On April 7-8, there was a two-day intensive workshop where 200 female startup founders gathered to learn, pitch, get inspired and mingled with other entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors. It was the second annual Project Entrepreneur Intensive sponsored by UBS and the Rent the Runway Foundation. I was selected as one of 200 and participated in it. It was an overwhelming experience and I would love to share the highlight of what I learned there.
The power of not knowing how things are supposed to be done.
When I face a challenge to run my startup business (finding early adopters, fund-raising, building the team, design our website, business cards, and logo on a limited budget, improving my pitch, defining target customers and markets…you name it), I tend to go to the internet and search for methods, tools, webinars, hacks and tips or ask for advice from experts or mentors. I could find so much of them and I got overwhelmed.
The keynote conversation by Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx who is the youngest female self-made billionaire, was an eye-opener. When she tried to find buyers of her early products, she simply cold-called. Yes, she called the headquarter of Neiman Marcus. No trade show. No Linkedin. And when her products became available in seven stores, she again called anyone she knew in these seven cities and asked to buy her product and promised to send a check.
Startups are different from non-startup small businesses. We try to offer a new solution and new value. For moving our unique business forward, traditional methods do not always help even though these are proven to work. This taught me that, if I struggle to break a wall through and tried it with a sledgehammer and a power drill and those did not work, I don’t have to hesitate to pick up the bronze lion on my father’s desk and hit the wall with it. That may work.
“Courage is muscle. We can strengthen it by training it. “
But trying something entirely new sounds risky. If that new thing is just from your head, not from a Harvard professor nor from a multi-millionaire entrepreneur, it sounds much riskier and, much scarier to try. That is why I cannot forget that Sara said “I am not fearless, I am courageous. Courageous is doing something despite of fear, not absence of fear… Courage is like muscle. We can strengthen it by training it.”
Being myself is fine.
The key note conversation impressed me a lot. I got a feeling of “OMG she is such a wonderful, powerful, outgoing, determined and fun person. I am not like her.” But do I have to be like her?
Maybe the atmosphere of the Project Entrepreneur Intensive did magic to me. It was so inclusive, accepting, friendly and positive. At breakfast, lunch and reception parties, I met many women who are unique and confident and that really made me believe that each of us has our own personality and we just need to build “muscle” on it. This strong feeling of self-affirmation is the greatest asset I got from the event.
And surprisingly, I could see a very positive result of this within a few weeks (see my next blog entry). I went to a pitch competition later in April and this was my first time that I did not hesitate to let my personality go on the stage. I was nervous, I did not hide it. I had my dream and my vision, I did not cut it down to talk more about our technology. And the result was a big win: I got double prizes of Audience Choice and Investor’s Choice.
The full keynote conversation between Spanx CEO and Founder Sara Blakely and CNN’s Poppy Harlow is available on Project Entrepreneur website along with the one between Jenny Fleiss, Co-Founder of Rent the Runway, and Kori Hale, anchor of Cheddar TV.