BA 101 | Lesson #1: Starting Out

StreetFair

I took BA 101 during my sophomore year of college (one of the two business courses I’ve taken).

The class was centered around an online program: we created a fake business, then we experimented with various metrics to see how the business succeeded in the market. Or at least that’s what we were supposed to be doing — I entered random numbers into the online system, worked on the Wild Friends website on my laptop during lectures and ended up scraping by a passing grade in the class (which speaks much more to my guessing skills than anything else). Whatever it was I was supposed to be doing in that class still remains a mystery to me.

Over the past couple years though, I’ve learned some basic things that I think of as my own personal “BA 101” — lessons that I either stumbled upon accidentally or learned the hard way. Here’s the first:

LESSON #1: Starting Out

I get asked all the time: “What would you tell someone who wants to start their own business, but doesn’t know what to do first?”

This is an easy one: Start now, start small. As small as your business idea allows. We made a dozen jars of peanut butter and brought them over to our friends. If the response had been lackluster, Wild Friends might have ended as soon as it began.

Not to say you should take the first bad feedback to mean your idea is a total failure. Rather, just begin gathering as much data and feedback as you can, on a small scale. This will help hone in on what about your product is amazing and what about your product might be unnecessary.

When we wanted to start making peanut butter, we just started making peanut butter — that afternoon, in our apartment. You can iron out details later (website, brand name, flavor offerings, etc). But the best way to test something out is just to start with what you have.

Recommended Reading: The Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries

Eric talks about this concept at length, recommending start-ups aim to spend minimal time time on product development and maximum time on gathering feedback. I also love how Eric addresses the concerns lots of start-ups have with wanting to maintain secrecy about their product pre-launch: he essentially dares founders to email their ideas directly to companies they think would steal the idea, just to prove that an idea alone is rarely worth stealing. It’s all about the execution.

So, go ahead — start something small now. There’s nothing to lose.

Inspirational Lady Monday

Maybe it’s just because I have been so full of big questions and confusion lately, but I have been feeling in need of some inspiration.

I’ve talked before about how easy to feel like I’m way out of my league, like sometimes this running-a-business thing is just too hard. When I hear from other women leading the way with honesty and a great sense of humor — well, that makes me feel much better.

Introducing the first (of what I hope is many) Inspirational Lady Mondays!

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First off, the ladies of TheSkimm (which, if you don’t already subscribe to… you’re welcome).

The post I loved: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly via TheSkimm Blog

My favorite quote: “Being able to pitch our company to someone else forced us to rearticulate, redefine, and sharpen our vision for theSkimm. It turned us into better co-founders and co-CEOs. It brought us focus and tougher skin.”

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Second: Lisa Sedlar, former CEO of New Seasons Market (our first store shelves!) and recent founder of Green Zebra Grocery here in Portland!

The post I loved: 10 Things I’ve Learned as an Entrepreneur via OEN Blog

My favorite quote: “I’ve made some really big mistakes. I’m really happy to talk about my mistakes. I valued the business maybe not where I should have. I didn’t know much about raising money. I still don’t know a lot about raising money. I’m learning that. I’ve learned to take the advice of people who are smarter than me.”

Getting Deep Into It

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Work is like meditation.

Hold on, I know that sounds crazy — work for most is anything but stress-reducing and relaxing.

I don’t mean that work creates the EFFECTS of meditation (lowered blood pressure, calmness, etc.) but rather that it can feel all-consuming, overpowering, and mentally encompassing.

For the past few weeks I have been entering work on a whole new level.

I used to work diligently during the morning and experience my focus trailing off throughout the afternoon —  by evening I was ready to exit work mode entirely and move into more enjoyable pursuits (watching Nashville, going to bed at 8:30pm, etc).

Now that I’ve been spending my time steadily learning, asking questions, and engaging myself in a whole new challenging level, I’ve been getting deep into it.

I never understood people depending on melatonin or Advil PM to get a good night’s rest, but now I’m the one lying on my back staring at the ceiling while thoughts about investors, money, cashflow and revenues spin through my brain.

Taking a walk or doing yoga before bed has been helping — reading business books or working on the computer after 9:00pm has not.

Open to any and all advice for those of us who are “deep in it” — maybe I should try actual meditation?

(Illustration by Wendy Macnoughton)