are 100s of date ideas!! You play a matching game with your partner to create a mutual wish list of date ideas. (And if you like a date and your partner doesn’t they will never know!)
Couples also wanted gifts ideas. The app now has gift ideas for any occasion. You can even use the gifts in the store to flirt with each other in-app, “I’m bringing this!”
And we’re still working! Up next a community feature where couples can connect and share stories, advice and inspiration with each other publicly or anonymously.
I know I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I wish more CEO’s would talk about all of the things they didn’t know when they started (that they still don’t know) and how they just kept (keep) taking steps forward. But such openness and honestly about the lack of control we all have (in business and in life) is counter-productive to raising necessary capital, leading teams and building companies. Everyone wants a plan, they want you to convince them that it is a winner. Honestly, the plan is not the point. Of course you need one. But more importantly you have to be willing to change that plan. To adapt and preserver. Remember: you can do anything you decide to do and don’t quit on.