8 Lessons Learned From Bootstrapping An Ethical Startup

8 Lessons Learned From Bootstrapping An Ethical Startup

The Virginia Velocity Tour was everything that it was promoted to be and more. I still remember sitting in a coffee shop in the months leading up to the VA Velocity Tour and getting acquainted with the opportunity for the first time. I felt strong about what was happening in my home state but at the same time I knew this would be a major opportunity if I could just get on that stage.

Rewind the time a little bit, I have taken a road to starting a company that is anything but straight. Before I had the opportunity to interact with New Richmond Ventures and other esteemed investors, I bootstrapped my company with a combination of personal savings, grants, and customer orders. This post is for anyone that finds the dilemma of starting a company but doesn’t realize the opportunity that they have.

There is a big upside in today’s startup environment and when you have a good idea it is always a good idea to start a business.

1. Internet. The internet and social media have played a tremendous role in helping my company get discovered. It is a big opportunity available to anyone starting a business today. The challenge becomes how do you get your message across and how do you find customers? The fact that it is easier and quicker to reach new audiences by using social media makes it much easier for everyone to produce content. Where there is more content supply the demand is reduced.

Even though I studied a lot about the internet in school and I can see the effects of it in my every day life I still have to start from the bottom in terms of finding new customers for my company. The biggest misconception I have found is that there are many ways to get the same outcome but what becomes important is to get involved. I learned that most people put an emphasis on using a product and thinking that that translates to them knowing how to sell it. These are very different ideas.

2. Hard work. Even though there are new easier ways to get products and services into the hands of consumers it is not the end of the story. The amount of work required to a product to have amazing results takes a lot of work. The time commitment is just what I thought it would be and even more fun than I imagined. The interesting thing I find is the amount of hard work that isn’t happening. When I talk about what I do and how much work it is people look at me like I’m an alien or something.

There are very few companies that have made it big without putting in a lot of work. Another thing that I learned through this journey is that there is not one event that changes a whole company. There are only a series of events and hard work that does it. The amount of support needed to make the most out of big opportunities is big preparation. I have learned to live my life every day prepared for anything and everything that can be a big lift for my company.

3. Talent. The part of the equation that is harder to deal with is the talent piece. There still has to be expertise or ability. The talent is important just like the hard work is important. The part of entrepreneurship that I have worked on and learned is making decisions on when to outsource and when to go deeper on the strength. I’ve found myself digging deep on my skills and finding what I am actually good at. The process has led to a simplification of my business that lets me get the most out of what my skills are and what others can do from a support perspective.

I learned that I have enough to get the job done with a lot of things. Let me explain. I learned that some things took me a long time to accomplish and that there were other people that could accomplish these same tasks in a quicker and more efficient manner. The biggest realization about the talent thing is that it is okay to outsource. What I mean is that I have to relinquish things that can take me away from strategic and high level activity that can help the company.

4. Press. The best part about the hard work is the propensity to make things happen. By building community you can achieve a lot of things that you might not have imagined. Some of the best opportunities have come from just reminding people that your company exists. This is such a simple idea but I think it is often overlooked. I am stunned and amazed sometimes at the level of receptiveness to new ideas from me or from my company when I reach out and give content to publishers.

The takeaway here is that I needed to actually take time to tell more people what I did. I did not think about the importance of this until I saw it work for me. I learned that putting myself into a position to have a good story was imperative. The real hack that I discovered was maximizing my personal network’s awareness to increase the awareness of my company.

5. Community. I started with an idea and wanted to get it into the hands of my friends and family. This is still a work in progress but wasn’t so evident once I first decided that I wanted to share this idea with as many people that care as possible. It was only after I organized a communication plan and community management to engage and add value that I was significantly changed.

I put this into practice by turning up the intensity on our value propositions. Not only would we be developing a good bag that is strongly challenging industry practices, we also give value to consumers that help them live better lives. The relationship building process has evolved dramatically for us and it is one of the biggest growth drivers we have experienced as a company.

6. Customers. I wouldn’t be writing this blog post right now if it were not for our customers. The customers could choose any brand or company in the world. They could choose the easier path and trust me I get it. There are so many rewards to this job that I never would have known existed until I actually got started. By having a loyal and raving customer base we have done things that other brands can’t do. We have made a difference in the lives of people that need it and I’m proud that we’re doing more as a result.

I learned to give customers what they want and to follow them closely to get insights. I spent more time paying attention to the reactions and engagement from our audience. This was harder without the initial customer list but as the list grows the more opportunity to add value and bring awareness.

7. Action. I think it is underrated how much success comes from just taking the first step. There are so many instances where I know I didn’t have all the answers but I still took the opportunity and made progress. I learned that for me it is better to have movement and action while remaining patient. This helps me take steps forward instead of waiting for the perfect answer. I reflect and learn that it does not exist for me and that the best thing to do is to rely on your own instinct.

It’s a difficult when you are getting started to find out where to get information. I think I did this well but it wasn’t easy. I evolved over time and took more of my own advice. It was hard and still is because most people mean well but just don’t understand context. The way things are for one business might be different with nuances.

8. Sustainability. This journey has been exhilarating for several reasons. To do what people say that we can’t as they relate to social and environmental issues is a telegraph to the future of consumer behavior in my opinion. Even though the change hurts and in some cases is more expensive it’s absolutely worth it. The sacrifice of working with ethical practices is far from widely accepted.

Running an ethical company has many complexities and I’m always interested to see who even gets it. There are several people that never know the difference upon first glance but later come back with understanding as the company charges ahead.

I have plenty more lessons that I’ve learned along the way. A lot of the lessons I learned are about my journey leaving corporate America to pursue my passion. The decision and preparation were all but easy. The challenges of starting a business are more plentiful than the mainstream news might lead the public to believe. This will be the core of my content. I will aim to show the journey and document what I am seeing in real time. If you are an entrepreneur or considering a business idea my content is the place for you.

I learn so much about myself every day and I never knew how important self-audits would be until I went full time. I consider myself a life long learner. There’s nothing like learning on the job. I chose to solve problems with my business because deep down I know I can make the world a better place and I can learn the most in the quickest amount of time as a result. There is a real steep learning curve but somehow I’m making it up the curve quickly.

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